The primaries have traditionally brought about conflict within parties, but recent history has made the divide even more clear.
In 2016, one of the major contributing factors to then-candidate Donald Trump's election came from a divide in the Democratic party, as many of Sen. Bernie Sanders' supporters chose to stay home on election day. Despite attempts from Sanders himself to reunite the party around former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following her nomination, his supporters refused to support a candidate they felt had "stolen" the election.
So, imagine my frustration and concern when Sanders announced his campaign for the nomination in 2020. The #BernieOrBust campaign had inadvertently secured a Trump Presidency wrought with scandal and cruelty, and is on the verge of doing it again if we're not careful.
But it gets worse than simply one candidate's toxic fan-base weakening the party's ability to unify around a nominee. Campaigns and Twitter hashtags exist for all four of the major party candidates, as well as Andrew Yang, advocating for supporters to turn away from the Democratic Party should their preferred candidate not claim the nomination. The push surrounding Yang is especially concerning, considering his struggle to find himself on the debate stages in the final months of the campaign paired with his decreasing support in early primary states.
To stand so fully behind a candidate that you would rather go against your own interests than vote for another is a dangerous mindset to hold at any time in the election cycle, and it only gets worse with time. Not only does it open the door for the opposing party to claim another term in the White House, it also places a deep fracture within the party that we, as voters, should be working to heal.
This is part of what makes Sen. Sanders' 2020 bid so frustrating. His run in 2016 was already so divisive and damaging; was he really going to try and do it again in 2020? He's spoken time and again about the importance of defeating President Trump in 2020, especially now that Senate Republicans have made it clear that the elections are the only way to undo the damage he's caused, so why would he be so willing to jeopardize the party's chances?
But it's not just him. To lob all of this criticism at Sanders alone is to be ignorant of the damage the other candidates are causing. Almost taking the role of "2020's Bernie" away from Sanders himself is Andrew Yang, whose campaign seems filled with the most ride-or-die supporters the Democratic Party has to offer.
Having worked and interacted with many supporters of his campaign, I've seen first-hand the level of passion and dedication that he invokes in his base, a passion that is mutually exclusive to him. His supporters love Yang, and whether it's due to his passion for combating automation or a direct financial incentive in his election is not for me to judge. But for whatever reason, they love his candidacy immensely, and his campaign has drawn in people from all ends of the political spectrum - something that is both good for Yang and potentially devastating for the Democrats.
Yang's support comes not only from passionate Democrats, but from disillusioned Republicans who feel they no longer have a place within the Republican party. This puts Democratic party leaders in a bit of a bind, as many of those "Republicans for Yang" wouldn't be as interested in placing their support behind another Democratic candidate should Yang not snag the party nomination.
But giving in to the fandom for one candidate opens up an entirely new can of worms, something not too unlike what we saw in 2016. Despite believing they are acting in the best interest of the party (and of the nation), Democrats are going to have to place political fandom in the forefront of their considerations, whether they want to or not.