Home National Politics 2020 Foresight: Winning Must Be the Main Criterion for Dems’ Choice

2020 Foresight: Winning Must Be the Main Criterion for Dems’ Choice


I’m concerned about whether Liberal/Democratic America is going into this new presidential election season in the right frame of mind.

Whether my concerns are well-grounded might be assessed if we could take a poll among Democratic voters, asking:

     “If you had to choose now whether we would nominate

  • A good Democratic presidential nominee with a 100% chance of winning in 2020? Or
  • A great Democratic presidential nominee with a 50% chance of winning.

     which would you choose?”

My point is not that this is necessarily the choice we will face in choosing our nominee. It’s possible that we’ll be lucky, and the very best candidate will also be the one with the strongest chance of winning. But it’s also possible we’ll face some such choice.

And the point of the question would be to assess how Democrats are looking at our 2020 task in choosing a nominee– to assess, in other words, the strength among Democrats of an “All or nothing” spirit.

Because I think that spirit is one that — in this upcoming presidential cycle — we can ill afford.

We can ill afford that spirit because this nation cannot afford a second Trump term. (And, for that matter, considering what the Republican Party has become, I would argue that we cannot afford any other conceivable Republican to win the presidency in 2020 even if it’s not Donald Trump.)

And if that’s true, then the candidate – among all decent Democratic candidates – who is the most sure thing is the one we should prefer. Not that we necessarily can judge accurately each candidate’s probability of winning. Just that – in the 2020 presidential election — the best judgment we can make about electability should weigh very heavily.

What’s called for, in other words, is a “minimax” strategy: one that minimizes the probability of the worst case outcome.

My concern about how Democrats are thinking about our 2020 choice comes from my sense that there’s a spirit rising that is

  • reminiscent of what one heard from some voters on the left in 2000 who bought Ralph Nader’s foolish assertion that there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between Al Gore and George W. Bush. (So we got Bush—and the Iraq war, etc. Much more than a dime’s worth of difference.)
  • And reminiscent of some of those Bernie supporters (btw, I voted for Bernie in the primary) who sat on their hands, in 2016, rather than vote for Hillary. (So we got Trump, who is taking a wrecking ball to everything he can reach.)

Maybe I’m wrong in my concern, and specifically wrong in the way I’m interpreting some of the political signals. But for what it’s worth, among the signs that have fed my concern:

1) I’m concerned that the Green New Deal – in its ambitious target dates (unachievable?—see interview on NPR with Obama’s former Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz) and its inclusion of economic goals unrelated to climate change – plays into the Republicans’ hands. (I hope no one will imagine this shows me to be “soft” on climate change. I’ve been writing about the dangers of climate change since 1976, and believe that I was the first to call for an effort to meet the challenge commensurate with the nation’s effort in World War II.)

2) I also have concerns about going for “Medicare for All” – which reportedly polls not so well with the half of the American public that gets their health insurance through their employers. That may be a wonderful objective, and I hope we get there. But it might also be politically ill-advised to campaign on trying to achieve it in one immediate step. (See “2 Liberal Democrats Are Promoting a Twist on ‘Medicare for All.”)

3) One other thing that may be relevant: There was something about the magnitude and intensity of the wave of calls for resignation, in the wake of disclosures of “blackface” issues in the past of top Virginia Democrats, that seemed to me perhaps “over the top,” and a possible sign of an excessive insistence on “purity” in our leaders.

As I said, I could be wrong in my judgment on all these matters. And, I could be wrong in my inferring from such things – even if I’m right on the specifics – that they signify a spirit arising among Democrats that will hurt our chances to recapture the White House from a Republican Party that’s gone crazy in consistently destructive ways.

But I am concerned. And I think the issue worth looking at.

I can imagine that there could be some issues of age and generation at play here. When I was the age of AOC my focus was more on radical change than it has become since. But in some situations, the issue is much less about just “How far toward utopia should we shoot?” than about “How do we make sure that we do not fall into a pit too deep to climb out of?”

And the state of the nation right now is one of those situations.

The essential choice in 2020 is between a sane and constructive party and a crazily destructive party. The alternative to us – to a degree extraordinary in American history – is well on the wrong side of the line between good and evil.

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