Sunday, November 10, 2019

BTRTN: Who Are We Supporting for the 2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination?

Steve and Tom on who they are each supporting, and why, in separate pieces below -- and it turns out to be another “point/counterpoint.”

Steve:  Not Just “Anybody But Warren.” Pete Buttigieg for President.

Hey, don’t get me wrong! I love Elizabeth Warren. She is charismatic, passionate, idealistic, determined, knowledgeable, and brilliant. And that wealth tax? It is a personal favy of mine. Go for it! She’s got a plan for everything, and I love almost all of them.

Except, uh, one. One gigantic one. But we’ll get to that later.

In just about any other election year, she’d be my candidate.

But this is 2020, and there is only one criteria that Democrats must use to select their Presidential candidate: who can beat Trump?

It really is that simple. I know… I indulge in flights of rhetorical excess and hyperbole more than most – certainly more than my more sober and responsible brother – but I want to make sure the stakes are clear. If Donald Trump is re-elected, you can kiss this lovely democratic republic of ours good-bye. If Trump wins in 2020, he will fill every job in government with an “acting” sycophant who is more interested in fleecing the taxpayers for personal gain than preserving and protecting the Constitution.

By the end of Trump’s second term he will have seven arch-conservatives on the Supreme Court, accommodating his every whim. Global warming will have advanced too far to reverse. Our global alliances will be in tatters, and the Soviet Union will probably have been fully re-assembled, only now far more brutal, malevolent, invasive, and toxic than in the days of those old sweethearts like Alexei Kosygin.  MSNBC and CNN will probably have had their broadcasting licenses revoked, and Robert Mueller, John Brennan, James Comey, and Stephen Colbert could be doing hard time in Leavenworth. Trump will attempt to undo the term limits on the President, and, ruthless tyrant that he is, he may well succeed.

We must pick the candidate who can beat Donald Trump. It is an existential issue for this nation.

Who, exactly is that?

Here is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis about what could happen in the next six months. Then let’s address why this scenario actually serves the greater goal of finding the candidate best able to beat Trump.

No matter how many warm bodies you will see behind podiums for the November 20 debate, the field of Democratic candidates has already been effectively narrowed to four – possibly five -- candidates. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg stand head and shoulders above the remaining candidates. Amy is coming on with too little, too late, and she is scraping for every dollar. Kamala flamed out and is now closing campaign offices. Michael Bloomberg is now indicating he will make a run, and when mega-billionaires make noises, you have to pay attention… for Beto or for worse, money talks.

Each of the viable candidates are perceived to have a key area of strength, and each has significant liabilities.

Bernie Sanders’ strength is a ferociously loyal knot of supporters, but his liability is the growing sense that time – and Elizabeth Warren – have passed him by.

Joe Biden continues to claim that he is the most “electable” candidate, but his weak fundraising, his gaffes, his age, his weak counter-punches, and his uneven debate performances have cast a huge pall of doubt over his campaign.

Michael Bloomberg is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in American history and was a highly regarded and effective major of New York. He could fund a billion dollar run for the White House and still have fifty billion dollars left to see him through retirement. But the big question is this: though the presidential election is still a year away, did he simply wait too long to jump in? The biggest immediate implication of Bloomberg’s musings: it is another huge signal of major players losing faith in Biden.

Elizabeth Warren is a powerhouse of energy and momentum, but she is perceived to be too radical for the party centrists, as evidenced by her refusal to budge an inch on her insistence on a single-payer healthcare system that actually outlaws private insurance. Her followers may find it tough to accept, but she could be the most polarizing political figure in the country… other than the Polarizer-in-Chief himself.

Pete Buttigieg has more question marks than the rest of them combined. His curriculum vitae for the highest office in the land is two terms as mayor of a city whose baseball team plays single-A minor league ball. Buttigieg is 37 years old, but he still manages to look young for his age. He has a very serious issue to grapple with: he has not established a strong following in the African-American community. Oh, and yes… I almost forgot. He is gay.

Still, though, Buttigieg has blown by candidates who had been expected to shine, like Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, and Harris. He manages to sound down-to-earth and homespun while reeling off fully self-actualized paragraphs in real time. His campaign is cash-rich. He has an army of sharp, disciplined, and dedicated volunteers.

