On the Democratic Debates: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there 😉

Former HUD Sec. Julian Castro: I thought Sec. Castro had a good night, bordering on very good. I suggested earlier that to maintain a viable candidacy he needed to gain traction among Hispanic voters that had theretofore eluded him, but I didn’t then appreciate his strategy for winning the Texas primary by disrupting the candidacy of former U.S. TX Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Mr. Castro looked strong on stage, and the contrast he drew between himself and Mr. O’Rourke regarding 8 U.S.C. 1325 (the federal law criminalizing the act of illegally entering the United States) was great theater. He has seemingly taken ownership of the progressive position on the immigration debate — clearly the strategic place for him during the Democratic nominating process although not necessarily helpful in the general election.

South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg: I hope that the Mayor is President of the United States one day. I nonetheless don’t feel that he had a strong performance. For much of the night, he was good at “Being Pete” by tactfully invoking the future and in his articulate expositions while adeptly avoiding the Green New Deal and Medicare for All political landmines. I liked his statement that the No. 1 issue facing us is, “Fix our democracy and we can handle the rest” — because I share his view. Someone very close to me – another Buttigieg fan – thought he perhaps looked too young, but that could cut either way with the Democratic electorate and against President Trump. That said, I thought he failed to communicate sufficient empathy on racial issues, which I believe should have been his core debate objective. His response – “I didn’t get it done” regarding South Bend Police Force integration during his Mayoralty, followed by platitudes about the need to rid policing of racism – seemed rote, antiseptic. As I’ve submitted earlier, no Democrat appearing half-hearted in support of minority rights will win the party’s nomination or the Presidential election. Since Mr. Buttigieg is not emotive, I’m not sure that the necessary overtures are within his compass.

VT U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders: Had I extended an Award to Sen. Sanders as I did with some candidates in Part I of this note, he would have received the “Lion in Winter” Award. While retaining vigor, snarl, and bite, he, like Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s, seemed to sense that a party moved by his ideas is passing him by. Although he stressed his normal themes, MA U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren seemed to do it better on the first night and CA U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris did it well on the second night. He (unfortunately for him) never got a chance to describe his brand of “socialism” to sound as benign as it did in his Fox News Town Hall. He was effective at attacking President Trump, but on that Democratic stage, all the candidates attacked Mr. Trump. I will not be surprised if Ms. Warren’s support in the Progressive Lane rises at Mr. Sanders’ expense in the coming weeks.

MA U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren: I suggested in an earlier note that if either Sen. Warren or Sen. Sanders was going to gain support as a result of the first round of debates, it was likely to be at the other’s expense. In my view, Ms. Warren won the contest. From a nomination handicapping standpoint, I believe that she was the overall winner of the first night through her passionate advocacy of progressive policies. That said, she referred to her teaching background – to me, a negative, since it invokes the impression of her as the imperious schoolmarm – and didn’t have a chance to discuss her Native American ancestry snafu. Her performance didn’t make her a bit more electable in November, 2020, but if at this juncture she couldn’t gain support at Mr. Sanders’ expense, her candidacy was perhaps going to stagnate, and I thought she achieved that goal.

Former Vice President Joe Biden: The former Vice President reinforced voters’ concerns about his vitality by at times seeming defensive, tentative, a bit frail. Surprisingly, he wasn’t ready for his competitors’ predictable race-related barbs; his straightforward response should have been that unless anyone was calling him a racist, his adversaries were simply attempting to score political points. Although no one could have been ready for Sen. Harris’ busing thrust, he erred by trying to hide behind a “local decision” response. It was similarly predictable that someone might allude to his age; he could have quoted President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 debate rejoinder about not wanting to exploit his opponents’ youth and inexperience. He didn’t. All that said, such a mediocre performance that might have doomed a less-well-positioned candidacy may only be a momentary setback because Mr. Biden retains a tremendous reservoir of good will with a significant swath of Democratic voters rooting for him. The reference to President Reagan is apt; after Mr. Reagan delivered his line about youth and inexperience, he cruised to re-election because our people were reassured that he was still in command. Although Mr. Biden will undoubtedly suffer some degradation of support because of the debate, if he is ready the next time, he’ll recover. The question isn’t whether he’ll understand how important it is to do well the next time; it is whether he can.

