Parsing the Democratic Primaries.

datePosted on 15:37, February 22nd, 2020 by Pablo

I am about to mail my overseas ballot to Florida so that it can be counted in the Democratic primary on March 17. In Florida you have closed as opposed to open primaries, which means that one must declare a party preference in order to vote in a party primary. Unlike open primaries, independents are excluded from primary voting in Florida (although they are allowed to vote in the general election in November). The restriction on primary voters impedes voting on local candidates and ballot initiatives, referenda and local ordinance amendments that are not included on the general ballot.

Because of this I registered as a Democrat in the early 2000s. I primary voted for Kerry in 2004, Clinton in 2008, Obama in 2012 and Sanders in 2016. My vote was based on rationales that included anyone against Bush 43 in 2004, a female over a dark-hued male in 2008 (because I thought that changing the gender of the presidency was more significant than the color of the guy in it), support for a good president under difficult circumstances in 2012 and support for a democratic socialist in 2016 (in order to pull the Democratic Party platform to the left when running against an unhinged maniac because the writing was on the wall by March that Trump was going to win the GOP nomination and my thought was that even if Bernie lost to Clinton it would force her to adopt some of his policy initiatives because she needed his supporters to vote for her). My selections lost the general in 2004, lost the primary in 2008, won general re-election in 2012 and lost the primary in 2016. Because the ballot is printed well in advance, I have a choice of sixteen candidates, most of whom dropped out of the race a while ago.

This year the Democratic primary campaign has two axis points. The first is generational, as elderly candidates (defined as those over 60) vie against younger ones. Biden, Sanders, Warren, Steyer and now Bloomberg are staffing the geriatric front, while Klobuchar and Buttigieg are what is left of the young guns. Of the oldies, none other than Sanders appears to have medical issues of consequence and all appear to attract support without regard to age. So agism will not be a factor in the election, especially given that Trump is in that age bracket as well.

The second axis is ideological. Warren and Sanders represent the “progressive” side of the Democratic coin, whereas Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Steyer represent the pragmatic side.

Within these camps there are divisions as well. Sanders has long described himself as a democratic socialist and for many years campaigned and won elections as an independent, only joining the Democratic Party in 2016 (and again in 2019) in order to run for president (he continues to serve and run for re-election as the junior Senator from Vermont as an Independent and campaigns as a democratic socialist in that state). Warren is a social democrat, not opposed to capitalism per se but interested in humanising it. Like Sanders she is a junior Senator from a liberal Northeastern state (Massachusetts, where she replaced the temporary excuse for a Senator now serving as Trump’s ambassador to New Zealand, Scott Brown). Both have been effective legislators, although Warren is seen as a bit more ideological than Sanders within the confines of the Senate Democratic caucus and Sanders, despite his somewhat crusty personality, being more amendable to intra-party compromise.

Both of these candidates are challenging the Democratic establishment. They repudiate the corporate orientation of the Democratic National Committee and the “centrist” policies of the likes of the Clintons. Not withstanding support from the “Squad,” they are not particularly well-liked by their congressional peers or the party establishment but have mobilised strong grassroots support. Warren has a (now distanced) corporate background and has agreed to some SuperPAC (third party unlimited bundled) funding. Sanders has not and continues with his grassroots, small donor approach to campaign financing.

On the pragmatic side, there are two billionaires, Bloomberg and Steyer. They appeal to voters based on their business success and the fact that they are not conmen like Trump. Bloomberg is a former three term mayor of New York City, where his crime fighting policies have come under fire for being racist and discriminatory (the so-called “stop and frisk” policy targeting African and Latino young males). He also has been the subject of numerous sexual harassment complaints and lawsuits. Steyer has no political experience to speak of but also does not have the baggage associated with it.

I will not vote for either billionaire on principle given that the Democratic Party is supposed to be the party that defends workers within the US political system. As for the pragmatic non-businessmen, Biden is the quintecent Washington insider, an integral member of the corporate/centrist faction with the party. He has vast experience in many important roles, including that of Vice President under Obama. But his experience has been checkered and now hangs like an albatross across his neck when it comes to electoral appeal. While it is true that he is certainly a better alternative than Trump, he also seems to be losing a bit of his mental edge. It is one thing to be a deranged lunatic throwing insane red meat rants and tweets to his base while feathering the nest for his family, cronies and friends from the Oval Office (Trump). It is another to be seen as doddering when trying to convey maturity and seriousness of purpose. So Biden is not the guy for me.