Yeah, he is 37 years old, which makes him three decades younger than all four of his rivals… not a terrible thing in an election that may hinge on inspiring millennial voters to get off their too-cool-for-school butts and vote. He has edged up in the polls, but as of now is nowhere close to threatening Biden’s polling lead on a national basis. Buttigieg, however, has been investing enormously in a game-changing retail operation in Iowa. His strategy is not new but he is executing it brilliantly… he knows that in this incredibly important race for the White House that the very first actual votes cast are going to be magnified a thousand times over by television news operations. The scale of that coverage could turn the entire race upside down. He has long since put all his chips down on Iowa. It is beginning to look like a shrewd gambit: three polls in the last week have all four of these candidates in a statistical dead-heat, but the trend lines are clear… Warren and Buttigieg are on the rise, and Bernie and Biden are declining.

So let’s flash forward to the Iowa Caucuses. If current polling trends hold, Elizabeth Warren could be the winner, and both Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders could finish above Joe Biden. In Iowa, where all politics is local, Bloomberg did not have enough time to set up an effective ground game. His has a lackluster finish.

In the rapid-fire sequence of primary politics, momentum and performance relative to expectations can overshadow actual election results. If Biden – who many expect to be the nominee – loses badly in Iowa, he will be judged harshly. He will feel black-hole-grade gravity of negative momentum.

Let’s bet that eight days later, propelled by Iowa, Warren wins again in New Hampshire – which is essentially a “home game” for the Senator from Massachusetts. Also from a neighboring state, Sanders does well, and let’s say Buttigieg is right in the mix. Bloomberg once again experiences a failure to launch. Measured by the expectations game, Biden’s inability to win either of the first two primaries is tantamount to cutting the scuba tube to the oxygen tank.

From sober CBS to frothy CNN to irrationally exuberant MSNBC and all points in between, the pundits are in a frenzy, and there are only two stories: (1) Joe Biden’s entire argument – that he is the most “electable” candidate – has been badly deflated, and (2) with two wins in two primaries, Elizabeth Warren looks unstoppable. Every candidate in history who has won both Iowa and New Hampshire has won their party’s nomination. Every single time.

Suddenly, everybody wants to stop Elizabeth Warren.

Elizabeth Warren is the candidate who absolutely terrifies centrist Democrats. They are petrified that if she becomes the nominee, she will provide Donald Trump with the exact arguments he needs to thread the needle for a second win in the Electoral College. She is a Harvard professor, a Massachusetts liberal, and she can be pasted as an Eastern Establishment Elite. Trump will shout that she is a socialist, that she is worse than the worst old-fashioned tax-and-spend super-liberal Democrat, and – most of all -- that she is going to take away your private healthcare.

Remember at the beginning of that post when I mentioned that Elizabeth Warren has that one little policy that I didn’t agree with? Bingo.

Me personally? Couldn’t care less whether we have single payer or not. Medicare for all? Bring it on. (Full disclosure: I’m already on Medicare… and it works fine, thank you. But Senator Warren, you do know that there is a thriving private secondary insurance market in Medicare, yes? Why eliminate private insurance in “Medicare for All” when is already exists in Medicare?)

No, I am not arguing with her policy. I am talking about branding, perception, and marketing. Any policy that is based on taking something away – particularly something that Americans so heavily depend on – is a political hari-kari. I can hear the Bloviator-in-Chief now, bellowing that “Pocahontas is going to take away your healthcare coverage!!!”

To be centering your candidacy on a hugely controversial policy at just the moment when we need to be certain that we can beat Donald Trump is a show-stopper for me.

If the Democrats nominate either Sanders or Warren, and they center their campaigns on eliminating private healthcare insurance, the Democrats are doing the one thing that could hand the election to Trump. Bear in mind: the Democratic strength on the issue of healthcare was at the epicenter of why the Dems were able to flip the House in the mid-terms. Elizabeth Warren could take the single greatest Democratic advantage and instantly turn it into their greatest single liability. Donald Trump will spend his billion dollar war chest pummeling the socialists who want to take away your health care, increase your taxes, and, in so doing, who will destroy the healthy economy, eviscerate your401k, and cost you your job.

So let’s return to our hypothesis. It’s mid-February, Elizabeth Warren appears unbeatable, and then we get the news that Bernie Sanders has dropped out and is throwing is support behind the Massachusetts Senator. The progressive wing of the party is united behind Warren and Super Tuesday – with 45% of the delegates -- is two weeks away. 