CA U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris: Sen. Harris unquestionably won the second debate. Her exchanges with Mr. Biden on race and deportation policy were masterful. She knew that she needed to pry away some of his black support while giving herself the edge over NJ U.S. Sen. Cory Booker among a demographic they both court, and she did it. She was emotive about the conditions we are imposing on immigrants at the southern border. Her closing – informal, conversational – was effective. I wondered before the debates whether she would go “all in” on progressive positions that might help her win the nomination, or moderate her responses in a manner that could help her in a general election; she embraced the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and seemingly the rest of the progressive agenda, clearly focusing on the nomination while perhaps being coastally oblivious that these positions are likely to spell defeat against Mr. Trump in the general election. However, something else that bothered me about Sen. Harris’ bravura performance was how it seemed entirely … planned and executed – like one would try a case. Her early riposte when others were jousting — to the effect that Americans “didn’t want to see a food fight but food on the table” – was a planned applause line she was looking for the chance to use. Portraying herself as the little girl being bused was effective … but clearly a set up. It remains to be seen how well she responds to something she hasn’t anticipated or prepared for.

I confess to feeling a bit of despair after the second debate, because I thought that Mses. Warren and Harris had clearly performed the best on their respective nights. What that meant to me was that the real winner of the first round of the Democratic Candidates’ debates was … President Trump.

On the Democratic Debates: Part I

We were tending to a toddler grandson for most of last week – a truly cardiovascular activity for Medicare beneficiaries – and although we watched the debates, have seen relatively little of the commentary. Being acutely aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, this note offers Selected Candidate Awards, followed by Selected Candidate Impressions:

The Despicable Me Award: CA U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell. His harsh and clumsy attempt to make himself relevant by essentially calling former Vice President Joe Biden old was, indeed … despicable – little better than President Trump’s degrading epithets that have so sullied our national discourse. Although I agree with Mr. Swalwell’s position on assault weapons, his tawdry attack on Mr. Biden ensured he is my 23rd favorite Democratic Presidential candidate only because there aren’t 24 or more such candidates.

The California Dreamin’ Award: Marianne Williamson. All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray … and Ms. Williamson should go for a walk before we next see a winter’s day.

The “Really, What Are You Thinking Of?” Award: Andrew Yang. Really – what was he thinking when he declared his candidacy for the Democratic Presidential nomination?

The Invisible Award: Two-way tie between OH U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and HI U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Both were on stage; both are creditable public servants; both said fine things; neither of them made a noticeable ripple.

The Foot-in-Mouth Award: NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. Even toddler-watchers couldn’t miss this one. Mr. de Blasio appeared to me to make headway during the debate; unlike Mr. Swalwell, his aggressiveness from the stage’s edge seemed within acceptable bounds. That said, the next day, the Mayor, in the words of The Miami Herald: “ … uttered [in Spanish] a revolutionary rallying cry deeply associated with … [Marxist Ernesto “Che” Guevara], a man viewed by hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles as a sociopath and mass murderer.” OUCH. Perhaps this indicates that even if one can make it in New York, one can’t necessarily make it … anywhere

The Clinton Clone Award: NY U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. If the Democratic Party wishes to nominate a not-very-likeable woman running on gender identity issues that has experience as a NY U.S. Senator, it should re-nominate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; it would then at least enjoy the robust taste of Coke Classic rather than opting for a watered-down Coke Zero.

The Scott Walker Award: Former TX U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. He apparently seeks to best former WI Gov. Scott Walker’s record for the quickest disappearance by a supposed heavyweight Presidential candidate.

The State’s Man Award: Three-way tie among WA Gov. Jay Inslee, CO U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, and former CO Gov. John Hickenlooper. All three are accomplished, and effective in their respective states … but I have concerns that none has the “It” to translate nationally. I admit to a pang as to both Coloradans: as to Mr. Hickenlooper, because I fear his Presidential hubris may have impaired his ability to make a viable 2020 Senate run against GOP CO Sen. Cory Gardner; as to Mr. Bennet, because I think he could defeat President Trump in Wisconsin, but in what promises to be a razor-thin race, his appeal against Mr. Trump in Pennsylvania and Michigan may well be more limited than Mr. Biden’s.

