Ever-expanding primary field danger to Democrats

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Imagine walking into your place of employment one Tuesday morning and telling your boss that you intend to quit in exactly 342 days. After providing an exceedingly advanced version of a two-week notice, the professional fallout would be severe. What employer, in their right mind, would willingly continue shelling out paycheck after paycheck to someone who’s already meticulously planning for something just shy of a year away?

The Iowa caucus is currently scheduled to take place Feb. 3, 2020. As college students, this date seems incredibly distant, provided that we’ll have completed two more semesters of coursework before 2020 even materializes on the horizon. I can hardly focus on the three midterms I have this week, much less conceptualize the coursework that awaits me in autumn.

Clearly, contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination are not beholden to this mindset. Eight major candidates have announced their campaigns in the past several months, with an additional two potential contestants pursuing exploratory committees. Presuming these two individuals (U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg) officially declare their candidacies within the next few weeks, there is a very real possibility that the Democratic primary field will be in the double digits months before the first vote is ever cast. As a novice political observer, take my opinions with a grain of salt, but I predict the seemingly exponential growth of the Democratic Party’s nominating crop will lead to disaster in 2020.

Naysayers will counter by arguing that a plethora of candidates will bring diversity, dialogue and much-needed introspection into the nominating process. To these optimists, I recommend looking back three years ago to the 2016 Republican primaries. Remember the time that an overwhelmingly large field resulted in the nomination of the most bombastic, obnoxious contender available and how a sizable candidate pool led to victory for the person who merely performed best at exploiting his party’s fragmentation and emitting cringeworthy media sound bites? I sure do, and I’m not remotely interested in the Democratic Party falling down that rabbit hole four years later.

Yes, there are some candidates that I’m thoroughly excited to see running this early on and that have garnered attention from students at the College of William and Mary. California Senator Kamala Harris, despite her murky past on criminal justice, is an outspoken advocate for progressive causes ranging from LGBTQ rights to education. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is a beacon of hope in the Midwest, a region that abandoned the party in the last presidential election. And even though I don’t intend on voting for him, I’m even a little excited for ‘Mayor Pete’ and the youthful enthusiasm he espouses.

But I look at Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and see two has-beens who would have been much, much stronger candidates in 2016. After Sanders lost 2016’s primary and Warren refused to enter the contest entirely, I don’t see their candidacies as constructive in the slightest. Sanders’ candidacy especially frustrates me; he doesn’t even characterize himself as a Democrat, yet somehow feels entitled to barrel his way into yet another Democratic primary at the expense of those actually committed to the party’s future.

Perhaps I’ll look back in January 2021 during the inauguration of our first democratic socialist president and eat my words. But right now, the ever-growing primary field makes it difficult to picture anything besides a second term for President Donald Trump. We should all approach that outcome with trepidation and strive to prevent it at all costs, even if it means settling for a candidate we aren’t infatuated with.

Email Ethan Brown at

ewbrown@email.wm.edu.