Centrist Democrats, utterly terrified that the party is about to nominate the policy wonk with the DOA healthcare policy, are traumatized and galvanized. Biden’s lackluster campaign, his gaffes, his inadequate fund-raising, his lack of an exceptional grass roots machine, and now his consecutive losses in Iowa and New Hampshire have Chernobyl-ed his campaign, and the prognosis appears terminal even if his South Carolina firewall holds. Biden’s anemic fundraising is coming back to roost… just when he needs to flood the airwaves in major markets like Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, and San Francisco, he has to pick and choose his shots. 

And all those people who were hoping that Mike Bloomberg would be the Deus ex machina? They are sorely disappointed. The former New York City mayor has never been a passionate and inspirational orator, and his hastily assembled campaign has made little impact. He has no real momentum going into Super Tuesday. Those rumors about Oprah, Hillary Clinton, and even Michelle Obama? All just so much wishful thinking.  

Gee-zuz, the rank and file curse, Will Rogers is right again. This party has managed to take the one candidate who polls show to be consistently beating Trump in key battleground states, and they have flushed him down the toilet.  And now we are going to nominate a radical whose stand on healthcare will hand the election to Trump. I belong to no organized political party. I’m a Democrat.

The Anybody-But-Warren movement launches with the thrust of an Atlas V rocket, but when the dust clears, there is only one “anybody” in a position to be the “anybody” who is “anybody but Warren.” The only “anybody” still standing is Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.

Make no mistake: Mayor Pete saw this possible scenario months and months before anybody.

He went big – really big -- on Iowa. It paid off with a huge momentum spike, powering him onto a strong showing in New Hampshire.

Buttigieg’s strategic thinking has been scalpel-sharp since the get-go. Where political advisors to Kamala Harris and Juli├ín Castro convinced their candidates that they had to take a blunt instrument to Joe Biden, Pete never laid a hand on the popular former V.P. He watched as Harris and Castro crudely and clumsily attempted to body-slam Biden, and their reward was a quick dismissal from serious candidacy.

Rather, Pete implemented the first plank in his game plan: “the only person who should take down Joe Biden is Joe Biden.” It’s a variation on the old advice that you should never bother to shoot somebody who is in the middle of committing suicide. But Pete saw it: with each cringe-worthy gaffe, each meandering debate response, each show of aging, and each lame fundraising report, Joe Biden was revealing what the voting population had feared. The guy who had been a lackluster candidate in 1988 and a full on gaffe spree in 2008 was pretty much the same guy in 2019… only older, slower, and ever less compelling.

So quietly and patiently Buttigieg, slipped into the airstream behind Biden’s centrist wake, and waited for the gaffe machine to explode. When it happened, Pete was the only candidate ready to pick up the centrist gauntlet. In February, 2020, Pete Buttigieg becomes the candidate that a short time before had only been known as “anybody but Warren.”

With Bernie gone, Biden flailing, and Warren racing for a Super Tuesday victory lap, Buttigieg is the man of the moment. He leaps in the polls as Biden plummets. The networks love controversy and competition, so they feed the machine. Pete does Chuck Todd, Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, The View, Sixty Minutes, Kimmel, Seth, and Colbert in a two day orgy of reasonableness, thoughtfulness, and messaging about unity, midwestern values, Christian compassion, the hard lessons of combat, and the urgency of generational change.

When challenged to criticize front runner Elizabeth Warren, Pete refuses to take the bait and, in so doing, claims the high ground as the unifier: “Senator Warren is a spectacular candidate, a great leader, one of my role models… if she wins the nomination, I’ll work my butt off to get her elected.”  Pete is suddenly John, Paul, George, and Ringo all in one. Pete fever sweeps the nation. Momentum, once rolling, is a snowball rolled down the Matterhorn that grows exponentially.

It becomes a two-person race, replicating the formula of 2016, in which the centrist candidate (then Clinton) gradually edges out the radical (Sanders). Aching for the “certain” win over Trump, the party balks at going all in on Warren. Once again, the centrist prevails. At the nominating convention, Pete publicly pleads for Elizabeth Warren to be his candidate for Vice President to help ensure that Trump is defeated. On November 8, 2020, Buttigieg/Warren wins 345 electoral votes.

It could happen.

Here is why it should happen.

Let’s go back to square one: our only job in November, 2020, is to save this country from a second term of Donald Trump. That is not “Job One.” It is our only job.