White House Chief of Staff Award: Former U.S. MD Rep. John Delaney. Although Mr. Delaney could credibly claim a piece of the Invisible Award, I found him knowledgeable, experienced, practical, and gentlemanly (he was probably seething at the extent he was ignored by the debate moderators, but he strove not to show it). I was impressed with the practical objections he voiced to parts of the progressive agenda. That said, while he lacks any inspirational quality, he would seemingly make a great White House Chief of Staff for a Democratic President wanting to actually get something done.

As to the Selected Impressions:

MN U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Ms. Klobuchar appears to me to have been a mild winner. She can either benefit from or be lost in the shuffle created by the second night’s more raucous and progressive-leaning exchanges. I liked her “all foam and no beer” sop to the Midwest, although fairly transparent. She looked strong putting Mr. Inslee on his heels by affirming the efforts of herself, MA U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Ms. Gabbard on women’s reproductive rights. I liked her references to her work on behalf of farmers and to the fact that she has won in conservative Minnesota Congressional Districts. She wisely avoided endorsing Medicare for All – a political landmine for many Americans that like their current health coverage. I earlier suggested that a good debate performance on her part could help her in Iowa if Mr. Biden faltered, as he did (more on that in Part II). Since Iowa moderates seem unlikely to desert Mr. Biden for the surging progressives, Ms. Klobuchar could benefit from erosion in Mr. Biden’s Iowa support. The claims that she’s unreasonably hard on staff will resurface if she does.

NJ U.S. Sen. Cory Booker: I thought Mr. Booker had a good debate performance. He presented as upbeat and progressive but not strident; his references to his background and where he lives, and his apparently conciliatory on-stage relationship with former U.S. HUD Sec. Julian Castro were effective efforts to establish his bona fides with minority communities to give him some room in the Identity Lane. (His expression at Mr. O’Rourke’s Spanish spouting was classic.) His problem arose on Night II: CA U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris — looking to not only chip away at Mr. Biden’s African American support but to claim supporters from the same demographic segment being courted by Mr. Booker – appeared to pick Mr. Booker’s pocket with her very impressive performance. Ms. Harris’ next poll numbers will almost certainly rise; if Mr. Booker’s numbers don’t also meaningfully advance, his campaign may be left in Ms. Harris’ wake.

In an attempt to avoid having these notes take as long to read as the debates themselves, the remaining candidates will be addressed in Part II.

On Democratic Presidential Debate Strategy: Night II

By luck of the draw, most of the Democratic presidential candidates currently leading the race – former Vice President Joe Biden, VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and CA Sen. Kamala Harris — are scheduled for the second night, June 27. Going on the second night will presumably provide the candidates a better feel for the tone and rhythm of the process, but it’s possible that viewers will be a little less excited by the second night, while being better prepared to assess the night’s exchanges. As to particulars for the Night II panel:

Mr. Biden: is almost certainly the greatest beneficiary of drawing the second night. He and his advisors will hear the barbs that first-night debaters level at him, and have time to hone responses to unanticipated variables. He needs to look SHARP, presidential, above the fray, NOT infirm. He can’t ramble, which leads to gaffes and could create the impression that he’s “slipping.” Due to the dustup caused by his comments about his relationships with segregationist Senators, he particularly needs to be ready on African American issues. He needs to avoid catfights that diminish him while having crisp responses on the Iraq Invasion, the Crime Bill, the Hyde Amendment, his “personal space” issues, etc., etc. He can’t let himself be maneuvered too far left: while advocating for the environment, he must describe a transition plan for displaced traditional energy workers; while discussing the Crime Bill, he needs to mention both his efforts to remedy its shortcomings and the dangers that police officers and black citizens face from crime. He needs to focus on President Trump. He needs effective remarks on NATO, Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. His measure of success is whether he maintains his current standing in the polls on Friday.

Mr. Sanders: Has, now along with Mr. Buttigieg, the most challenging debate assignment. If Mr. Sanders can’t unsettle Mr. Biden, he can’t win; but if he can’t secure the progressive lane against a charging Ms. Warren, he can’t win, either. He must double down on Being Bernie. He must emphasize that this is not a time for middling approaches – an acceptable thrust against Mr. Biden – and that the current progressive movement rose on his back – an implied parry against Ms. Warren. He should stress his normal themes of the working class, free college, Medicare for All, and how to pay for these programs. He should hit at the Obama Administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, a way to gain some of Mr. Biden’s working class support that won’t swing to Ms. Warren. Vitally, he needs to describe his brand of “socialism” to sound as benign as it did in his Fox News Town Hall. He should aggressively attack Mr. Trump, since he has the gravitas to call Mr. Trump a bigot and a liar in a manner that is effective without being offensive. If on Friday his national percentage has notably gone up and Ms. Warren’s has notably gone down – no matter what Mr. Biden’s percentage is – he succeeded.

