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There’s a big reason Democrats’ (relatively small) policy differences shouldn’t matter that much in the presidential race

Preventing four more years of Trump is of primary importance. That’s the goal that matters.

This is roughly where we are.

Nothing matters more, in the race for the Democratic nomination, than finding a candidate who can defeat Donald Trump. The damage that Trump will do in a second term, to our institutions and to our national soul, are hard to measure but very large.

Unfortunately (in case you agree with my assertion just above), it’s also unknowable who that candidate is. Even the self-declared great and “stable genius” himself, seems to have gotten that one wrong, assuming that the biggest threat to defeat would be Joe Biden (which is why he abused his powers, perfectly, to undermine Biden’s campaign), whereas, at the moment, Biden’s campaign is struggling to survive. 

It’s my belief that we don’t, because we can’t, do a poll that will reliably tell us which of the Democratic candidates is likeliest to win in November. I wish there were. 

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In the absence of such knowledge, perhaps we should decide whom to support based on their policy differences. Let’s take, as an example, the divide in the Democratic field between the single-payer/Medicare-for-all candidates and those so-called moderates who reject doing away with private insurance but nonetheless favor saving and expanding the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare. That seems to be one of the substantive dividing lines within the field, separating the leftier candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren from the still-liberal-but-more-moderate group, including Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bloomberg, who want to preserve and expand the ACA in various ways, but stop short of doing away with private insurance,

This is well-argued turf. Personally, I favor whatever path will actually moves us closest to universal coverage, joining most of the rest of the wealthy democracies of the world. But a Friday piece by Julia Ioffe of the Washington Post argued, fairly persuasively, that that latter dichotomy also doesn’t really matter much. As long as the Senate is controlled by Republicans, none of those plans will pass and be signed into law. It’s pretty hard to argue against that assumption, and those who handicap such things do not believe the map of Senate races for 2020 provides much hope of Democrats taking over the Senate.

Which leads back to argument No. 1: that the relatively small policy differences within the Democratic field are not of primary importance. Preventing four more years of Trump is of primary importance. And, even if we can’t rely on current polling (or anything else) to tell us clearly which Democratic nominee would maximize that outcome, that’s the goal that matters.

So, fight it out in the primaries and at the convention, sure. But make sure that supporters of Bernie or Pete or Amy or Joe or Mike all keep in mind that it is of the utmost importance that Democrats and persuadable independents of the moderate or far-left variety don’t get so pissed off about not seeing their first choice nominated that they fail to unite behind the last Democrat standing after the convention.