In his Washington Post column, “Republicans have heart disease. Democrats have a gushing head wound,” Michael Gerson, Former speechwriter for George Bush II, describes the crossroads the Democratic party faces:
What are the Democratic options moving forward? First, there is the Bernie Sanders option — the embrace of a leftist populism that amounts to democratic socialism. This might also be called the Jeremy Corbyn option, after the leftist leader of the British Labour Party who has ideologically purified his party into political irrelevance. Second, there is the Joe Biden option — a liberalism that makes a sustained outreach to union members and other blue-collar workers while showing a Catholic religious sensibility on issues of social justice. Third, there is the option of doubling down on the proven Barack Obama option, which requires a candidate who can excite rather than sedate the Obama-era base.
Gerson sees option number three at the most promising for Dems. “Democrats should not overlearn the lessons of a close election. Option No. 3 is the Democratic future on the presidential level.” It’s a ‘demography is destiny’ argument, and the case for it will be stronger in four years, given current trends. Gerson believes, however, that Dems could well chose the Bernie Sanders option, which Gerson argues would lead to another electoral disaster.
Clearly, it’s a simplistic menu of choices. While you’ve probably already heard fellow Democrats say that Sanders or Biden could have beaten Trump, they would have to be running at ages 78 and 77 respectively in 2020. It should also be noted that Sanders is a hell of a lot more politically-astute than Gerson observes — you don’t win 22 states in the Democratic primaries, including a healthy portion of the Rust Belt, by campaigning as an impractical leftist.
More likely that Democrats will come up with a ‘fresh face’ option that charts a path somewhere between Gerson’s narrow alternatives. Party strategists are already mentioning names, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, a well-grounded Ohio progressive, along with impressive newcomers, including NV Senator-elect Catherine Cortes Masto. Neither Brown or Cortez Masto fits neatly into Gerson’s choices. There are others who are ready to prove that the Democratic ‘bench’ is much better than pundits have indicated thus far.
The emerging leaders of the Democratic Party have lessons to learn about the nuances of strategy, tone and messaging from Sanders, Biden, Obama, Clinton, and yes, even Trump. It will be a tough road back for Democrats, and the candidate who can beat Trump in 2020 will be better prepared to take on the GOP’s echo chamber.
All four of those Democrats are highly-experienced realists, whose insights about their respective victories and defeats can help guide the Democratic Party back to a more competitive posture. And if other Democratic leaders and state parties will do their part to improve leadership recruitment and development, Dems will be in a much stronger position in 2020, if not 2018.