Tuesday on ABC’s “The View,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren struggled to answer a simple question from Meghan McCain about whether she thinks Qassem Suleimani, the slain leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, was a terrorist.
A simple question, really. By any reasonable definition, Suleimani was definitely a terrorist. As commander of the Quds Force, his entire job was to foment terrorism and support armed insurgencies outside Iran. Quds Force operatives have carried out numerous terrorist attacks over the years and are active today in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian territories.
No wonder the United States designated the IRGC, including the Quds Force, as a terrorist group last year. Suleimani was not only the leader of Quds, he was the architect of all the things it did to deserve being designated a terrorist group. So yes, he was definitely a terrorist.
Yet Warren could barely bring herself to admit this. Pressed by McCain, who had to ask three times, all Warren could muster was a mealy mouthed acknowledgment that he was “part of a group” that the federal government has designated a terrorist organization, which is like saying Adolf Hitler was part of a group that temporarily occupied Europe.
As always, @tomselliott with the video —
Meghan presses Warren on her changing tone on Soleimani — something she'd gotten away with for days despite doing countless interviews. pic.twitter.com/25GIHr5i5V
— Matt Whitlock (@mattdizwhitlock) January 7, 2020
The exchange captured everything Democrats haven’t learned since the last election. Donald Trump swept away the entire GOP primary field in 2016 partly because of his willingness to speak plainly about issues like the Iraq War, trade, and immigration—even if they went against the views of the Republican establishment or appeared to be at odds with the GOP base. When Trump lambasted the decision to invade Iraq during a primary debate in early 2016, for example, calling the war a “big, fat mistake” and blaming it on George W. Bush, he was saying out loud what most Americans by then had concluded but no other Republican would say—certainly not Jeb Bush, who was left fumbling.
The lesson of 2016, then, is that if you’re running for the Democratic nomination in 2020 and Trump takes out a major terrorist, just say it’s a good thing but look, Trump doesn’t have a broader strategy to deal with Iran, or he isn’t consistent on foreign policy, or it’s not that big of a deal compared to his impeachment—say anything, just don’t hem and haw and downplay what a bad guy Suleimani was because you want to score political points with the radical left wing of your party.
That is, don’t do what Warren did. Warren’s kowtowing to the left is what prompted McCain’s question to begin with. After the Suleimani strike, Warren issued a statement calling him a “murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans.” That got her in trouble with the left (because heaven forfend killing a bad guy like Suleimani might make Trump look good) so she issued a second statement, calling Suleimani a “senior foreign military official” whom Trump “assassinated.”
This is precisely the sort of pandering that no one took seriously in 2016 when Hillary Clinton suddenly reversed a number of long-held views in a shameless attempt to win over Bernie Sanders’s supporters. She repudiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she had previously called the “gold standard” of trade deals. She apologized for her support for the Iraq War, saying she “got it wrong.” She disavowed any connection to a criminal justice system shaped above all by her husband’s policies, calling for an end to the “era of mass incarceration.”
All of this was calculated to appease the Democratic Party’s left wing, and Democrats are doing the same thing as we head into the 2020 cycle. Joe Biden has had to backtrack or renounce much of his 40-year career in public office, on everything from criminal justice to school busing to federal funding for abortion. Not only can Biden not decide how much of his record to defend, he appears to be willing to fundamentally change his entire conception of civil rights.
Just about the only Democratic candidate who has been consistent is Sanders, whose views have more or less remained unchanged since the 1970s. Setting aside the folly of his socialist ideology, Sanders can at least credibly say, as he did four years ago, that what you see is what you get. Sure, it’s crazy that Sanders compared the killing of Suleimani to Russian President Vladimir Putin “assassinating dissidents,” but he really means it
He has that much in common with Trump, whose appeal in 2016 was largely based on the fact that he wasn’t a politician, couldn’t be bought by special interests, and had been saying the same things for years. If the other Democratic candidates don’t figure this out, and quickly, they’ll find themselves in the position of erstwhile GOP frontrunners of 2016, and Sanders will be the nominee.