Senator Joe Lieberman betrayed the Democratic Party over the holiday weekend. Retreating from earlier statements, Lieberman announced that he will ignore Connecticut's primary voters if they oppose his reelection. The plan is as simple as it is cynical: If he wins the primary to be the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, he will run as a Democrat. If he loses, he will run for reelection as an independent, potentially playing spoiler to the surging candidacy of businessman Ned Lamont. The plan undermines the entire point of holding party primaries and displays a stunning disrespect for the will of Connecticut voters.
It may be a desperate act of self-preservation, but so far Lieberman's arrogant announcement has only further damaged his campaign. He simultaneously antagonized the twin revolts he faces within the party, from grassroots Connecticut activists and national leaders, by disrespecting his constituents and undermining the party in the mid-term elections. (Publicizing plans to run against the Democratic nominee hurts the party.)
As one party official in Stafford explained, respect for the Democratic Party and its members means "abiding by the decision of the primary," which Lieberman now refuses to do. National Democratic leaders had a similar and swift reaction. Hillary Clinton said she will "support the nominee chosen by Connecticut Democrats in their primary," and the Democrats' Senate reelection committee is now hinting it will back the primary winner.
Trying to quell these backlashes, Lieberman has trotted out several bizarre defenses, attacking not only his constituents but American democracy itself. He has derided his opposition in the primary as the "minority of the minority" of Democrats. But if Lieberman has so few opponents, why is he worried about the primary? That brings us to Lieberman's attack on America's democratic system: The primary is flawed because a disproportionate group of people may be the only ones who "turn out on a hot August day." But that is how primaries work. Every candidate worries about who will turn out. Yet candidates virtually always honor the results of primaries out of respect for their political party and the American system. (Even prominent, popular, well-funded candidates play by these rules.) Yet Lieberman thinks he is above them. On Monday he told CNN he is still a "loyal Democrat," but it is the definition of disloyalty to put personal ambition above the will of the party.
Lieberman is facing a primary challenge precisely because he is so disloyal to the party. His detractors have emphasized that disloyalty more than his voting record, which is why that kiss from President Bush has come to symbolize Lieberman's many transgressions. "The Kiss" has been plastered on campaign buttons, broadcast across the blogosphere and even sculpted into a float for a holiday parade this weekend in Willimantic, Connecticut.
If Lieberman's support continues to plummet, he may find himself playing the spoiler role in a three-way race, splitting the Democratic vote. That is exactly what the Republican nominee wants. In that case, Lieberman should recall his own campaign's advice regarding another spoiler candidate who helped Bush. Tackling the Ralph Nader problem back in 2003, Lieberman's Presidential Campaign said the "best way" for Democrats to win is "by supporting the Democratic nominee." If he loses the primary, Lieberman should follow his own advice.