It’s begun. The Democratic Party is having a party. It’s a theme party called the Democratic Presidential Primary Campaign and self invitees are all coming as “candidates for POTUS”. It’s also a progressive party (in both common usages of the word), with the formal festivities starting in June, 2019 with a fun debate between the party goers. Then those who choose to keep on dancing will move to eleven similar events over a monthly schedule. Prizes in the form of “who won” and who is still “viable”will be awarded by pollsters and the media eager to influence the outcomes. Participation trophies, although probably the motive of some, won’t be handed out.
Currently, the number of celebrants appears to be somewhere around 40-45, an unrealistic and unmanageable group but a number that is sure to sink as the reality of the cost of participation takes hold.
Why such an unprecedented large number of contestants? Several reasons new to presidential politics are in play.
First, and most important is the remarkable upset 2016 victory by the current incumbent of the other party. The guiding belief among the crowd trying to push their way into White House is that “if an obnoxious, erratic, billionaire real estate developer with no political background or experience can be elected President, then anyone can.”
Second is the belief, the product of a two year drumbeat of mainstream and social media angst, hate and derision, that this President is a political disaster who anyone can defeat.
Third is the effect of social media on the money problem. In 2016, Bernie Sanders had relative success raising large sums of money in the form of small donations from large numbers of individuals using social media as the point of contact. This has fostered the belief that a viable campaign can be financed without the traditional support of large donors or self funding by rich candidates. Of course Bernie was out resourced and defeated by Hillary who employed no such restraints on fund raising, but no matter, the dream lives on.
Taking a short look at the “interested” candidates shows a common thread among the long list of physically and regionally diverse individuals. With few exceptions, the possible candidates are, or have been pushed, far to the Left. But there is considerable variation in the traditional characteristics and qualifications of the pre-Trump candidacy.
Because the Democratic (and Republican) primaries are state based, unlike national primaries in some countries, the appeal of candidates can vary greatly based on local cultural and ideological characteristics and thus not closely reflect national preferences. This is important because the larger, most populace states send larger numbers of delegates to the nominating conventions.
In the Democrats case, most of the larger population states are the bastions of the most Left wing elements of the Party: California (San Francisco, LA); New York (NYC); Illinois (Chicago).
Texas and Florida may be more moderate as a whole but this is still just the Democrats in action and “Beto mania” in Texas is a bad sign in the search for moderation. Thus a far Left candidate out of touch with the more moderate national population might create a problem for the Democrats in the general election. George McGovern and Michael Dukakis come to mind.
How will Democrat primary voters sort out this proliferation of almost like minded liberals?
First, things have changed since 2016. The Democrats have divided themselves into competing identity groups, so for now, the traditional (pre-Trump) evaluations of candidates mostly based on qualifications like political experience and previous success, have taken a back seat to things like, age, sex, race, and level of hostility towards Trump and Republicans.
One less narrow characteristic is still acknowledged by experienced pundits however and thus seems to have survived in the background. This is “likeability”. Maybe this will be the great separator in the final determination. It’s impossible to know much about the personalities of so many candidates but a look at one of the “front runners” may be informative.
Here is Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who a couple of long term Democrats watching one of her recent speeches in Iowa had eye rolling fits declaring her “boring”. In an attempt to look chummy and like one of the regular guys, the Harvard law professor posted a video on Instagram from her kitchen where she popped open a brewski and drank it out of the bottle. That was it; no political message attached. Sorry Warren advisers, this cringe worthy episode looked like an obvious re-run of Hillary’s 2008 election visit to a tavern in Crown Point, Indiana where she tossed down a shot of Crown Royal Canadian whiskey and a beer chaser with the guys, duly recorded in a video. At least neither Hillary nor Warren were wearing camo but it’s probably not a good plan to use Hillary as a campaign role model.
Likeability aside, here’s a simple classification of the possible candidates as a starter. Unlike Trump, all of the possible Democratic candidates are politicians or former politicians although there are important differences in experience. At the outset, the primary battle seems to be shaping up as a battle between the radical left and the establishment left; the young Left and the old Left; the diversity Left and accepting of white males Left. There is some overlap and some contradictions among the candidates however.
The Radical Left:
Bernie Sanders, Democratic Socialist, Independent, Senator from the rural commune of Vermont, who did unexpectedly well against the Clinton/DNC team in 2016. Bernie’s anti-capitalist, “revolutionary” rhetoric and goals attract a mix of young radicals and some so called “millennials”. But at age 77 now, and 80 if assuming office in January 2021, Bernie runs into trouble with the “old white guys” barrier which has become a popular meme among the “new Left” since 2016. Never mind that according to the “experts” on “political correctness”, college sophomores nation wide, this hostility is “ageist”, “racist”, and “sexist”. But Bernie will still excite some college radicals and get the liberal geezer vote.