Buttigieg and Konuchar are interesting. She is a former prosecutor turned Senator from a conservative north Midwestern state (Minnesota, where only the snow is whiter than the population). She is seen as bringing that good old midwestern practicality to her politics, and she works hard to be seen as the voice of reason given the limits of US political discourse. Buttigieg just ended his eight year term as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the city where he was born and where he was widely popular except for in the African-American community (since he removed a popular African American police chief and condoned hard police tactics against minority suspects). The novelty of his candidacy resides in the fact that he is young (38), gay, and served as a military intelligence officer in Afghanistan in 2014. His positions largely mirror those of Klobuchar, and like her he campaigns on his centrism, common sense and a dedication to public service. The two of them project themselves as non-traditional but reasonable alternatives to the Orange Weasel as well as the leftists in their party. They tick a number of constituency boxes that are important for Democratic voters, so their appeal has the potential to transcend their policy proposals.

Conventional wisdom is that “socialists” cannot win US general elections. The DNC and mainstream corporate media are working hard to undermine the Sanders and Warren candidacies as “unelectable.” The pragmatists are trying to capitalise on this perception, warning that to nominate a leftists is to guarantee victory to Trump.

At one time apparently afraid of the threat posed by Biden, Trump now appears to believe the truth in the “no socialist” line, yet cleverly harps on how Sanders is getting a raw deal from the DNC and media. Remember that part of the reason Biden has fallen in the polls is that Trump’s smears against him and his son relating to the Ukraine, which resulted in Trump’s impeachment, have in some measure stuck. Now, with Biden trending down, Trump sees his easiest path to victory being a one on one with Sanders, contrasting his national populist bombast with the Senator’s critiques of the system as given.

We even have the Russians apparently wading into the mix, supporting both Trump and Sanders in their 2020 disinformation and hacking campaigns. This is apparently due to the fact that a) they were very successful in 2016 when implementing this “undermine from within” strategy in favour of Trump; and b) both Trump and Sanders are correctly seen as “disruptor” candidates, so no matter who wins so does the Russian subterfuge. Trump, of course, denies any Russian meddling and forced the resignation of intelligence officials who made the claims to Congress. Sanders has repudiated any and all Russian interference no matter who is favoured. Regardless, Russia has inserted itself into the election narrative in, yet again, a central way. Somewhere Stalin is smiling.

That is the background to my primary vote. My choice remains difficult. I am leaning towards a progressive, so it will have to be Warren or Sanders, again, so as to not only get one of them into office but to re-frame the parameters of the Democratic policy platform. But I have major problems with both. Sanders comes off, in my eyes, as a stooped over cranky guy with medical issues who is the political equivalent of the old man yelling “get off of my lawn.” He may be right on his policy prescriptions but he is somewhat off-putting, and his refusal to come clean on his recent heart attack and underlying condition may be exploited by Trump in the event that he wins the nomination.

Likewise, Warren reminds me of someone’s grandmother preaching a holier than thou gospel while glossing over some of the contradictions in her past. Trump has already given her a racist nickname and he and his operatives will go to town on her if she has any dirt in her past. Even so, her dismantling of Bloomberg in the Nevada debates was excellent and showed that she has the acuity and spine to go after powerful adversaries. She may have a chip on her shoulder for a variety of reasons, but if she can use that as a motivational force I say good on her.

Klobuchar and Buttigieg are more personally appealing and both seem likeable as well as articulate and competent. Trump is going to have a hard time attacking them on personal grounds unless there is something sordid in their past. Professionally, in spite of some rumblings about both of their records in public office, there appears to be nothing that is disqualifying. But they clearly have the corporate/media backing, with Buttigieg in particular appearing to attract major money from deep- pocketed interests. That is worrisome because, no matter how much certain well-heeled liberal elites hate Trump, their support comes with strings attached.

My preference would be to vote for president/vice-president tickets in order to get a balance amongst them. I regret that Kamala Harris dropped out of the race, because she seems like a very tough cookie from a liberal state who could could easily shred Trump in any head to head. Female and of color, she hits the identity politics checkmarks, but she is not progressive. Perhaps she is lining herself up for a VP run or a cabinet post, but I question whether either of those options is better than where she is now as Senator from California.

Sanders and Warren will not likely share a ticket together. It is unlikely that they would go with any of the pragmatists unless Klobuchar or Buttigieg change their policy proposals. Biden might go with the younger pragmatists but they are unlikely to welcome him onto the ticket, and the progressives will run from him. A Klobuchar/Buttigieg ticket or vice versa would be an attractive proposition for many people in spite of the limited regional appeal they have outside of the midwest. Individually, however, they will have a hard time appealing to progressive Democratic voters.

So a major question I have is about the feasibility and popular appeal of a progressive/progressive, pragmatic/pragmatic, progressive/pragmatic or pragmatic/progressive ticket in November. That question will not answered until after the Democratic Convention in July, so I have to return to who I prefer for the top spot.

