Where the Democrat’s Civil War stands — and where the candidates are
Now he’s done it. Again.
Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is back, and he’s kicking open all the differences lurking within the Democratic Party since well before “Bernie Bro” became a pejorative for Those With Her in 2016. At such a moment, it’s good to take stock of which candidates are officially in the 2020 race, how they fit into the idea of cultural-political theory, and, from there, how they might survive the head to head with Trump.
For our purposes, we will only examine those who have officially declared their candidacy as of February 19, 2019. We’ll assign them a cultural-political category, but also caveat that with firm vs. soft designations — that is, some of these political and presidential candidacies still have time to shift their categorical designations as the primary kicks in and they adjust to the pressures of the factions with the party.
But first, read up on my emerging approach to culture and politics. Then, keep this in mind:
Dogmatist candidates will likely lose against Trump — these candidates are perfect foils for Trump and his culture war approach to politics. They will alienate the undecided voters essential for national victory and spook every part of the Democratic base they don’t directly stand for.
Spiritual candidates stand a better chance than Dogmatists, but don’t inspire the Dogmatists or the Workers in this cycle — these candidates still provide Trump with some culture war fodder, but it’s hard for him to pin them down into the boogeymen he needs. Yet while they do well against him, they may fail to rally the other parts of the party — let alone survive the bruising primary that will be dominated by the Dogmatist vs. Workers fight.
Workers candidates are best matched against Trump — because of Trump’s tax cuts, stagnating wages, and his failure to restore the middle class, the most salient attack avenue for domestic issues against Trump is economic. Plus there’s a good chance we’re in a recession by the time the election is underway next year. Hence why Workers’ candidates are generally better to beat Trump than anyone else. Of course, to even get to the 2020 election, they must survive the primary — and the Dogmatists.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the list:
Senator Cory Booker — a soft Spiritualist playing the Obama book
Senator Booker wants to be Barack Obama, and is appealing, for now at least, for “a unity and better angels” approach to the culture wars, while his economic message remains just underneath. That makes him a potentially okay candidate against Trump, but it weakens him in the primary, where right now the vibe is very much against the weak-willed Spiritualist approach that favors consensus and compromise.
Pete Buttigieg — a soft Worker with zero name recognition
Buttigieg (yes, I know, who?) will struggle to be heard in a crowded field, so he’s weak from the get-go. But that being said, he’s posturing himself to be a Worker candidate, focusing on economic messaging first. That makes him solid against Trump, but he must face down the Dogmatic activists who are going to swarm the primaries. That is presuming anyone gets to know him at all.
Julian Castro — a soft Dogmatic who could readily pivot to a hard one
Castro at least has some name recognition, thanks to being Obama’s former HUD secretary and mayor of San Antonio. But Castro has disquietly Dogmatic qualities, indicated not only because Hillary considered him as VP to win the Hispanic vote (though she obviously chose milk toast Tim Kaine in classic Clintonian risk-aversion at the end) but also by how his candidate announcement emphasized his identity over his politics. That puts him into a good position to take advantage of the Dogmatic activists in the primary, but to win them over he may have to go even harder into the Dogmatic category — and in doing so, likely doom his candidacy against Trump.
John Delaney — a soft Spiritualist with too much money
John Delaney is a millionaire who wants to unite America. That’s political arsenic laced with cyanide. Enjoy watching this nowhere candidate flop before both the Dogmatic and Worker primary votes who will hate him.
Tulsi Gabbard — the firm Dogmatic with few allies
Gabbard, the Hawaii Senator and former Iraq war veteran, uses her identity — she’s the first Hindu member of Congress and first American Samoan — as part of her means to gain attention and stature. Alas, she’s also met with war criminal Bashar al-Assad of Syria, a certainly fatal decision because almost no Democratic Dogmatic activist will be able to defend her for doing so. The anti-war Left often invites cannibals into their midst; Gabbard is surely the next victim.
