For the past four months, we have been treated to an unprecedented barrage of unpresidential behavior, and not just from the businessman-turned-celebrity-turned-politician (you can guess I mean Donald Trump). But bad behavior is also emanating from the rest of the Republican field who, in their cowardly fear of alienating their current frontrunner’s passionate supporters, are unable to muster an ounce of spine and stand up for what is right and decent and truly representative of America’s values. This is not demonstrative of true leadership and voters deserve better.
This past week, Hillary Clinton launched “Latinos for Hillary,” an unprecedented initiative celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, focused on her long history with Latino voters. The initiative demonstrates how Clinton will fight for better jobs, a higher minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, help with child care, keeping Obamacare, a cleaner environment and her unwavering support for comprehensive immigration reform — all key issues for Latinos.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has been talking about issues important to Latinos since he entered the campaign, and always touts Maryland’s passage of the Dream Act, which he signed into law. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) admits he has a ways to go to connect with Latino voters but is not being shy about reaching out, appearing at Latino gatherings, and underscoring his championship of economic policies to benefit low-income Latino families.
Contrast that with the Republican front-runner calling Mexican immigrants (and by insinuation and Latino self-proclaimed solidarity, all Latino immigrants) rapists and criminals, calling for the elimination of birthright citizenship, using the term “anchor babies,” belittling Spanish-speakers, and touting deportation and a wall with Mexico as the foundation of his immigration plan.
The rest of the Republican field is not much better. It took weeks before any of the other candidates blandly reprimanded Trump for his use of disparaging language about immigrants. Jeb Bush got sucked into using the term “anchor babies,” and recently declared that the U.S. should not be a multicultural society. Ohio Gov. John Kasich clumsily talked about leaving a good tip for his Hispanic housekeeper at a hotel. And these are just the GOP’s missteps with Latinos!
Trump has insulted women in general, nursing mothers in particular, military heroes, and stood idly by while a supporter said Muslims were a danger to society. Not to be outdone, Ben Carson followed by stating he would not support a Muslim as president. In his zeal to walk back his “anchor baby” comment, Bush accused Asians of being mostly responsible for the problem. The former Florida governor recently placed foot-in-mouth yet again, saying that African-American voters just want “free stuff” from Democrats. And Carly Fiorina, in what was seen as high-water mark in the last debate, offered up an outright bold-faced lie in her condemnation of Planned Parenthood.
None of the above is presidential behavior. It is demeaning to our politics and our society.
What you won’t hear at the Democratic debate is talk that diminishes and devalues whole swaths and groups of voters. You won’t hear about policies that exclude or divide.
You will hear from the Democrats about continuing the country’s economic growth — including 66 straight months of private sector job creation and 13 million jobs, as well as 16 million Americans with quality, affordable health care.
You will hear how Democrats intend to fight for middle-class voters — all of them.
Democrats will debate how to achieve a level playing field so that every child in America can live up to their God-given potential.
Will there be fireworks? Quite possibly. Hillary will get questions about her private e-mail server, and she will continue to answer them fully and take responsibility for the decision. But given last week’s jaw-dropping admission by the next would-be Republican House speaker that the Benghazi Select Committee was set up primarily to bring down Clinton, you may also hear a discussion of the GOP’s fraudulent mismanagement of taxpayer resources underscoring the incompetence of the Republican Congress.
Sanders may get questions about his past political affiliations and whether those will be an impediment in the general election.
O’Malley has struggled to get his message out to voters and will be asked why they should listen to him now.
Those topics may lead to tense moments for candidates with their on-stage opponents. But by defining and contrasting candidates against each other, Democrats will get more of a feel for who they are and what they stand for.
The first Democratic debate will focus on a much more positive image and narrative of what this country is about, who we are as a people and the promise and aspirations that voters have for themselves and their families. Democrats will talk about how this country IS great — and how they will make it greater. There will be no dog-whistles or code to supporters who thrive on hateful rhetoric. Democrats will not aim their appeals at the lowest common denominator and to the worst angels of our nature. It will be a healthy, robust conversation that will help to mobilize and continue to energize Democrats.
Contrary to popular lore, there is tremendous excitement among Democrats as evidenced by the two leading Democratic candidates outraising all sixteen Republican candidates combined!
So tune in! I can’t promise a train-wreck or a 16-ring circus (but who knows, it’s politics and anything can happen). But I can promise you will see an exchange worthy of who we are as a nation, and one that will make most Americans proud.
Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist and principal at the Dewey Square Group, a CNN and CNN Español political commentator, a former senior adviser to the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign amd former Democratic National Committee communications director. She’s also a fellow at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.