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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Can Dems Leverage Self-Discipline in 2020?

In his Washington Post op-ed, “A crowded road to 2020 will yield the best Democrat,” Ronald A. Klain writes,

Since the midterm elections, the biggest thrust has been against some of the older potential candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Reporters for the Wall Street Journal said they “called all 99 Iowa Democratic county chairs” and were told “the party must nominate a 2020 candidate who is young.” (Never mind that this was, in fact, the view of only 43 of the chairs). Vanity Fair piled on, suggesting that Democrats face a “generational reckoning” in 2020. Is the Democratic Party “done” with its most visible presidential prospects?

If so, no one has bothered to tell Democratic voters that. At least one of the latest polls of the people who will actually pick the 2020 nominee shows that Biden and Sanders are overwhelmingly preferred by millennials, jointly taking a larger share of these younger voters (53 percent) than of the electorate as a whole (45 percent). Other polls have found similar results.

As for the pundits bashing 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Klain notes that “Clinton won more votes than Trump and nearly won the electoral college (even with Russian interference and James B. Comey’s infamous letter); while no Democrat should repeat her 2016 campaign, her path to nearly 66 million votes should not be fully discarded, either.” And while there are legitimate concerns that Clinton did not learn the lesson from the reaction to her “deplorables” comment, “experienced leadership could be precisely what voters are looking for after four years of Trumpian chaos.”

Klain’s take on Warren-bashing:

The attacks on Warren are similarly absurd. Her hometown paper, the Boston Globe, called on her to stay out of the presidential race because she is “divisive” — a bizarre position from a paper that ran a report describing her as “popular at home and beyond” six months ago and urged her to run for president in the last campaign. Even the Trump-loving Rasmussen poll shows that Warren would beat Trump head-to-head.

Klain, a former Biden aide, goes on to note the ability of both Biden and Sanders to connect with younger voters and Warren’s impressive capacity for discussing fresh ideas. Further,

The idea that Democrats must find a certain type of candidate — young and charismatic, more potential than experience — in order to run “the next Obama” ignores the reality of the 2008 campaign. For while Obama’s youth and oratorical skill were critical early, he won that race in the wake of the financial collapse of late September 2008: when John McCain seemed unsteady and political in responding to the crash, and Obama was stable, somber and sagacious. Thus, it was ultimately Obama’s preternatural calm-in-a-crisis and wisdom beyond his years that were his key qualities by Election Day…

Klain concedes that ” “New face” candidates have something important to bring to the contest, and one of them may ultimately emerge as victorious — perhaps one might even be the best candidate.”

Klain’s colleague, Jonathan Capehart earlier brought some clarity to the discussion about Democratic prospects in 2020:

Democrats have this annoying habit of always looking for “The One.” The one who will sweep them off their feet in a fit of electoral ecstasy. Only their “one” should make a go of it. All others are deemed inadequate or somehow all wrong for the party or the times. Then there’s this other annoying habit. If their “one” doesn’t win the nomination, then the person who actually does win is dead to them…I hear way too many nail-biting Democrats complain that the party doesn’t have a leader, that there are too many people thinking of running, that so-and-so is the best and the others should stand down. And don’t get me started on the political teenage crush du jour. One minute it’s all about Oprah Winfrey. Then there are dreams of Michelle Obama. Don’t forget the boomlet over Michael Avenatti. Today, it’s all about Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.). That’s not to say that O’Rourke or even Avenatti aren’t serious. But, c’mon, people.

Capehart complements the GOP’s very different approach:

Sure, folks have their favorite candidate and talk smack about the others. Their allegiances shift as the field winnows. But once the party faithful settle on a standard-bearer, that person is “The One.” The wagons are circled, and an all-out effort is made to get that person the keys to the White House.

The ‘big tent’ party should take that lesson more seriously, argues Capehart, who asks, “who cares if the eventual nominee isn’t your “one.” Who cares if the eventual nominee only meets 80 percent — heck, 50.1 percent — of your checklist? Evicting Trump should be the most important item on that checklist.”

Capehart dismisses the bogus critique that Democrats don’t have a message, and concludes that “evicting Trump from 1600 in 2020 will be a heavy lift. Democrats need not make it harder by hobbling their nominee with needless infighting that distracts them from what must be their No. 1 goal.”

Democrats did an excellent job of avoiding the circular firing squad in 2017 and 2018, which provides reason to hope that they can still provide adult leadership in 2020. The primary season will be ferociously contentious, as it should be. But once the nominee is set, the challenge is to show America which party is unified — and ready to govern.

One comment on “Can Dems Leverage Self-Discipline in 2020?

  1. Stephen Cataldo on

    The most important step right now is to teach active-listening within our own broader movements: to be willing to hear out views that vary. To make sure the primary is fair and clean, and that we see all of ourselves working together on that. To agree that the Democratic primary should be a moment to create an “Overton window” from left to reasonable center that shows the Republicans to be extreme — which means we need to air our disagreements, but keep it positive. For people who aren’t running to demand that their favorite candidate stay positive and compete clean in the primary.

    This is the moment, before we lock behind favorite candidates, to frame the primary as a place for functioning democracy, where we won’t imitate either the nastiness of the Trump campaign nor even a tiny fraction of the election shenanigans.

    I have weak opinions on favorite candidates and will get involved as the primary gets closer — and a strong desire to hear your views, compete cleanly, and build a party that leaves the primaries in solidarity with each other.

    I would love to see more content in this direction. To see trainings at Indivisibles where we practice active listening.


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