You can say whatever you want about Donald Trump, but the man is an insidious, disgusting, evil genius at one thing: he finds a competitor’s vulnerability, and he attacks it like a velociraptor. He is cruel, malicious, savage, merciless, openly deceitful, and degrading.

That is who he is, and what he does.

Unfortunately, Joe Biden has too many vulnerabilities, and he is proving too inept at defending himself. Sure, you can say that Hunter Biden didn’t do anything illegal, but it was just plain stupid to allow him to make money swimming in the corruption of the Ukraine oil business. Just plain stupid. The irony is that if Biden is nominated, it gives Donald Trump a powerful weapon against the stain of his impeachment… Biden affords Trump the opportunity to argue that he was fully justified in demanding that Ukraine investigate the seamy behavior of Hunter Biden.  

More cause for concern? Biden has proven to be a terrible counter-puncher. He appears unprepared for what seem to be obvious questions. He gets rattled. He does not seem to have the ability to retrieve vital facts quickly enough to parry attacks. He ducks, he retreats, and he falls back on pablum. If there is a single most important criteria we must use to select our candidate, it must be their ability to go toe-to-toe with an amoral liar in a debate.  Joe Biden is not that guy.

Elizabeth Warren is a far better debater and counter-puncher than Joe Biden… but as noted, her policies can be maligned by Trump as just so much radicalism, socialism, and even communism. For all of her heartland roots, Warren is too easy to paint as a Eastern Establishment Elitist.

Much of what you have read so far appears to be more a comment on the weakness and vulnerabilities of the Democratic field rather than a spirited endorsement of Mayor Pete. The sequence of this argument was important, as people might not be inclined to take an endorsement of Buttigieg seriously until they realized that his nomination is much more plausible that many may realize. And this much is true: if Joe Biden stumbles – a reasonable hypothesis in anyone’s calculus -- the centrist lane in the Democratic Party is there for Pete Buttigieg to take.

Let’s now grill Pete on the essential question of the day: Why is he the best bet to beat Donald Trump?

There are seven reasons.

Pete Buttigieg has the intellect and command of fact to rip Donald Trump to shreds in a one-on-one competition. The biggest concern about Joe Biden is that while he is steeped in the intricacies of policy and global geopolitics, he seems to freeze in debates, unable to summon command of critical facts and data in real time. Buttigieg, in contrast, has supreme confidence and command of nuance, and may be the most gifted spontaneous orator since Bill Clinton. Buttigieg has the tools to immediately and aggressively challenge Donald Trump on his facts, his knowledge of history, his understanding of international relations. Who would be better in a debate against Trump – Buttigieg or Biden? Based on what we’ve witnessed in the Democratic Debates, there is no question that Buttigieg is better equipped.

More specifically, Buttigieg will be best at litigating the impeachment charges in the general election campaign. Let me remind one and all that by the time the Presidential campaign has been narrowed to an official nominee from each party, Donald Trump will have been impeached in the House but not convicted in the Senate. He will be crowing that he has been proven “innocent,” “vindicated,” and the victim of a witch hunt and attempted coup by the elite, radical Democrats in the deep state. Joe Biden will duck every time impeachment comes up, because it will trigger Trump to bring up Hunter Biden. Buttigieg, however, will take this debate to Trump. He will be able to effectively counter Trump’s claim of having been found “innocent” and “vindicated.”

Buttigieg is the only military veteran in the entire mix. Mayor Pete is not the least bit shy about pointing out that if elected, he would be the Commander-in-Chief with the most military services since the first George Bush. This provides him with a bullet-proof shield to attack Donald Trump, who avoided military service when his father had a quack doctor allege that Trump suffers from bone spurs. Military service gives Buttigieg a wide array of angles from which to pummel Trump… from understanding when and why to use military force, to the intricacies of Middle East geopolitics, to the formation of productive relationships with military leaders.

Buttigieg can play in the Midwest.  Frankly, the very last thing the Democrats need right now is another coastal darling who is going to pile on an even wider popular vote margin in New York and California. We’ve already won those votes, people. We need Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Of the final four candidates, Biden and Buttigieg are far better positioned to compete in the Midwest than Bernie or Elizabeth.

