The Democrats have one job in 2020: beat an unpopular, divisive, disruptive, incompetent and corrupt president. This was also their job in 2016 and they blew it. I’m starting to fear they’re about to commit political malpractice again based on the current crop of presidential primary front-runners. I’m specifically talking about the top 4: Biden, Sanders, Warren and Harris.
Let’s start with Biden. Although it’s encouraging that the person leading in the polls is, on paper, an eminently qualified candidate hailing from the more moderate side of the Democratic party, in reality Biden is probably the least impressive of the moderates running. When I picture Biden debating Trump next year, I get genuinely worried. It doesn’t have to be this way — there are others in the “moderate lane” with strong resumes, sharper debating skills and a greater grasp on the issues.
Then there’s Warren and Sanders. I was encouraged by Warren’s early rhetoric which expressed appreciation for capitalism and markets, provided that rules of fairness and competition were enforced. But now that she’s apparently decided her path to victory relies mainly on stealing Sanders’ voters, she just sounds like a less angry, more wonky version of him. And what’s with the belittling of pragmatism in this last debate? If she really believes that legitimate questions about the political ramifications (let alone feasibility) of her positions are to be dismissed as Republican talking points, then maybe she’s deeper into Bernie’s “free everything for everyone!” dead-on-arrival leftism than I thought. Warren’s only saving grace at this point is that she’s smart, knowledgeable and would prove a better foil for Trump than another angry old white man, but the Republicans are still going to have a field day turning her statements into attack ads.
Finally, there’s Harris. She has always struck me as more opportunist politician than principled policymaker, and her contortions in recent months on everything from mandatory busing to her have-cake-and-eat-it kludge of a healthcare plan has just verified that impression. Add to that her apparent inability to get as good as she gives and it’s not clear she’d be as effective a prosecutor of Trump as everyone hopes. Ideologically flexible, thin-skinned and not particularly sharp on policy doesn’t make for a great candidate in my mind.
So who would I prefer? My dream top three would be Buttigieg (young and somewhat inexperienced, yes, but unique in his ability to articulate a nuanced pragmatism informed by progressive ideals), Michael Bennet (solid resume, moderate but principled) and Cory Booker (needs to moderate a bit on policy, but a sharp debater with proven executive experience). That’s not to say there aren’t other decent choices I’d take over the current leaders, but those three stand out to me so far, and all strike me as having an easier time beating Trump, which, I remind you, is job number one. I can’t help but grin when I imagine Buttigieg’s unflappable, deeply detailed debate responses next to Trump’s defensive, incoherent rambling. That’s not the reaction I anticipate when I think about the current top four.
The bottom line is this: the stakes are too damn high to continue with this ridiculous race to the left that’s alienating moderate voters like me, and creating a treasure trove of scare-tactic footage for Republican ads in the general. If I see one more debate dominated by liberal navel-gazing over Medicare for All or border decriminalization, I’m going to wonder if the Democrats really are the opposition party for our time or just an unserious band of dreamers who are more interested in having an ideological purity contest than actually saving this country from another 4 years of Trump’s ineptitude and degradation.