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As polls near, Democratic leaders hold their tongues on Trump

As polls near, Democratic leaders hold their tongues on Trump
Highlights

Beyond the vegan meatballs and Medicare For All Tshirts, there was something else notable at a Democratic rally last week in the Washington suburb of...

Beyond the vegan meatballs and ‘Medicare For All’ T-shirts, there was something else notable at a Democratic rally last week in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Maryland: direct, no-holds-barred condemnation of the president.

“We need somebody who can stand up to Trump!” one candidate for local office told the crowd. Another compared Donald Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But they were just warmup acts for the main event, the blunt former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who while technically an independent is a champion of causes held dear by liberal progressive Democrats.

Trump, Sanders said, was “the most racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted president in history,” adding later for good measure that Trump was a “pathological liar.” The crowd thundered in approval.

Sanders, a U.S. senator from liberal Vermont, is expected to win re-election easily in Tuesday’s congressional elections, so he took little political risk in bashing the president.

Still, his rhetoric on the stump made for a stark contrast with most Democratic candidates. Democrats have largely resisted excoriating Trump on his words and actions, although he has denounced the party at his political rallies as an angry, dangerous ‘mob’.

As recently as last week, when Trump was accused of sowing division with his response to the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and harsh rhetoric on migrants traveling to the U.S. border from Central America, voters heard little about that from Democrats running for Congress.

Democratic candidates were much more likely to be talking about healthcare or economic inequality. That was by design. The party, early in this congressional election season, made a collective determination not to regularly confront the president, according to multiple party sources.

That has left many Democrats, particularly those from the party's liberal progressive wing, frustrated. They accuse the party of being too timid, too afraid of alienating moderate voters.

They argue that the party needs to find its critical voice during what they see as a national crisis – and that they risk not making a clear case to voters about the values for which the party stands.

By and large, however, Democratic candidates and party elders such as David Axelrod, the former top campaign aide to President Barack Obama, contend that sticking to “kitchen-table” issues is a better way to win over voters than being drawn into culture wars and the swirl of controversy that Trump regularly generates.

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