Democrats have a slogan this presidential election: “Democracy is at stake.”

Or, they might have a slogan. They’re still running the numbers on it, and they’re not quite sure whether to go with it. While Biden’s “brain trust” is reportedly committed to that message, other Democrats aren’t so sure; apparently it doesn’t poll all that well. By debating the strategy, they’re making it clear that they don’t really believe it. Of course, treating it as a campaign tactic makes that obvious.

If Democrats seriously believed Trump was a threat to democracy, they’d have nominated somebody completely different who could appeal to more of the country.

President Biden is a candidate who doesn’t excite most people. His own party isn’t that enthusiastic about him – they never have been, really. His chief qualities have been inoffensiveness and longevity; neither exactly inspirational. They offered a nice balance when he was vice president to a young, charismatic President Barack Obama. Sixteen years later, they’re wearing more than a little thin. Then, Biden made a traditional choice in his running mate Vice President Kamala Harris, choosing a younger, nonthreatening rival who’d appeal to certain segments of the party, essentially reversing the Obama-Biden dynamic.

Democrats could at least have found a more centrist running mate, if not form a bipartisan ticket – by, say, replacing Harris with Joe Manchin or Mitt Romney.

There’s nothing wrong with choosing a running mate to appeal to one’s ideological base; that often happens. It’s what former President Donald Trump did in 2016 in choosing former Vice President Mike Pence. But it’s just not what you would do if U.S. democracy was truly at stake.


In 1864, for instance, with the Civil War raging, Abraham Lincoln replaced his reliably Republican running mate, Hannibal Hamlin, with a southern Democrat, Andrew Johnson – a truly unifying move. He even created a new, if short-lived, political party – the National Union Party – to nominate their ticket.

Over the past eight years, Democrats haven’t made any serious attempt to establish any kind of national unity. They’ve kept going after moderate Republicans simply because they make for easy targets. We saw that here in Maine in 2020, when Democrats attempted to unseat Sen. Susan Collins, spending millions to elect Sara Gideon. They didn’t simply give up because Collins voted against Trump more often than almost any other Republican senator.

It’s not just that Democrats aren’t treating this campaign as if they really believed democracy were in peril; they’re not preparing for the future as if it were, either. While they’re planning to resist a potential future Trump administration, they seem to be mostly going about it in the usual ways. Activist groups, despite their rhetoric, are planning for lawsuits, adverse Supreme Court rulings and potential IRS audits, according to the New York Times.

That’s not how you prepare for a dictatorship – it’s how you subvert an administration with which you disagree. If you’re really worried about a dictatorship, you plan marches in the streets, sit-ins, mass demonstrations or a general strike, not lawsuits. Rather than plotting a general strike, we see labor leaders weighing who to endorse: Teamsters President Sean O’Brien, for instance, recently met with Trump and is slated to speak to the Republican National Convention.

On top of that, Democratic politicians are behaving, well, the way most politicians usually do all the time.

Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, is hawking a book and says she wants a Gen X president in 2028. She’s not the only one laying the groundwork for a future presidential campaign; California Gov. Gavin Newsom has been all over the airwaves, debating Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Fox News. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is similarly positioning himself, traveling the country and using his billions to fund progressive causes.

It should be very clear that the Democratic establishment doesn’t really believe its own rhetoric about democracy being in peril. That’s a shame, because it well and truly is – albeit not from Trump or any other particular politician. Our democracy is always a fragile thing. In the words of Ronald Reagan, freedom is “never more than one generation away from extinction.” It’s up to all of us to preserve it, and we do that not by supporting one particular candidate or another, but by being informed citizens and participating in democracy.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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