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The Dartmouth
May 29, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Karty: The Lesser of Two Evils Argument Needs To Die

Democrats have gotten quite comfortable hosting “unfair” primaries while asking voters to remain loyal to the party. This needs to end.

The “lesser of two evils” argument has been a mainstay of Democratic election strategy since 2016. The formula is clear: 1) Throw overwhelming institutional support at an often unpopular and watered-down candidate. 2) Tell primary voters not to actually vote for their desired candidate because they are “unelectable.” 3) After forcing through a politician that many voters did not want, tell voters to be a good citizen and choose the “lesser of two evils” in the general election. This strategy is unsustainable, ineffective and sabotaging the core of our democracy. 

In 2020, voters accepted this premise. “Unprecedented” times called for “unprecedented” measures, so people swallowed their tongues and checked their ballots. This is how the Democratic party garnered record-breaking voter turnout for an aggressively mediocre candidate. According to Forbes, 56% of voters in 2020 admitted to voting for Biden because he was “not Trump.” The Democratic PACs (political action committees) leaned into this message, spending heavily on “anti-Trump” ads. 

But this coming election is different. Not only are Biden and Harris particularly unpopular, but voters are also beginning to understand that you can’t call the times “unprecedented” forever. At some point, we enter into a new normal. And with the rising stars of the Republican party, like Ron Desantis — whose platform and policies prove just as Trump-y as Trump himself — it is becoming evident that the DNC, if allowed, will make this pitch indefinitely. 

The 2016 election was a trial run of this method for the Democratic party — they were testing the waters to see how far they could push the party’s base without facing repercussions. Minor changes did take place following the election, like stripping some power from superdelegates to appease the outraged progressive faction of the party. Still, when faced with lawsuits from Democratic voters, claiming that the 2016 primary was unjust, DNC lawyers tried to cling to their ability to choose the Democratic candidate behind closed doors without input from voters. They argued that “the words ‘impartial’ and ‘even handed’ — as used in the DNC Charter — can’t be interpreted by a court of law.” This laid the groundwork for the growing unabashed bias toward specific candidates that emerged first in 2020, and is now resurfacing for 2024. 

In this primary, the Democratic party has become more aggressive than ever in pre-selecting the candidate for voters. For example, they are infamously attempting to shift primary dates to benefit Biden’s campaign and give him a stronger start in the primaries. And despite the few challengers that are running taking collectively around 30% of the vote, the Democratic party is adamantly refusing to host a debate. 

Turning elections into closed-door conversations rewards people already entrenched in the party — people with connections, donors and access to boozy parties. This stands in stark contrast to the breakout stars of the party’s past, such as former President Barack Obama, whose rallies were filled with passionate young adults answering declarations of hope. People voted not because they were scared, but inspired. 

While in past primary elections, the Democratic Party maintained some semblance of plausible deniability when supporting candidates, in this election it is clear that the DNC is unequivocally backing Biden. 

Concerningly, this is completely allowed. Unlike the general election, which is required to abide by certain rules, voters are by no means entitled to a free and fair election in the primaries. Political parties have near-complete discretion in designing their internal nomination processes. Many laws that oversee federal elections do not apply for the primaries, which up until the late 20th century were decided entirely by internal party delegates. The DNC is, technically, an independent, non-government entity. This enables the perplexing structure of unelected superdelegates and ever-changing voting schedules that constitute the Democratic primaries.

Meanwhile, the DNC is relying upon the Republican “boogie man” to keep voters from protesting corrupt primaries. In fact, the Democratic Party was caught funding political ad campaigns for far-right candidates, ostensibly to scare voters into supporting their candidates. 

Voters are villainized for being apathetic toward a candidate that they did not even choose. In 2016, op-eds stating “you do have an obligation to vote for the lesser of two evils” were plastered across major news outlets. In 2020, Biden controversially quipped, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black” while being questioned on a popular radio show. In 2024, we are seeing a similar strategy play out again. 

DNC Chair Jaime Harrison recently scolded Democratic challengers and third-party candidates, saying, “This is not the time to [sic] experiment. This is not the time to play around on the margins … we got to re-elect Joe Biden. We have to re-elect Kamala Harris.”

But voters should ask themselves: If not now, when? When will it be okay to have an opinion as a voter?

I do not want to live in a world where the candidate I will vote for is chosen before we even cross the starting line; where the people who are responsible for our democracy claim to have no understanding of the words ‘impartial’ and ‘even handed.’ With many young voters veering more conservative, Democrats need passion in voters again. This can only be done by listening to what voters want —  these back-room elections are not only damaging to our democracy, but also to the party. 

This is my first election voting, but I am not a complete idealist — I know that in an American general election, a two-party structure is practically required for any sort of political success. I understand that compromises are required in this structure. However, I expect that given political parties’ power over our democratic system, they at least hold themselves to some standards of fairness. Because, in my opinion, a rigged election is the worst of all evils.