A Memo to Our Democratic Presidential Candidates

Don’t make Detroit’s debates a repeat of Miami

Rahm Emanuel


Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) take part in the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

PPrimary debates are about two things. First, candidates need to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field — something some of you did more successfully than others in Miami. Second, and more important, these events are about delivering a message that will position your candidacy as our standard-bearer in the general election. Let me be subtle: On this second front, not so good. So here are some suggestions for the next go-round.

Let’s start with the basics. If you’re going to evict Donald Trump from the White House and secure the country’s future, you have to replicate what the last two Democratic presidents did so successfully on their campaigns. You need to unite all primary voters. There’s a reason Trump gleefully tweeted “That’s the end of that race!” during the first debate: Too often, you succumbed to chasing plaudits on Twitter, which closed the door on swing voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. If you win the nomination in a way that forecloses a path to victory in the general election, we will lose, and your name will go down in infamy.

This time, don’t fall into the traps that had many of us shaking our heads during the debates in Miami.