What’s worse: Nominating a candidate you don’t like (but many others do), who wins the election and continues the legacy of the party, or nominating one that you really like (but many others don’t), who loses?
Party unity is fundamentally important for anyone hoping to win an election. Just look at what happened to the Democrats during the 2016 presidential primary in the US: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (as well as their supporters) fought tooth and nail until the bitter end (when Clinton received the nomination), with the intra-party conflict dividing people ‘on the same team’ and perhaps contributing directly to the unthinkable, razor-thin loss in the general election to Donald Trump. Currently, there’s a similar drama unfolding within the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) primary ahead of the 2020 presidential election in Taiwan, with incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen and challenger William Lai both bitterly vying for the nomination. The question we need to ask is: Is the situation in Taiwan equivalent to what happened in the US? And if so, what can be done about it?
In America, Clinton – like Tsai – was the assumed front runner for her party’s nomination, even before the primary began. This was mainly due to her exceptional name recognition, the fact that she represented the mainstream of the Democratic establishment, and the deep pockets she could leverage in support of her candidacy. The problem, however, was that Sanders appeared from out of nowhere and became an incredibly popular grass-roots candidate (like Trump), garnering massive crowds at rallies, energizing his base of left-wing populists, and drawing in other Democratic voters dissatisfied with Hillary’s neoliberal ideas and the Clinton political machine. For some members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC; the governing body of the Democratic Party), the situation became more of a headache as the surprisingly close primary dragged on. Although it was obvious, perhaps, to many Committee members that it was Hillary’s ‘time’ to run, Sanders wasn’t making things easy by being so damned popular among voters.
Perhaps it helped that her supporters held top positions at the DNC (in fact, former chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned after leaked emails showed a bias against Sanders) and she had a favorable fundraising arrangement with the Committee, but in the end Clinton secured the nomination, prompting many of Sanders’ followers to cry foul at what they saw as the unfair treatment he received.
While many DNC officials were no doubt overjoyed that their preferred candidate – and not some old semi-independent socialist from outside their ranks – got the nod, that was before the general election, when – [cough] [cough] [cough] – Clinton lost to none other than the reality TV-star, narcissistic demigod Trump. Given that fact, I think it’s fair to wonder whether all those officials still believe they pushed for the right nominee, because, no matter how good it may feel for your guy (or girl) to triumph in the primary, it’s essentially worth zilch, nothing, nada, if he or she fails to beat the other dude in the main event. And the sad thing about the Clinton-Sanders saga – at least in the minds of many Democratic voters – is that the people in charge of the Democratic party seemed to have lost sight of that fact in the rush to have their candidate succeed.
Whether Sanders would have won the nomination outright if he’d had the same purported fundraising advantages and friends in high places that Clinton did is unlikely, but the truth is that he was polling better than her against Trump during much of the primary, which is notable given the general election results. Also, as it’s hard for voters to trust the democratic process if their party isn’t being, um, so democratic, it should come as no surprise that there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for Clinton leading up to the election. And this brings us to the remarkably similar political drama currently occurring in Taiwan.
According to some polls, Lai – the DPP challenger – would do better than Tsai against potential Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidates in 2020. Granted, the situation isn’t exactly the same as the one in the US, as Tsai is actually the president of the country, and therefore – it could be argued – should automatically get the nomination. The flaw in this line of reasoning, however, is that the quicksand of the political landscape always changes, and if the party – which is, by definition, greater than any single individual – fails to adapt, all may be lost. For example, the DPP got crushed in the 2018 municipal elections, which obviously doesn’t bode well for current party leadership in 2020. But be that as it may, the real issue here isn’t about the past, but the future, as – in the final analysis – it doesn’t really matter who the nominee is, as long as he or she is strongest one.
The biggest danger for the DPP right now is that the longer the primary process drags on (so far it’s been delayed by about two months), the more voters will suspect something fishy (i.e., non-democratic) is going on, leading to disillusionment among supporters of the ‘wronged’ candidate (think Sanders in 2016) and further damage to party unity. So if the DPP’s goal is to field the best candidate in 2020, it would be wise to carry out its opinion polling as soon as possible (it’s currently scheduled for June 10-14), the rules of which should be transparent and just for both participants, with the one who loses stepping aside, no matter how upsetting that may be.
After all, what’s worse: Nominating a candidate you don’t like (but many others do), who wins the election and continues the legacy of the party, or nominating one that you really like (but many others don’t), who loses? If you’re not sure what the answer to the this question is, just ask any Democratic voter who woke up on November 9th, 2016 to the news that Trump had somehow won the presidency, and has been dealing with the train-wreck of his administration every day for the past two-and-a-half years. They’ll probably tell you that – like the Chinese adage says – “When disaster befalls one, no one can escape unscathed.” (覆巢無完卵)
Author / Peter K. Thompson