Buttigieg is the generational candidate. When he first announced his candidacy, the only thing more ridiculed than his thin government resume was his unprecedented youth. Funny how things shift when the heart health and memory lapses of his aged rivals have more consequential impact on the campaign than Pete’s age. Pete has done a good job of positioning 2020 as a generational moment, a fulcrum moment in which issues like climate change, artificial intelligence, and even the national debt will have a far more profound impact on millennials than sexagenarians. A campaign between Biden and Trump is scorched earth battle between two political parties. A battle between Buttigieg and Trump is a life and death struggle between the future and the past, species preservation vs. self-preservation, hope vs. cynicism, youth vs. age, and life vs. death. It is a better battle for Democrats to fight, and it is the right battle for Democrats to fight.  

Buttigieg is a charismatic wonk, not simply a wonk. It’s a simple rule. When Democrats nominate a policy wonk technocrat, they lose: Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, Hillary Clinton. When they nominate a policy wonk charismatic, they win: John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama What’s the first thing that you notice from that particular pattern? Yes, Democrats always nominate policy wonks. People who are command of the subject matter. People who do their homework.  We have four real candidates still standing, and you could make a pretty strong argument that the Democrats narrowed the field to the four strongest policy wonks in the field. All of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg qualify as charismatic. Joe Biden is not.

Buttigieg best fits the “elect the opposite” test. Think about this one: over time, Americans tend to elect a new President who is the opposite of the prior president. They get tired of the liabilities on the incumbent, and they begin to ache for someone who is diametrically the opposite. Eisenhower was old, cautious, and conservative, so Americans elected Kennedy. Nixon was a crook, so Americans elected squeaky clean Jimmy Carter. George Bush the first was an uptight old patrician WASP, so we elected the uber-cool sax playing baby boomer Bill Clinton. George Dubya Bush was an underachieving, dim, and largely ignorant hick, so we elected super-bright sophisticate Barack Obama. Some Americans thought that Barack Obama was too cerebral and too reticent to flex American muscle… so they elected a big stupid bloviating blob who walked around talking tough about making America great again.

It is worth noting that by far and away the most analogous election to 2020 is 1976, when Gerald Ford was running for election after have completed the term of the disgraced criminal Richard Nixon. Americans were nauseated by the corruption of the Nixon White House, and latched on to his polar opposite… a simple, plain speaking potato farmer from Plains, Georgia, who simply promised Americans that he would not lie to them.

Who among the “Final Four” in the Democratic field is most the opposite of Donald Trump?

There is no question.

The biggest gust of fresh air in the field – and the most anti-Trump figure -- is the multi-lingual 37-year-old combat veteran from the Midwest who, yes, I-will-finally-get-around-to-mentioning-it – is gay.  Trump is an ignorant and corrupt egomaniac whose idea of leading is to tear the nation apart, playing on its divisions and fears of otherness. Far more than the strident, combative, and policy-driven Warren or Sanders, Buttigieg is essentially a  unifier. That is what makes him the most opposite from Donald Trump.

Bernie Sanders will be defeated in the progressive wing by Elizabeth Warren, and his candidacy will end.

Elizabeth Warren is a brilliant, accomplished woman whose embrace of policies that are widely perceived as too radical and too socialist could easily take one of the most winnable elections in history and turn it into a horserace.  She is the wrong candidate for this unique moment in history.

Joe Biden is a great guy. Let’s thank him for his service. But his time is past, and when it was his time, he was never all that great.

It is time for those of Joe’s generation – all Boomers, really -- to stand down and realize that we are the ones who created this mess. The “Me” generation – with  all of its immediate gratification, selfishness, live-for-today, don’t save a dime and let the government take care of us – should stand down, shut up, and recognize that we are the ones who fucked this all up. Who exactly was it who elected Donald Trump President of the United States?

Let the word go forth, from this time and place, that the torch must be passed to a new generation of Americans.

Pete Buttigieg for President.

Tom:  I’m With Biden (Pause for Effect) -- For Now

Here is the short answer on how I am looking at the 2020 election:

·        I’m for a moderate/centrist, not a progressive.  When you look at the state-by-state electoral math of a presidential election, I don’t think there’s a clear path for a progressive to win, while the centrist path is quite straightforward and compelling.  

·        I would go so far as to say that I believe Elizabeth Warren, for all of her ability, would be a disastrous nominee.

·        At this point, the relevant moderates to consider are   Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg   and perhaps Amy Klobuchar.  Between Biden and Buttigieg, Biden – at this juncture --  beats Trump handily in head-to-head polls, whereas Buttigieg loses, and that is extremely compelling data.