The Identity Politics Left:
This was tried with mixed success, working for Obama who ran in 2008 as “the first Black President to be” and garnering 95 percent of the black vote. To be fair, that vote was not enough to win and he attracted majorities from Hispanics , 67%, and Asians 67% well as 43% of the white vote to give him the win. But the fact that he was an historically important candidate by virtue of his race can not be denied as contributing to his appeal.
Hillary ran her “I am woman” “break the glass ceiling” campaigns in both 2008 and 2016 and came up short in both. Also, in 2008 Obama was the only minority candidate and Hillary was the only female. This was also true for her in 2016. The situation for 2020 is more daunting for such candidates because there are several of each which will split the vote of these blocs. Still, the motivation for this appeal appears enticing to many because of the clamor by the Left for “new leadership” which in many cases translates into the anti-“old white men” narrative.
Cory Booker: The black Senator from New Jersey and former Mayor of Newark, NJ. Booker is a fast talker with a tendency to shouting and theatrics who has made, and will continue to make race a national campaign issue if he runs as expected. This may win him approval with minority voters but could complicate the campaigns of the other minority candidates and hurt him with the non-minority majority of voters who are experiencing “race issue fatigue”.
Eric Holder: The former Attorney General in Obama’s first administration is known as “the first Black AG”. He’s intelligent, articulate and knowledgeable about the political process in Washington D.C. He is also highly partisan and was oriented towards the racial implications of social justice issues as Attorney General. Ironically, he is the quintessential Washington “establishment” insider, going back and forth between a high profile law firm and government most of his career. Also, in January, 2021 he will be an “old black man” of 70.
Kamala Harris: The current junior Senator from California. Harris’s political background is limited to her stint as District Attorney for San Francisco and then Attorney General of California. Thus she’s a high profile minority in California but not so much nationally. She is also currently light on the credentials side of the political ledger for the common but outdated “Leader of the free world” label. The “what about Trump” response doesn’t work for her or anyone else unless the Democrats are willing to accept the Trump anomaly as the new standard for POTUS. She has tried to boost her status and name identification mostly by media coverage of the nomination hearings for former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, taking an overly hostile and confrontational approach which led the media to some how conflate rudeness as a positive attitude along with her being a black female and thus a “potential” presidential candidate.
Julian Castro: The former mayor of San Antonio, TX whose youth , 44, and third generation immigrant status check two of the boxes for the “new blood and diversity” movement in the Democratic Party. Castro is the “ Hispanic candidate”. He portrays his brief political career as an example of how the nation’s largest minority group can achieve status and success. His issues as Mayor and then as Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development were immigration, early education, and then housing assistance, and disaster relief. He set himself on a political fast track starting with college politics at Stanford University. He became the youngest member of the San Antonio City Council and then the youngest mayor. He followed in Obama’s footsteps to gain attention as a Democratic “rising star” by delivering the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention before joining the Obama Administration. He was mentioned, and then passed over, as Hillary’s Vice Presidential running mate. With his thin resume’ and narrow focus on his Hispanic minority appeal which nevertheless would be important in “red” Texas, and “battleground” Florida, he looks more like a Vice Presidential candidate than a top of the ticket player, and that may well be part of his well planned political assent.
Tulsi Gabbard: Gabbard is a mixed race female whose background doesn’t offer support specific to a politically important minority group. Born in American Samoa, her father is also mixed race, Samoan/Causcasion. He mother is Caucasian but is a practicing Hindu. Gabbard is herself a practicing Hindu. Her credentials for the presidency are had to find. Her political experience includes the Honolulu city council and two years in the Hawaii House of Representatives and six years in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the district combining Honolulu and surrounding small towns. She is apparently trying to use her veteran status from two Middle East tours in the Hawaii National Guard as resume’ filler. But, and it’s a really big “but”, the ever vigilant far Left is already shouting heresy about Gabbard’s past positions while a legislator in Hawaii. Like her father, a Catholic active in his church and a state senator, she espoused anti-gay positions and legislation. She has since claimed that she has “evolved” and apologized to the unforgiving activists on these issues. “But”, again, she has praised Russia’s Putin for bombing Islamist insurgents in Syria and criticized Obama for not doing the same. She has endorsed torture in extreme situations affecting U.S. national security and visited Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. She is also connected to an extremist, anti-Islamic Hindu religious/political group in India.
It took Charles Darwin’s evolution process about 3 million years to produce a walking, talking, modern, radical leftist Democrat (mistakes do happen; look at the duck billed platypus ). But the amount of “evolving” Gabbard will have to claim to the forces of the Left and a hostile media to get past these politically incorrect heresies will resemble the Darwin process.
Women: The 2018 elections had a large number of female candidates and resulted in a record number of female members for the U.S. House of Representatives, virtually all Democrats.
This has pushed a narrative among the “Progressive” wing of the party that a woman should be on the Democratic ticket, preferably at the top but at least in line for the top as the Vice Presidential candidate.
