One of the joys of being alive is having smart, curious friends to talk with – or to write guest posts for your blog. I’d love to see more of these, especially from friends with perspectives and opinions different from my own – email me your ideas!
Today it’s awesome friend Jeremy Berg with his thoughts on the first two Democratic Presidential Debates, and the 2020 U.S. Presidential election in general. As always, Jeremy’s thoughts are both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply insightful. Enjoy!
This is part 1 of Jeremy’s three-part series. Part 2 will come next week, and Part 3 the week after that. The pink-shaded paragraphs in italic are related tangential extra thoughts.
Hey everyone. Jordan has invited me to share my thoughts on and predictions about the Democratic primaries. I’m going to touch on several hot button issues, but I don’t want to discuss the issues themselves — only how they might play in the campaign. Which is not to say you won’t hear opinions…
Let’s get three things out of the way to start:
- There will be many calls to unite behind one candidate ASAP and not sink the Dems through infighting. Phrases like “circular firing squad,” “purity tests,” “divide and conquer,” and “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” will get much currency.
This will not happen.
- There will be calls to not refight the 2016 election.
This will not happen.
- There will be calls to not play identity politics.
This will not happen.
A massive primary field became fait accompli the instant Clinton lost the election.
Yes, Russian interference, voter suppression, 3 million more popular votes, and the electoral college is bullshit. But. By the current measures of an American presidential election, she lost.
There are 23 candidates for the Democratic nomination for the exact same reason that there were 17 candidates for the Republican nomination in 2016: the current incumbent is despised to a degree that is not only historic but previously undreamt of, and no one in the party has been anointed.
Jeb Bush raised a shitload of money and belonged to a dynasty, but he was a political non-entity whose biggest moment on the national stage had been the Terry Schiavo debacle, and who’d been out of office for almost a decade when he ran. The fact that he wasn’t considered the presumptive front-runner right away should’ve been enough to get him to cut his losses and quit on day three. Scott Walker was the Kochs’ pick, but he didn’t really exist outside of Wisconsin, even after the potentially star-making achievement of beating back a recall effort.
On the Democratic side of things, whether or not you think the DNC pulled shenanigans for her, Hillary Clinton was clearly the anointed one. The primary was supposed to be a formality; Bernie Sanders was unmistakably an unwelcome guest at the party (I am aware that Martin O’Malley also ran, but a wet piece of cardboard would’ve had the same impact. On a personal note, I was living in Baltimore when O’Malley was elected mayor, and seeing the dynamic fireball that played Irish bar band gigs in a sleeveless t-shirt, was the inspiration for Carchetti in The Wire, and who a friend once sat next to at Mick’s as he wept into his beer over the state of his beloved city somehow reduced to a piece of extra-bland tofu on the national stage was profoundly depressing).
That means the field is wide open in a way that few if any candidates will live to see again.
Not only does every candidate face an uphill climb against a party favorite but the incumbent is so hated that anyone, no matter how far down the ladder or possessed of radical ideas, gets considered as a viable alternative. Whatever virtues everyone running may possess, they’re still politicians and they’re not about to let this chance pass them by.
With the field so crowded, voters are going to be very picky. The candidates know this, and will stress their virtues and others’ faults. Everyone’s done things someone won’t like, and that means those things will be brought up.
So yes, we are going to hear all about Hickenlooper’s fracking, Buttigieg’s gentrification, Harris’s record as a prosecutor (or the fact that she was a prosecutor at all), Warren’s DNA test, Biden’s everything, and G-d knows what else. It’s true that all this tumult will potentially damage the candidate in the general, both in terms of the dirt that gets dug up and the voters it turns off, but it’s still going to happen.
Everyone agrees that it’s vital to get rid of Trump, but each side thinks the other is guaranteed to fail. As part of the argument, progressives will yell about how Bernie would’ve beaten Trump and we can’t make that mistake again, we need offers of real change, while the centrists will yell that we need a middle of the road candidate who will appeal to everyone in the general and not turn people off and frighten them with radical ideas.
…and radical skin tones, sexualities, and genders.
The idea that enough Trump voters (not all by any means, rampant racism and misogyny definitely figure) would have gone for a radical leftist instead of a radical rightist has been floated in various places. Matt Taibi’s book Insane Clown President makes a good case for this, and there was a recent New York Times article where some Trump voters were saying they liked Warren for much the same reasons they’d liked him.
The word “electability” will surface in these discussions, a word that has already been cast as both the only thing that matters for 2020 and a canard used to preserve white male power.
Gender aside, we had that “electable” candidate in 2016 and she lost, so I’m not sure why anyone thinks it’s going to work now, but expect to hear it just the same.