·        I will continually monitor this as we move into the primary season.  Buttigieg is doing well in Iowa – it’s a four-candidate race, and a very even one at that.  Lots can change between now and the end of the primary season, and I am open to changing my preference as new information emerges (including the impact of the potential candidacy of Mike Bloomberg).

·        For now, I am for Joe Biden.

·        But come next July, I will be full-in for the Democratic nominee, no matter which of the 17 it might be; I will work equally hard for each of them, because, above all, I want to see Donald Trump removed from office by a Democrat.  I actually care about little else.

Every time I engage in conversation with my New York and California friends about the Democratic nominees, and reveal I am for Joe Biden (as of now!), I can see the heads droop, the palpable sense of utter disappointment.  Thud!

Of course I know that Biden is nearly 77 years old and has lost a step or three from his prime.  I also know he was a non-entity is his prior presidential bids in 1988 and 2008.  That is he is a living, breathing gaffe-aholic.  That he is a creature from another era, prone to ancient references.  And that his policies are not bumper sticker worthy (“Let’s Get Incremental!”).

But here is the truth:  Biden, based on the facts, is the surest bet to beat Donald Trump, plain and simple.  And I want to be very, very clear on this:  those facts may very well change by the time of the Democratic primary in New York, my home state, on April 28, 2020, and thus I reserve the right to change my mind.

But the logic train leads to Biden:

·        Democrats have learned, in very painful ways, that presidential elections are won on the basis of swing state outcomes as they effect the electoral vote, and the popular vote means little (see:  2000, 2016).  This is largely due to California, where the Democrats often roll up huge margins in this gigantic blue state, most of which don’t “count.”  Democrats are fond of saying that Hillary Clinton won by 3 million votes in 2016, but she won by 4 million votes in California, which means the other 49 states went for Trump by 1 million.

·        You have to look at those swing states.  The Democrats lost in 2016 because Trump and the GOP flipped six states from the 2012 election, when Obama beat Mitt Romney:  Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and Florida, worth 99 electoral votes.  There were no changes from the Great Plains to the west coast, none in the Northeast (apart from one electoral vote in Maine), and none in the South, except for Florida.  The flipping was done in the industrial heartland, the Midwest.

2012: OBAMA 332, ROMNEY 206    2016:  TRUMP 304, CLINTON 227


·        It stands to reason that the surest way for the Dems to win in 2020 is to flip those states back.   The only OTHER path to 270 necessarily would involve flipping states that not only supported Trump but Romney as well – essentially, deeper red states.   Now the Dems DO have a chance to flip some of those deeper red states in 2020, states in which the demographics are changing and/or states where the majority of citizens do not like Donald Trump, like North Carolina, Arizona and even Texas.  But it is inherently tougher to flip historically red states than those that have traditionally been blue.

·        These states – those six flippers – are clearly more moderate than the blue states.  They don’t elect a Bernie Sanders or an Elizabeth Warren to the Senate.  They elect Republicans as often as Democrats – currently the six states have 7 GOP senators to 5 Dems.  Their Republicans are of the Rockefeller variety (in Ohio, the history is a bunch of Tafts) and their Democrats are centrists all the way, like Sherrod Brown (who perhaps should have run for President), or former Senator Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania, who actually switched parties late in his career.

·        Joe Biden is made for those states, perfect for voters who felt abandoned by Obama and Hillary Clinton, briefly warmed to Trump, but now disdain him.   Biden is one of them, not an Ivy League elitist type.  These voters are less happy with the progressive Elizabeth Warren, which comes out clearly in swing state head-to-head polls pitting Biden versus Trump, and then Warren versus Trump.  Mayor Pete trails Trump in these states, despite being from neighboring Indiana.   (And I note that as of now, Bernie Sanders holds up well, though the results are skewed by his strong polling in Michigan, the most liberal of those states, thus far.)

Versus Trump
Dem Wins
Trump Wins
+4 points
+3 points
+0 points
-2 points

·        If you think that Biden’s current 4-point lead over Trump versus Warren’s dead heat is not terribly large, consider this:  in 2016, ten states went for margins of 4 percentage points or less.  Four points is huge.

·        When was the last time a progressive won the White House?  Certainly not the last four Democratic presidents (excluding LBJ) – JFK, Carter, Clinton and Obama were the ultimate pragmatist centrists.  The two most liberal candidates – George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984 – won exactly one state each. 

