An Open Letter to the Democrats Defending Their Party Against Bernie Sanders

February 24, 2020
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Dear Mike, Joe, Pete, and Amy (and perhaps Elizabeth),

Please forgive the informality. But we have no time to stand on ceremony. So let me cut to the chase.

The good news: Only three small states have voted and fewer than 3 percent of the delegates have been selected in the Democratic nomination contest.

The bad news: A week from now a third of the delegates—a month from now, more than 60 percent of the delegates—will have been selected. Time is short.

What is to be done?

(1) Mike: Go negative on Bernie. Now. Both in South Carolina and in the Super Tuesday states, to blunt his momentum. I gather some around you are telling you this could backfire. It could. But better some manageable backfires than a quiet glide path toward defeat. Some of your aides are undoubtedly also pointing out that going negative on Bernie in South Carolina will help Joe. So it will. But this is the price you pay, and the risk you run, because you got in the race late. And a slightly strengthened Biden going into Super Tuesday is better for everyone—you included—than an unstoppable Bernie.

(2) Mike, Joe, Pete, Amy (and maybe Elizabeth?): Take on Bernie at the debate. This is so obvious as to need no elaboration. From the cost of his plans going forward to his cozying up to dictators in the past, from his three houses to his illiberal supporters—put it all out there. Democratic voters are so deeply uninformed about Sanders that even among Democrats who favor Medicare for All, 67 percent think people should be able to keep their private health insurance.

Surely, Democratic voters should be made aware of the fact that Sanders is the only candidate in the field who still wants to kill private health insurance?

Also: You may recall how unwise it was for President Donald Trump to go around glad-handing North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. This opinion seems to have been widely held among Democrats. Bernie Sanders—alone among the Democratic field—seems eager to meet with Kim, too. Indeed he has quite a record of showing sympathy for dictators.

Also, please do emphasize that he is a socialist. America has done well by spurning socialism.

(3) Amy and Pete: During or after the debate Tuesday night, or after the vote on Saturday, suspend your campaigns. Endorse Joe or Mike or recommend to your supporters they vote for either of them as they wish. But explain that you look forward to helping a liberal and progressive Democrat defeat Trump this year and govern for the next four, and that Bernie is incapable of either.

(4) Joe and Mike: After Super Tuesday, the one of you who is behind in delegates withdraws and supports the other.

(5) All Democratic candidates, activist, donors and voters: Pull together to help the surviving sensible alternative to Bernie win the nomination and the general election, and to govern successfully.

The Republican party allowed Donald Trump to capture it in 2016. This has been, I trust you agree, very bad for our country. As for the party, I’m not sure we’ll ever get it back on path to a decent and healthy American conservatism. It would be bad if Democrats went down a parallel path. America deserves better than a choice between an authoritarian populist of the right and a socialist populist of the left.

How terrible it would be if, having resisted European-style illiberalism in the 20th century, we succumbed to it in the 21st.

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.