No conditional requirement for such things as competence, experience, or leadership has been attached to the demand, as this is either assumed for all potential female candidates or is deemed less important than the symbolic achievement i.e. the “glass ceiling”.
The result is that there are at least five female candidates so far. Two, Harris and Gabbard are looking for support as possessors of all three “time for a . . .” characteristics, i.e. “young”, “woman”, “person of color”. The third, Elizabeth Warren, morphed into an “old white woman” after her DNA fiasco took away her tomahawk, but many on the Left will probably forgive her being white, (“hey, she tried!”) if she looks like a front runner.
The remaining women who are prominently mentioned are New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobochar. They both currently suffer from significant name identification problems and associated political records which don’t stand out from the crowd.
To raise money and generate enthusiasm, both will have to have high level performances in the numerous “debates”, which will be difficult given the initial high number of participants and the soft ball questions typically asked by the self-important moderators.
However, lacking controversy in their quasi-anonymity, they would both probably be safe choices for vice president by a male nominee seeking to “balance the ticket”.
That leaves most of the announced and speculative candidates who don’t fit into an obvious sub-category and who with a few exceptions can be only be described as “long shots”. These are all sitting or former politicians and number about fifteen with perhaps more waiting in the wings. The few prominent exceptions are the “old white men” Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg.
Bernie, a 2016 candidate who generated unexpected enthusiasm will probably be forgiven by his core supporters for not being able to pick his parents or sex and living too long. Joe Biden, former Vice President in the Obama administration will likely benefit from an “admiration by association” effect with Obama. Biden’s support, though currently leading others in early polls, can be partially, or even largely, attributed to that fact that Democrats know who he is.
His support however, seems to lack the emotional intensity of the “progressive” identity groups which include younger activists and voters. Joe is “a good old boy”, a double edged attribute in the current political environment.
Michael Bloomberg, is a “former”; a former mayor of New York City; a former Republican; a former Independent, and formerly young. Now he is a current billionaire, and “old white man” and a Democrat.
He’s intelligent, sophisticated, money wise and politically astute. But he seems like a political anachronism and thus politically irrelevant in the new quest for political change. Nevertheless, he has the personal resources to stay in the race while the field narrows.
The other exception to the mostly anonymous group is Robert Francis (Beto) O’Rourke. He’s not old (46), but he is a man. He’s a little short on old fashioned presidential qualifications with just two terms representing the El Paso, TX area in the House of Representatives but he became a media made celebrity by losing (narrowly) to Ted Cruz in the 2018 race for Senator. He thus achieved “rising star” status after months of pre-election liberal media assertions that he was turning conservative Texas “blue”.
In terms of policy O’Rourke tried to walk the tight rope of not sounding to liberal to Texans while not offending his supporters by sounding too conservative. He did most of this by limiting his policy preferences to generalistic platitudes about “more opportunity”, “better health”, “better education” etc. He affirmed his loyalty to the Second Amendment on gun rights, a necessity in Texas, but gambled with a call for universal background checks and a ban on “assault rifles” and large capacity magazines. He may have over reached as far as the national progressive movement’s Republican haters and “resistance” movement are concerned with this quote from his senatorial campaign web site:
“ He has made it a priority to work across the aisle to secure bipartisan support for his legislation, because Beto knows our country is at its best when we can put party aside to work together, build consensus and find common ground.”
So essentially, he probably has fallen into the possible Vice Presidential candidate category if a female becomes the Democratic candidate for President.
The Rest of the Herd: Have you ever heard of John Delaney, Eric Swawell,
Richard Ojeda? How about Steve Bulluck, Pete Buttigieg, Roy Cooper? These are announced candidates for President; there are others. These are all elected officials at the state, local and national level who have grand ambitions and believe that “Anyone can be President of the U.S. if . . .” But presidential politics has become a billion dollar popularity contest which includes a level of viciousness and character assassination carried out without accountability on social media, ideologically steeped web sites and opinion pages. If you haven’t already been “vetted” i.e. examined from birth for social insensitivities, and are now forced to build name identification starting from scratch, you have an enormous challenge.
In the initial stages of the campaign, the candidates will run against Trump not each other. They will engage in similar panel show discourse with generalities, platitudes and rally slogans about “income inequality”, the threat to the environment, middle class tax cuts, jobs, “the wall”, “immigration reform” etc. Even in the early debates, they will be reluctant to offend the other candidates supporters by strong criticism of each other. But eventually, with so many candidates, the realization that in order to achieve some separation in the polls will become apparent and they will have to engage in separation from their competitor’s policy goals. They all can’t be for and against the same things. Then is will get nastier and more interesting. The money will follow the polls and the media’s “who won the debate” pronouncements and the herd will be thinned quickly.
In the mean time Trump will go crazy trying to Tweet insults about this many candidates but he’s up to the challenge.