This is the companion piece to the previous piece, “Letter to My Fellow Virginia Democrats: Our Inescapable ‘Electability’ Challenge,” in which I argued that those of us whose overriding priority in the 2020 election is to defeat Trump — and all the polls show that’s the big majority of Democratic voters — are compelled to vote on the basis of “Electability” which, even though it is beyond our ability to judge, is what we must of necessity base our actions on. – Andy Schmookler
Actions like, most immediately, how we cast our votes on Tuesday in Virginia’s SuperTuesday Democratic primary.
Like the great majority of Democrats, my paramount goal is to prevent the re-election of Donald Trump, which would be a national disaster of the first magnitude.
(Achieving that goal should be the over-riding priority, I would argue, given the magnitude of the stakes — like the future of American democracy and even of that wider world in which the United States used to be the world’s “indispensable nation,” and used to be “the leader of the free world.”)
For many months, I’ve been assuming that I would vote in this primary for Elizabeth Warren. She’s the one that I feel most excited about when I picture her going toe-to-toe with Trump on the debate stage during the campaign, or facing down the Republicans after becoming President.
But the new circumstances in the race — the situation to which the primary in South Carolina has brought us — have compelled me to see that I must change that plan.
People I respect are saying that it has become a two-man race — and their assessment appears to be valid — i.e. that it will be either Biden or Sanders who comes to the convention in the strongest position.
I don’t see how Warren’s prospects are going to improve between now and the convention. She’s hit her ceiling.
(Likewise Klobuchar and Buttigieg [I wrote this a few hours before he quit the race]: I can imagine no newly irresistible bandwagons; nor does it any longer seem like Bloomberg can catch fire.)
So the race — at least until the convention — seems to have boiled down to a choice between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. And so, given the priority on driving Trump from the presidency, the question becomes simple to state, even if not simple to answer: which of those two is the better bet to win.
I might prefer having a President Bernie Sanders than a President Joe Biden. But the over-riding question is not who’d be the better President but rather which of these two is more likely to become President?
I concede that no one can know for sure— something I must confess in my own case because, in 2016, I misjudged the Electability of Donald Trump.
But here are my reasons for thinking that Biden is the better bet for the Democrats to make:
With so much on the line, I think the better strategy is to minimize the risk. If one candidate is a big gamble, while with the other we know how it will play within reasonably narrow limits, the better bet is to minimize how much one relies on knowing the unknowable.
With Biden, we pretty much know how the American people will react (at least within a given range, depending on whether his weaknesses hurt him somewhat more or somewhat less, and on whether his strengths appeal to voters somewhat more or somewhat less).
But with Bernie, the possibilities diverge more extremely.
One can envision Sanders riding a powerful movement the White House, his becoming a kind of Working Man’s Hero, champion of the people against the plutocracy, jabbing at Trump ceaselessly and to good effect.
But at least as plausibly, one can imagine Sanders being annihilated by Trump’s propagandists, who whip up a big chunk of America that doesn’t like the word “socialist,” doesn’t trust someone who had good things to say about the Castro regime, and who would make “radical” changes to America.
Two plausible scenarios– miles apart. That range of possibilities makes Bernie Sanders a much riskier choice.
(And the better Sanders scenario does not seem the most likely. Here’s why I say that:
(When I misjudge people — like believing that there was no way that enough American voters would support Trump’s becoming President– it is virtually always in the direction of expecting the people to be better than they turn out to be. In other words, that scenario of Bernie’s movement sweeping the country and making him President is the kind of thing I’m too likely to credit. But even I see that scenario — though a possibility — as likely too good to be true.)
There are times for risk-taking. And there are times for minimizing the gamble. And with American democracy at stake, it seems wise to minimize the risk.
Joe Biden is a known quantity, and the range of possible scenarios for Biden and against Trump are far narrower.
While Biden’s weaknesses do concern me, none of those weaknesses — his stumbling speaking style, for example — contradict his equally clear strengths. Strengths like how
- no one in politics is better at connecting with people humanly than Joe Biden, and
- no one is better at seeming like a decent guy than Biden.
(To which might be added that no one has deeper experience of the world in which a President operates.)
Moreover, it seems to me that those strengths of Biden will surely come through and register with the electorate. (See “Biden Isn’t My Preference, But Here’s Why I Think He’d Beat Trump,” written while I still planned to vote for my favorite, Elizabeth Warren.)
A Biden vs. Trump contest seems easily cast in terms of the contrast between an indecent guy and a decent guy, a guy who continually upsets our political world and a guy who can restore some semblance of American normality. And I feel good about the chances of our side winning a contest fought on those terms.
I recognize that it’s possible that Bernie would be the stronger candidate, but it seems imprudent to take such a big gamble on that. That’s why — to my own great surprise — I’ll be voting for Biden on Tuesday.