Narrowing the Field to Two
In a very nice bit of analysis, Scott Rasmussen makes a very strong case that, out of the more than 20 candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination, the strong likelihood is that it comes down to four candidates.
He narrows the Democratic field to the two clear leaders in the polls — Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders – plus two others — Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris – who are positioned to challenge if they catch on, which signs are they might. (This was first written two and a half weeks ago)
Of those four, I think two –Sanders and Harris — are rather unlikely.
I don’t think it is going to be Sanders. His support is real, but it’s left over from 2016 and it’s unlikely to grow. (Indeed, it’s already falling.) Democrats rightly worry about Sanders’ electability, and even if he were a wonderful candidate – and I’d say the picture is rather mixed on that -– Democratic voters, whose priority is the need to defeat Trump, know enough not to be leery of nominating a man who has called himself a “Democratic Socialist.” A century of propaganda has made that word just too potent a weapon to hand to someone you really need to defeat.
The corporatist power routinely tries to use that weapon against any Democrat, but a candidate who has used that word in tagging himself is especially vulnerable.
And I don’t think it’s going to be Kamala Harris. She’s got some great strengths — deep substance that she engages with conviction and moral concern — but she’s too exotic in her cultural ways for a lot of Middle America to be deeply comfortable – and therefore trusting – of her. She’s got parents of different races who came from other cultures, and she has a lot of roots in the San Francisco Area. Her “music” isn’t what their used to in traditional American culture. (I like her quite well, but then I am not cut from the same cloth — culturally — as “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy.”) Too many people, I fear, will not embrace her because of the feeling, “She’s not one of us.”
As with Sanders, my guess is that she’ll be a contender but with a Democratic electorate feeling it essential that Trump be defeated, not enough people will want to gamble with Harris to put her over the top.
(As for Buttigieg, who has risen in the polls in the two and a half weeks since I first wrote this piece, although he has been most impressive, my bet is that the same “don’t gamble” strategy will put a ceiling on that rise, keeping him out of the finals.)
If we are excluding those two of Rasmussen’s four, that leaves just Biden and Warren.
Biden– Major Strength, Important Weakness
If we had to choose now, it might make sense to choose Biden. But the coming campaign should disclose more that might change that and lead us to choose Warren.
Biden’s looks like Democrats’ best bet right now because he seems to be the candidate who gives us the highest probability of defeating Donald Trump in the general election. (The current polls support that.) And the disastrous nature of Trump’s presidency makes defeating him essential.
But there’s also a problem with Biden.
For weeks, I’ve been calling for Democrats to be bolder and press the battle in making sure that Trump does not get away with behavior that shreds the kind of America our founders set us up to be.
(See for example:
- “Can the Democrats Find Their Churchill for 2020?” 3/30/19
- “Hoping This Time the Democrats Will Avoid Their ‘Characteristic Error’” 4/28/19
- “How the Democrats Can Fight This More Powerfully” 5/4/19
- “The Real Political Peril in Impeachment is to the Republicans, not the Democrats” 5/8/19
- “How Nadler’s Committee Can Start Effective Hearings Now” 5/11/19
- “The Democrats’ Moment of Truth” 5/19/19
And the problem with Biden is that he appears to represent dealing with that battle the way the Democrats have been doing for years.
It seems that most liberals are comfortable with that habitual Democratic way of fighting the fight. But it’s hard to deny that over the years the Republicans have dominated that battle. It’s gone so badly that this Republican Party has taken us to the unthinkable place aptly described by House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler:
“Now is the time of testing whether we can keep a republic, or whether this republic is destined to change into a different, more tyrannical form of government, as other republics have over the centuries.”
So choosing Biden means sticking with the way of fighting that has led to our losing so much ground that — unthinkably — even that most basic American value is in jeopardy.