Mr. Buttigieg: This could be a make-or-break night for Mr. Buttigieg. Last week’s shooting in South Bend of a 53-year-old black man by a white police officer with a turned off body camera requires the Mayor to entirely recast his debate strategy. I previously would have advised him to just “Be Pete,” use his stock lines about the future, his mayoral and military experience, his faith, his marriage depending upon one Supreme Court vote, etc., and concentrate on looking credible standing next to Joe Biden. While he had little African American support before the shooting, he now faces the reality that no Democrat perceived as being half-hearted in support of minority rights will win the nomination or the Presidential election. He currently appears insufficiently sympathetic and responsive to African American concerns. His performance at Sunday’s South Bend Town Hall on the shooting has been panned as too cerebral, not genuinely empathetic. Mr. Buttigieg must thread an extremely fine needle: show his understanding of black frustration while, as Mayor, stating that the process must be allowed to play out. An approach that is undoubtedly true: As a gay man, he does understand what it is like to be stigmatized, slurred, hated — a target – and as Mayor and President, he will act to ensure that none of our citizens have to live in such fear. He needs to explain why the officer’s body camera was off, and what procedures will be implemented to ensure that officers’ cameras are on. If in Friday’s polls he has lost only a little of his pre-shooting support, his debate performance will be a success.

Ms. Harris: she needs to establish running room in one of the campaign lanes. Currently, she appears a glitzy Coaster (easily the best smile in the race) bolstered by California money and the sheer number of California Democratic voters (who are already in any Democratic nominee’s 2020 Electoral College total). Although progressive, she lacks the track records of Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, and thus, her appeal seems to be as an identity candidate in a year shaping up as a clash between moderates and progressives. The focus on African American issues engendered by Messrs. Biden’s and Buttigieg’s recent challenges has perhaps given her an opening to expand her support in the black community at Mr. Biden’s expense. The interesting issue to me will be whether she goes “all in” on progressive and minority issues that might help her win the nomination while imperiling her general election chances, or instead stresses her past as a prosecutor and speaks effectively on foreign policy, trade, and aid for our manufacturing sector that could help her in a general election probably decided in the Midwest. If following the debate she shows notably enhanced strength among black voters and in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, she was successful.

The WAYTOs (“What Are You Thinking Ofs?”): Mses. Gillibrand and Williamson and Messrs. Yang, Bennet, Hickenlooper, and Swalwell: As with the Night I WAYTOs, they need to say something to register on the polling Richter Scale, or it’s time to fold up shop. Hopefully, Mr. Hickenlooper will be shooed home to Colorado to run for the Senate against Republican CO Sen. Cory Gardner.

On Democratic Presidential Debate Strategy: Night I

I note that recent polls measuring support among Democratic Presidential nominee hopefuls find former Vice President Joe Biden with a comfortable lead at about 30%, with VT Sen. Bernie Sanders and MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren each following with totals in the mid-teens that, if taken together, are only a bit behind Mr. Biden’s. South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg and CA Sen. Kamala Harris are next, each in the 7-8% range, with the better-known trailers – MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar, NJ Sen. Cory Booker, former U.S. TX Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and former U.S. HUD Sec. Julian Castro – hovering in the 2% range. The rest of the candidates – the WAYTOs (“What Are You Thinking Of?”) – all are hovering at … 0%. About 20% of the primary electorate prefers “None of These” or “Not Sure.”

