Nov. 3, 2020 – Election Day! A year ago, I was sure that Democrats would be entirely focused on beating President Donald Trump. I naïvely believed that policy divisions within the party would be subsumed by that single shared goal, and that the party would by now have united behind a standard bearer who could win in the Midwestern swing states that Trump swept in 2016.
Who would it be?
My favorite was Montana Governor Steve Bullock, a straight-talking, no-nonsense guy and a reasonably progressive Dem who won re-election in 2016 in a state that Trump won by 20 points.
I tested Bullock’s possible appeal to Republicans by pitching him early this year to some of my geezer homies. They’d never heard of him, but they were impressed.
“I think you’re making this up, John!” said one, a fire-breathing Trumpista. “In Montana? A Democrat? That should be a no-brainer, but I don’t think you understand the Democrat Party. It’s completely controlled by the radical left, and they’d rather lose with one of their favorite crazies than win with someone that’s not 100 percent with ’em. You better get used to it: Trump in 2020!”
A former never-Trumper confirmed that diagnosis.
“When Hillary got thumped, the moderates just gave up,” she said. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her buddies are the face of the party, and the ones who can motivate primary voters. They don’t care that moderate Dems were the big winners in 2018 — they want Bernie, or someone even crazier.”
Nevertheless, I persisted in believing that Dems would settle on a strong, capable, experienced moderate to lead them — but it seems unlikely to happen.
Bullock and Sen. Kamala Harris dropped out of the race earlier this week, joining Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in the candidate reject bin.
That leaves Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Cory Booker, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden as the remaining moderates in the race. And perhaps we should include Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, the battling billionaires who don’t have to worry about fundraising.
Klobuchar and Booker’s candidacies have stalled, leaving Mayor Pete and Joe Biden to fight for the moderate crown. Alas, that crown may only be a tinfoil hat, offering no protection from the fierce progressive radiation of the Warren and Sanders campaigns.
For all of his many virtues, Joe Biden also carries a lot of baggage — age, Ukraine and a long history of failed presidential runs. In one-on-one debates, Trump might overwhelm Biden, who’s never dealt with such an energetic, ruthless streetfighting opponent.
Mayor Pete, by contrast, is a young, informed, scary-smart, thoughtful veteran — everything that Trump is not. And yeah, my service as a city councilor has given me some appreciation of the formidable skillsets of successful mayors. Bob Isaac, Mary Lou Makepeace, John Suthers — any of the three could have moved from City Hall to the White House.
Let’s suppose that Buttigieg wins Iowa and New Hampshire, essentially leaving him, Biden, Warren and Sanders to duke it out during the remainder of the primary season. Will Biden drop out and support Buttigieg, or will Sanders withdraw and endorse Warren? And if it comes down to a clearly defined moderate versus progressive race, who will prevail?
The campaign so far has been a bizarre reality show hybrid of Survivor, Dancing with the Stars and America’s Got Talent. That’s because of the DNC’s celebrity-friendly rules of the game (number of contributions, standings in the polls) and the unwieldy number of combatants. It’s also been influenced by party rule changes that ensure that state delegations to the national conventions are appropriately diverse and reduce the clout of so-called superdelegates — mostly present and former state elected officials.
Can Biden re-energize his stalled campaign? Can Mayor Pete break through? Will business donors flock to Trump to protect against a Warren/Sanders ticket?
Your guess is probably better than mine. Of the four front-runners, only Buttigieg seems to have a commanding presence — an elusive quality. Obama, Kennedy and Reagan had it — their opponents didn’t. If nominated, could Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders or Warren beat Trump? We’ll see.
As for me, I’ll vote enthusiastically for Buttigieg, dutifully for Biden, doubtfully for Warren and resentfully for Sanders. And I’ll prepare to be teased, made fun of and gloated at by my Republican pals.
Just you wait till 2024, GOPster scoundrels!