(Biden has said that Trump is an aberration in which the Republican Party is not implicated —which is fundamentally untrue, and which suggests that, like Democrats generally over these years, Biden will not press the battle against the Republican Party that gave us Trump and continues to protect him. Just as Democrats have let Republicans get away with disgraceful behavior for years.
(Biden says that, as President, he’ll get things done “working across the aisle.” He was Vice President while his President, Barack Obama, reached continually across the aisle and only got his hand bitten. It’s not clear why Biden thinks that he, as President, could get more cooperation out of those same Republicans.)
More of the same from the Democrats is likely to lead to more of the same kind of outcome– where, when the Democrats win, they are hobbled in their efforts to move the nation forward and, when the Republicans win, they take a wrecking-ball to everything best about America, leaving the nation in wreckage after eight years of W, now culminating in threatening the survival of the very heart of our democratic society.
(There are, of course, important differences in policy between Biden and Warren. (Moderate vs. progressive approximates that difference.) But those differences should matter to Democrats only to the extent that either, even if they win the presidency, could advance their agendas.)
Getting rid of Trump is necessary, but if that’s all that changes — if the Republican Party that gave us Trump, and has become the Trump Party, remains unvanquished — that would still leave the United States in serious trouble.
Elizabeth Warren– Her Right Spirit, Her Big Unanswered Question
Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, has shown more of the kind of fighting spirit America urgently needs from Democratic leader now.
- In 2016, she out-dueled Trump in a tweet-battle, without stooping to Trump’s level. She bested him with her wit and her incisive intelligence and a willingness to call things for what they are.
- Of all the Democratic candidates, Warren has lately been most conspicuous and bold in calling for Trump’s impeachment.
(And, her call for impeachment contained a masterful job of condensing the picture so that America – if it was listening – could see the reasons why of course Trump must be impeached: “The Mueller report,” Warren said, “lays out facts showing that a hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election to help Donald Trump and Donald Trump welcomed that help. Once elected, Donald Trump obstructed the investigation into that attack.”)
The message is clearly there. So is the will to wield it in the battle. The question is:
Can Elizabeth Warren reach and move enough Americans to rally behind her to win that battle?
And I think there are reasons to think she could.
Let’s See if Warren Can Rally the Heart of the Nation
If Kamala Harris is culturally singing in a style that’s beautiful but not that of Middle America, this child of Oklahoma – Elizabeth Warren — is clearly animated by a spirit emerging from the mainstream of American culture.
From her looks and her manner, Elizabeth Warren could be first cousins with that couple in the painting, “American Gothic,” she could be standing right there with the couple and the pitchfork and look like she was well-chosen — and “American Gothic is an icon so representative of Middle America and its self-image that the Kellogg Company has deployed the image of that farmer coupleon boxes of its corn flakes.
(I know the story of these times is about how that Middle America part losing its dominance as the demographic mix of the nation evolves, but that doesn’t mean that this core part of the population and the culture are not still very powerful.)
Easily pictured as a good congregant in some mainstream Protestant church, Elizabeth Warren sounds — in her political statements — like the voice of basic American morality, with a well-developed sense of what’s right and wrong. She’s not moral in a philosophic or detached way but in the way of someone who genuinely cares about what’s right and wrong.
She’s lived at the level of ordinary people struggling, and she regards the needs of those people with the compassion one would hope for in a good Christian.
Moreover she seems to be motivated by genuine caring and concern, guided by an incisive practical intelligence, and driven way more by her moral commitments than by any ego trip
A cultural ideal.
So I’d say there’s a decent chance that a lot of Americans could resonate to a message of truth and integrity from one of the finer specimens of mainstream American culture.
So the first order of business for us Democrats, I would propose, is to find out what Elizabeth Warren can do in terms of lighting the fire in the heart of America to move this country out of its present darkness.
So long as the answer is at least “maybe yes,” we should push her forward with our support.
And if she proves unable to rally the core of America behind her, there’s always Biden. If Biden turns out to be the only safe bet, he is likely to be also the best bet.