Unifying The Democratic Party Will Be Easy

| by Nicholas Roberts
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonSen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

The primary season during the 2016 election has been historic, and has been marked by extreme frustration within both the Democratic and Republican parties. I have often written about the underlying ideological battles still taking place within the two major parties, and how they are likely to be consequential in the future. The 2016 election is marked by an America that is uncertain about what the future holds.

But when you compare the inter-party infighting on the two sides, it is clear the conversation is much angrier on the Republican side. The rise of Donald Trump has upended political norms and has galvanized a substantial bloc of voters who largely care about issues like immigration and trade. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, despised by his Senate colleagues, has become part of the "establishment," fielding endorsements from Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Rick Perry, among others. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio refuses to exit the race despite only winning his home state, with many observers thinking he will make a play at the July convention.

On the Democratic side, there is a true battle of ideas being fought between the party's left and centrist wings. It is largely centered on economic issues, such as the minimum wage, paid family leave, student debt, campaign finance, unfair trade deals and the power of billionaires within the U.S. political system. There has been much mudslinging and disagreement over the pace of the economic recovery under President Barack Obama.  

What the current Democratic race does not feature  is the consistently virulent rhetoric from candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, which has become part and parcel of the Republicans during this election season.  While some -- particularly those supporting Sen. Sanders -- believe the Democratic race could go to a contested convention, this observation seems largely unfounded in contrast to a Republican convention, which will almost certainly either go to a contested convention or influence a third-party run by either Trump or an "establishment" Republican.

Matt Yglesias at Vox notes that the 2016 Democratic primary has been relatively tame compared to past Democratic primaries, particularly that of 2008. Clinton ran an increasingly bitter campaign against then-Sen. Obama as her chances at the nomination became slimmer. Nor has there been any equivalent moment this election season to Bill Clinton and California Gov. Jerry Brown's famous sparring in a 1992 debate, which became bitter and personal. Brown supported Bill Clinton in the general election, just as Hillary Clinton supported Obama when she lost the nomination.  

Although Sanders has not traditionally identified as a Democrat -- and therefore could potentially be unpredictable in ways that past candidates were not -- both he and his wife have said on multiple occasions that they will support Hillary in the general election if he does not win the party's nomination. Jane Sanders confirmed this again earlier in April during an interview with The Daily Beast's Tim Teeman.

The results from the April 19 New York primary give credence to the idea that the party will unite under a Clinton nomination. Despite earlier reports from The Wall Street Journal that as much as 33 percent of Sanders' supporters would not vote for Clinton in a general election, exit polls from New York Democrats indicated that 85 percent would "definitely" or "probably" vote for Clinton, according to Paul Waldman of The Week.

Sanders has introduced substantive and hopefully, long-lasting debate into the Democratic Party about things like inequality, the influence of Wall Street on politicians and the broken nature of the nation's campaign finance system.  A candidate running on his platform in a future election could potentially damage the Democrats in a similar way that Donald Trump has damaged the Republican establishment.

But it won't be in 2016. Sanders has already all but thrown his support behind Hillary if he loses, and his supporters have indicated they largely feel the same.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic. 

Sources: Vox, The Week, The Daily Beast / Photo credit: Disney/ABC Television Group/Flickr

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