The conventional pundit wisdom appears to be that given Mr. Biden’s lead in the polls, most of the candidates will be aiming barbs at the former Vice President in the upcoming debates, seeking to draw him back into the pack. This is not the strategy I’d advise all candidates to follow. I suggested in an earlier note that winning major party nominations can frequently be about lanes, and being mindful that this contest will be pretty wide open at least through early March, I would offer these varying approaches for the respective candidates, starting with the Night I panel:

Ms. Warren: Being on the first night, alone among the front runners, is an advantage. I would pay Mr. Biden only tangential attention. Mr. Sanders is in her lane, and she needs to capture a significant segment of Mr. Sanders’ supporters quickly or risk having she and Mr. Sanders continue to split the progressive vote while Mr. Biden commands the majority of moderates, keeps winning, and takes the nomination. She needs to have snappy answers encapsulating her policies and how they will help working people. She needs to continue to embrace capitalism. She needs to attack Mr. Trump, but from the high ground – by pointing out how his policies have not helped working people. She needs to be ready with details on foreign policy, an area in which Mr. Sanders is weak. She needs to have an effective answer to her Native American ancestry snafu. She needs a couple of humorous lines to humanize herself. If on Friday her national percentage has notably gone up and Mr. Sanders’ has notably gone down – no matter what Mr. Biden’s percentage is – she succeeded.

Mr. O’Rourke: Being on the first night also provides him with a significant advantage to add to his support in his lane: the Shiny New Toy Lane. While Mr. O’Rourke undoubtedly thought he had the “Shiny New Toy” mantle when he announced his candidacy, Mr. Buttigieg has wrested it from him. He needs to wrest it back soon, or his campaign will falter. Mr. Buttigieg has obviously had a very difficult week from many perspectives, including political handicapping; this provides Mr. O’Rourke a greater opening than he might otherwise have had to reclaim his lane. Mr. O’Rourke should be upbeat, preach hope, appeal to the young with talk of the future, the environment, and the student debt crisis, and discuss health care. Describing his efforts with migrants in his home town of El Paso and his support of African American issues might provide him a wedge against Mr. Buttigieg. If on Friday his national percentage has notably gone up and Mr. Buttigieg’s has notably gone down, he succeeded.

Ms. Klobuchar: She recently said that she would finish in the top 5 or 6 in Iowa. Given her state’s proximity to Iowa, I think she needs to finish significantly higher there to maintain a viable candidacy. Her primary debate audience has to be Iowa caucus voters. She should look warm, stress her Midwestern roots, and talk about her support of farmers. Being mindful of the recent Fox News poll indicating that Democratic voters heavily favor “steady and reliable leadership,” she should describe her record of bipartisanship, mention her foreign trips with the late Sen. John McCain, and point to her success in winning rural Congressional districts in Minnesota. She needs an effective answer to the claims that she’s unreasonably hard on staff. She needs to hope that Mr. Biden falters the following night, because with a good performance she could inherit any moderates developing misgivings. To me the primary measure of her success is whether she jumps into or within striking distance of the top 3 in Iowa Democratic polls.

Mr. Booker: He has seemingly struggled thus far to find a lane. He began by preaching hope, but failed to gain traction. He lately has stressed African American issues to try to establish position in the Identity Lane, but Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris have thus far limited his ability to make headway there. His very liberal voting record prevents him from challenging in the moderate lane, but he has failed to gain ground against Mr. Sanders or Ms. Warren in the progressive lane. To remain viable, he needs to build support in the black community by stressing his background, his record as Mayor of Newark, his belief in slavery reparations, etc. He needs to peel black support from Mr. Biden — Mr. Biden’s recent gaffes regarding his relationships with segregationist Senators provide Mr. Booker an opening – but needs to do so gently, given Mr. Biden’s absence on Night I. If he jumps to the 5% range or higher in the Friday national polls, he was successful; if he remains at around 2%, his candidacy would appear to be sinking.

Mr. Castro: Mr. Castro has presumably based his candidacy on the premise that he would engender significant Hispanic support. His target audience is obvious: the Hispanic community. If he can’t build notable Hispanic support by discussing his background, migrant issues, etc., his candidacy would seemingly be effectively ended, although continuing his campaign could make him an attractive Vice Presidential nominee.

The WAYTOs: Ms. Gabbard and Messrs. Ryan, Inslee, Delaney, and de Blasio: Need to say something to register on the polling Richter Scale, or it’s time to fold up shop. I saw one pundit who thinks Mr. Ryan could shine, and Mr. Ryan does have the background to make headway in the moderate lane.

