A Memo to Our Democratic Presidential Candidates

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

Rahm Emanuel
Published in
5 min readJul 29, 2019


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.

This time, don’t fall into the traps that had many of us shaking our heads during the debates in Miami. Before our party promises health care coverage to undocumented immigrants — a position not even Ted Kennedy took — let’s help the more than 30 million Americans who are a single illness away from financial ruin. Before we start worrying about whether the Boston Marathon bomber can vote, let’s stop states that are actively trying to curtail voting rights of citizens. And before we promise a guaranteed minimum income to healthy adults who prefer to stay home and play video games, let’s increase the minimum wage and the Earned Income Tax Credit to benefit the millions of people who work hard and still live near poverty.

Most important, you need to convince us you have what it takes to win in the general election. Democrats and independent voters both believe Trump is the ringleader of the three-ring circus we call Washington, and…