All of these possibilities rest against a backdrop of defensive voting. I mentioned this in posts about the 2016 election and I was wrong. What I said then was that voters from groups that Trump scapegoated and demonised would come out and vote against him in numbers, seeing Clinton as the lesser evil in that equation. Asians, Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans, LBQT folk, feminists, youth, leftists–I was sure that they would rally against the clear and present danger that was Trump back then. But they did not. Instead, they stayed home, thereby handing the victory to him (44 percent of eligible voters abstained from voting in the 2016 presidential election). Sure, a lot of this was due to the Russian disinformation campaign, including the leaked Clinton emails to Wikileaks and the FBI investigation into her communications security one month out from Election Day. But a lot had to do with disenchantment with the system in general and the lack of progressive, or at least sensible Democratic options.

I am not so sure that apathy will prevail in 2020. Trump is no longer a possibility but instead is a reality. The harm he has caused is tangible, not potential. Another four years of him will be, from the standpoint of Russian saboteurs, a strategic wet dream. So it is possible that previously apathetic voters will come to the plate this time around and, if nothing else, use the lesser evil approach to vote against Trump’s re-election.

There is another thing to consider. in 2016 the Republican National Community and GOP political establishment all argued that a centrist was needed in order to defeat the Democrats. A ‘safe pair of hands” with a stronger grasp on foreign policy and committed to the pursuit of trade, etc. was the key to success. Someone like Jeb Bush, John Kasich or Mitt Romney. The whole point was to demonstrate strength with a conservative tilt. Instead, they were sidelined by a xenophobic, bigoted sexual predator with narcissistic and sociopathic tendencies who made gutter-level, crass rightwing populist appeals to the stupidest and greediest segments of the voting population. That carried him first to victory over the GOP elites and then to victory over the mainstream establishment candidate (thanks Steve Bannon).

And then the GOP fell in line behind Trump, so the decent into hyper-partisan lunacy is now complete.

Perhaps then, it is the same with the Democrats. Perhaps the DNC is wrong and a centrist is not the answer to Trump. Perhaps the Democratic corporate elite and media centrists are not reading the pulse of the Democratic electorate correctly and have misjudged the thirst for real progressive change lying latent (and not so latent) in the land. Perhaps, having once been given hope, now there is real thirst for change, and that change starts with nominating a Democratic presidential candidate who can not only defeat the corporate-backed centrists and then Trump, but also defeat the institutional obstacles (say, in healthcare, immigration, education and foreign policy) now standing between meaningful reform and more of the same.

After all, the polls and the pundits suggest that the US electorate is more polarized than ever. So why would a centrist strategy work, especially when the other side has gone full tilt in favor of a demagogic Mad King?

In the meantime, who the heck am I going to vote for?

20 Responses to “Parsing the Democratic Primaries.”

  1. Sanctuary on February 22nd, 2020 at 17:29

    The real winner from the Sander’s campaign is AOC in 2024.

  2. Andre on February 22nd, 2020 at 18:12

    For what it’s worth, I ticked the box for Warren.

    Because I think she’s demonstrated skills in actually getting serious stuff done in DC, but Sanders hasn’t.

    Also, disgust with Hair Farce One might get Bernie into the Oval Office, but I reckon there’s a lot of voters that would go on to vote Repug for House and Senate. Specifically to be a handbrake on that socialist Sanders. But Warren might be able to end up with a majority in the House and most importantly, the senate.

    BTW Pablo, congrats on becoming a Noo Zillunder. I did it thirty years ago, as prep for travel to areas where a US passport might not exactly be an asset.

  3. Pablo on February 22nd, 2020 at 18:23

    Cheers Andre, on the citizenship kudos, I am proud to be now a Kiwi. But I worry about my birth country, which I served in a public capacity in a non-partisan way. As for electoral politics, something has gone seriously wrong in recent years and a shake up is needed, to be sure.

  4. Görkem on February 22nd, 2020 at 21:02

    ” the Democratic Party is supposed to be the party that defends workers”

    Emphasis very much on the “supposed”. I think many Democrats don’t even see their party this way.

  5. James Green on February 22nd, 2020 at 22:23

    Charisma is what wins elections, it doesn’t matter a damn what the policies are (unfortunately). Only Sanders and Buttigieg have necessary charisma to comfortably beat Trump.

    There is only one candidate who is progressive on foreign policy though (which is what I care about the most by far) and that is Sanders. By some sort of crazy miracle he is now also the person I think is most likely to be president next year.

    I’m surprised you are not required to vote in the Democrats Abroad category though.