Kristen Gillibrand — the firm Dogmatist with a real shot to lose 2020
Gillibrand is a perfect New York state candidate: dogmatic, hard-headed, ruthless to a fault, and well-greased in the state’s machine politics. That makes her a formidable primary candidate as she harnesses the many strands of Dogmatic activists to unleash criticism on her enemies and undermine their moral standing amongst the party faithful. It also gives Trump the advantage in the general election. Not only will her quest to win the primary burn bridges with everyone but the Dogmatists, but Trump already has a proven record of beating Dogmatist senators from New York in presidential contests.
Kamala Harris — the soft Spiritualist the Dogmatists will tempt
The California senator is trying to find a Spiritualist center that doesn’t really exist anymore. She will be tempted to skew towards the Dogmatists who will reward her black woman identity over all other policy priorities. If she remains Spiritualist in her approach, she will face a bruising primary — and probably won’t survive it. If she hews to the Dogmatists, she may get through to the nomination, but then probably lose to Trump. But if she can find a way to discover a Workers-friendly message, she may yet find a path to the presidency. Time will tell how she evolves.
Amy Klobuchar — the firm Worker who has to somehow find a way past Elizabeth Warren
Klobuchar, the Minnesota Senator, will have the same challenges as Warren (see below): a potentially lethal combination of dogged hatred from the Dogmatists who demand all Democrats hew to their ideology first and waffly support from the Spiritualists who want to think they’re voting for some greater good they can’t quite identify. Worse, she also has to prove she’s better than Warren, who has improved name recognition — in part because she’s so hated by Trump. That being said, not being known can be an advantage: the Dogmatists will focus on Warren, not Klobuchar, meaning she might just avoid enough attacks to survive a few rounds in the primary. Though it seems a long shot, should she make it to 2020, her Worker-friendly platform is a serious challenge to Trump.
Bernie Sanders — the firm Worker with a lot of baggage
Already the Dogmatists are sharpening their knives for Sanders, making his survival in the primaries unlikely. Despising him for what they think is his treason against Hillary, the Dogmatists of all stripes see in Sanders everything they hate about the Democrats: an old white man from a rich state too close to gun owners and too far from urban centers. It’s not that they dislike his platform — it’s that they dislike him. But he’s a potent force who more or less leads the Workers’ faction of the party. He may not be able to win the primaries, but he could readily accelerate the Democratic Civil War into something approaching the crisis already engulfing the Republican Party.
Elizabeth Warren — the firm Worker Trump will try to make look like a Dogmatist
Warren must defeat Sanders and his loyalists to secure the Worker wing of the party, and then face down the attacks by the Dogmatists who will go after her for the Native American ancestry scandal. And even after that, while she is very much a Worker-friendly candidate, Trump is posturing to make her look an awful lot like a Dogmatic candidate he is much stronger against. She may survive that, but of all the Worker candidates, Warren comes with the greatest liabilities.
Marianne Williamson — the Spiritualist, umm, her?
Ms. Williamson is hoping that running as an outsider and being friends with Oprah will help her slip past the typical vanguards of the primaries. With almost no political experience and just a dash of celebrity, she’s as close to Donald Trump as the Dems have right now. That’s a bad thing, because unless she gets very controversial, and fast, to build name recognition, she’s going to be that candidate everyone forgets even as she stands on the debate stage.
Andrew Yang — the soft Worker that better find a stronger message
Yang is essentially running on Universal Basic Income — a very Worker-friendly idea, but hardly one to build out much of a platform, let alone excite the Worker faction he needs to know his name to vote for him. Yang needs to find an edge and fast if he’s going to get anyone to notice him in Iowa.
And as for Biden?
Biden isn’t running yet, so best to avoid the what if. Should he enter, the dynamics will change a bit, but remember, this isn’t a game of Establishment vs. Insurgents. It’s Dogmatists vs. Workers, with the Spiritualists, though dwindled in strength, caught in between. Biden is more a Spiritualist, like his boss Barack Obama was, which makes him weak in this primary. That may just scare him off from entering.
So who’s ahead?
The real answer is nobody: the field is massively split. A lot of blame needs to be assigned, and a lot of attacks unfurled before we can say for sure who’s stronger. What is certain is that the cracks in the party are about to widen, and if the vitriol around Sanders is any indication, may even go septic.
Happy primarying, Democrats.