·        There is a feeling that Biden will fare poorly in debates with Trump and will take many solid blows from him on the campaign trail.  But Trump will have an absolute field day with Medicare for All and the Green Deal and other extremely progressive positions; portraying the progressives as socialists will never be easier.  Medicare for All is the third rail of the health care debate.  It’s sort of like the Democratic equivalent of scaling back Social Security for the GOP – they badly want to do it, they think it is truly the right answer, and they know it is simply impossible to do.  And Warren is so locked into it there is no backtracking come the general election, and Trump will feast on it.  There is a reason why Trump is looking for dirt on Biden – he fears him.  He knows that Biden is strong in the Midwest.

·        I know there is a counter-theory:  that Warren will turn on the liberal base, driving up turnout in droves among young voters and the Indivisible groups.  But will those young voters really help us in the Midwest?  We certainly don’t need more of them in California or Massachusetts.  (If they show up at all.)  And I’m betting that those Indivisible groups will be far more loyal to the nominee than the Sanders voters in 2016 who did not back Hillary.  That’s in part because they hate Trump as much as I do, and in part because they are well aware of what happened in 2016.  I think the turnout will be there anyway – you saw it in Kentucky a few days ago, when 1.4 million votes were cast in the gubernatorial race, 40% higher than in 2016.  There was no Elizabeth Warren on the ticket there, just angry Dems and disgruntled Republicans who hated incumbent Governor Matt Devin (and tossed him out).   And don’t forget, the Indivisible folks were instrumental in turning the House to the Dems in 2018, and most of them, I bet, barely knew the names of the Democrats for whom they were canvassing.

·        Joe Biden’s faults do indeed show up in bold relief on the campaign trail.  His gaffes are a bi-product of his lack of eloquence (not his age, per se, he’s always been a gaffe machine).  He gets into trouble forcing big thoughts into small sound bites, and sure, he can be forgetful and conflate past events.  But consider two of his strengths:  one, people like him, and two, he knows government inside out, domestic policy, foreign policy, you name it.  If you watch him in extended interviews, you see the experienced, deeply knowledgeable person who would sit behind the Resolute Desk.  He would never make the rookie mistakes that plagued JFK (getting bullied by Khrushchev in Vienna, and by his generals in Cuba), Carter (losing faith in America), Clinton (allowing his personal failures to overtake his judgment) or Obama (drawing bright lines and pushing troop withdrawal timetables).   Biden would restore our place in the world, instantly command the confidence of our allies, and back a Democratic domestic policy agenda that would move us forward, particularly if we managed to flip the Senate, too.

·        Biden’s ace in the hole is the African-American community, a bulwark of the Democratic coalition that supports him at roughly the 40% level.  Iowa and New Hampshire happen to be two of the three whitest states in the Union (with Vermont), and that is why South Carolina, where African-Americans comprise more than half of registered Democrats, is so crucial to him.  It is very hard to win the Democratic nomination without the African-American vote.  Biden has it, and Pete does not.

·        Is Mike Bloomberg the answer?  First of all, let’s see if he actually runs.  But if he does, I have serious doubts he will be nominated.  He is to the right of Joe Biden at a time when the Dems have shifted left and think even Biden is out of step.  He has a #MeToo history that will be highlighted.   I doubt he will do well among African-Americans. He is a billionaire, 77-year old white man from New York.  That is not a great profile for our times.  I doubt he will have an outsized impact on the race.

·        I would love to back Mayor Pete.  He is, by far, the only candidate who can (nearly?) match the intellect and charisma of JFK, Clinton and Obama, that easy mixture of youth, vitality, grace, intelligence and humor that they all shared.  The ability to speak extemporaneously in whole paragraphs, to reduce complex policies to understandable choices, to turn a critic’s jibe around with a witty response, the fast-on-his-feet nimbleness that Joe Biden completely lacks.  Pete is my favorite candidate, by a wide margin.  But Pete, to date, is not beating Trump head-to-head in the polls.  Maybe it’s his youth; his lack of national experience; the fact that he’s gay.  Who knows?  But until he starts thumping Trump in head-to-head polls as Biden does, I am wary.  I’m not backing my favorite candidate, I only care about winning.

Am I wedded to Joe Biden?  No.  I am wedded to a moderate.  I will keep an eye on those head-to-heads, and all the other data (and other impressions) one can sift to arrive at a conclusion.  And if by the time the New York primary rolls around, enough has changed that my Joe Biden logic train has come off the rails, I will back another.

But until then, I’m with Joe.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave a comment