  6. Kumara Republic on February 22nd, 2020 at 23:27

    Here’s hoping that the legal rulings kiboshing Florida’s “poll tax” stick. When US democracy hangs by a thread because of goalpost shifting like that, foreign election observers on the ground aren’t far-fetched.

    And if Sanders gets the nomination, he’d do well to appoint runners-up like Warren to a senior post like VP or Treasury Sec, or even both.

  7. Görkem on February 23rd, 2020 at 07:26

    “foreign election observers on the ground aren’t far-fetched”

    The OSCE has been sending observers to monitor American elections since 2004

    https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/usa

  8. Di Trower on February 23rd, 2020 at 15:12

    That’s the best roundup of the Democratic Party candidates I’ve read, but it makes my head hurt thinking about who I’d vote for, if I was elegible to do so. I do not envy you. I hope you are right about apathy hopefully not prevailing this time around, but if the choice of Democratic candidate is not spot on (and if the divisions within the DNC continue) it will continue to alienate Democratic voters, then the chances of ousting Trump are not good. And then there are all the other unseen actors doing their worst to ensure the status quo remains….

  9. Kumara Republic on February 23rd, 2020 at 15:27

    Also, what odds of Bloomberg going proper Ross Perot 3rd-party if he doesn’t get the DNC nomination? He’d be the obvious choice for centrist Dems who want more of the same. Some pundits have also thought out loud of Tulsi doing a Jill Stein, given she’s not likely to get the nomination either.

  10. Görkem on February 23rd, 2020 at 15:35

    When was the last time that a failed major party candidate ran as an independent? The last one I can think of was George Wallace, and even he didnt run in the same election in which he lost the primaries, but 4 years later.

    This idea that a failed primary candidate will become a third party electoral spoiler is often mentioned – I have heard it about Pat Buchanan, about Bill Bradley, about Howard Dean, about Herman Cain, about Sarah Palin, about Bernie Sanders and (of course) about Donald Trump. But for all the times it has been suggested, it has never happened. So I would say the odds of Bloomberg running as a third party candidate are pretty much zero.

  11. KumaraRepublic on February 23rd, 2020 at 17:14

    Gorkem: Big difference is that none of the failed candidates had pockets as deep as Bloomberg’s. I suspect a lot of Blue Dog Dems & Never Trump Repubs can’t bring themselves to hold their noses & vote for either Sanders or Trump, so a 3rd-party Bloomberg might not necessarily be ruled out. Meanwhile Sanders & Warren would be in the best possible position to energize 2016 non-voters in Rust Belt swing states.

  12. Görkem on February 24th, 2020 at 00:19

    Not on the scale of Bloomberg, whose wealth is exceptionally high even when compared to other billionaires, but many of them could have self funded a Presidential campaign. So I maintain that a Bloomberg run can be safely ruled out. It is just not a feature of American politics, which tends to follow a very predictable path in its procedures (if not its outcomes). I forgot to add Ron Paul to the list of “he will make a third party run” predictions. Every four years some internet commenters are claiming there is going to be a three way election, and every four years it doesnt materialise. So, I highly doubt that this time is the charm. That kind of thing happens on political TV shows but not in RL politics. Even Ross Perot, the most successful third party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt, was ultimately just an also-ran.

  13. Kumara Republic on March 4th, 2020 at 23:19

    To any admins reading this, can you change my handle in my last comment to my pen name, for privacy reasons?

  14. Görkem on March 5th, 2020 at 04:08

    Do you still believe a third party BLoomberg run is likely?

  15. Pablo on March 5th, 2020 at 09:55

    KR:

    Done.

  16. Pablo on March 5th, 2020 at 09:57

    Gorkem:

    Nope, since he just quit and endorsed Biden.

  17. Görkem on March 5th, 2020 at 10:03

    Thanks Pablo, I am ware of BLoomberg dropping out. But my question was not for you – apologies -but for Kumara Republic, who had asserted that a BLoomberg run was likely in his earlier posts, in the face of arguments to the contrary.

  18. Kumara Republic on March 6th, 2020 at 04:05

    Now that Bloomberg has pulled out & endorsed Biden, he’d only go 3rd party if Sanders gets the nom. Even that looks remote now.

    Liz Warren has just pulled out as of typing this, and hasn’t endorsed anyone yet. And Tulsi Gabbard still doesn’t stand a chance. Whatever happens, whoever’s the nominee to fight Trump may have to appoint a running mate from the opposing faction.

  19. Görkem on March 7th, 2020 at 01:34

    So you think if Sanders became the nominee (unlikely at this point but possible) you would still see a Bloomberg third party run as possible?

  20. […] A brief look at where each candidate stands – and you should also have a read of Buchanan over at Kiwipolitico for a Leftist take on each: […]

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