On Democratic Attempted Self-Immolation

As all who care are already aware, a fracas has sprung up during the past week regarding former Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks at a fund raiser regarding his relationship with segregationist U.S. Senators James Eastland (MS) and Herman Talmadge (GA) in the 1970s. While Mr. Biden’s comment, “[Mr. Eastland] never called me, ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son’,” was clearly a mindless choice of words, the purported outrage that has poured forth from other Democratic candidates and liberal talking heads regarding Mr. Biden’s remarks has conveniently ignored his other comments: that he and the segregationists “… didn’t agree on much of anything,” that he’d “… argue like the devil with them” and that Mr. Talmadge “… was one of the meanest guys I ever knew.” Some progressives, intent on a political holy war, seemingly reject Mr. Biden’s underlying point: the need for our representatives of different political stripes to make an effort to find some common ground.

I would submit that there is only one relevant question in all this – and that, of the most vital importance: Is Mr. Biden is a racist? If he is, his critics should forthrightly say so, and present their evidence. Apparently no one who knows Mr. Biden — including former President Barack Obama, SC U.S. Rep James Clyburn, GA U.S. Rep. John Lewis, or Rev. Al Sharpton — thinks he is a racist. I would therefore suggest that the exaggerated indignation over what was a tone-deaf choice of words is at least misinformed (it’s hard to see how CA Sen. Kamala Harris can sensibly accuse Mr. Biden of “speaking with such adoration” of, or “coddling” Mr. Talmadge, given the former Vice President’s reference to the late Senator as “one of the meanest guys I ever knew”), and probably opportunistic grandstanding (“I was raised to speak truth to power,” pronounced NJ Sen. Cory Booker while criticizing Mr. Biden – the same Mr. Booker who memorably if incongruously declared himself “Spartacus” during the Kavanaugh hearings).

The disagreement of some of Mr. Biden’s critics with the former Vice President’s larger point – the need to reach consensus, to find common ground among those with differing views — is wrong-headed both on principle and in practicality. Taking practicality first, as some Democratic candidates and progressive talking heads seem intent on Democratic political self-immolation, Republicans and conservative interests are clear-eyed as to who would be President Trump’s most formidable opponent in 2020. What follows are all from the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages this past Thursday:

Conservative Columnist Daniel Henninger noted a recent Fox News poll showing that Democratic voters favored “steady and reliable leadership” (72%) over a “bold, new agenda” (25%). “Mr. Biden may be doing so well in the head-to-heads against Mr. Trump because many voters simply want respite from the nonstop Trumpian atmosphere of disruption and volatility.… Joe Biden is offering a return to normalcy…. [I]f these polls are right, after four years of Donald Trump the prospect of being force-fed daily doses of Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders is unthinkable for a lot of people.”

Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush’s presidential victories, noted Mr. Biden’s stated intent to win Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Florida, stating, “Republicans should pay attention….With the exception of South Carolina, Team Trump can’t take Mr. Biden’s targets for granted….The Trump Campaign must … disqualify any Democratic nominee with suburban Republican and independent defectors who swung the House to the Democrats last fall …”

The Journal editorial board itself noted about Mr. Trump’s formal launch of his campaign, “Mr. Trump may figure he can persuade some of those skeptics by making the Democratic nominee even more unpopular than he is. If the Democrats oblige by nominating Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, that might be possible. But that is making a bet on the other party’s mistake …”

Ms. Harris and Mr. Booker aren’t even figuring in the other side’s thinking, and these Senators clearly realize that if they can’t convert some of Mr. Biden’s African American support to their campaigns, their candidacies are finished. The wise heads politically leading the African American Community – and I would bet the majority of the politically savvy within the Community – appear at this point to be sticking with Mr. Biden because they recognize that he is both a genuine friend of African Americans and the best bet to rid us all of President Trump. There will be time to think about Spartacus later.

Finally, as to principle: Neither party is the font of all wisdom nor the den of all iniquity. Our system is one of “checks and balances” because it is based upon the premise, in practice as far back as Hamilton and Jefferson, that constructive policy depends upon trust between and the well-intended engagement of those with competing views. The collegiality that Mr. Biden urges will be an inherent part of whatever progress we hereafter make as a people and a nation. The avid progressives seeking a political crusade from the left are as misguided and potentially as destructive as the alt-conservatives waging such offensives from the right.

“The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.’” Luke 5:30-32.

Although it seems more than a bit blasphemous to compare politicians’ political machinations to the Lord’s quest for souls, since we as voters cling to the hope that our representatives will do what they can to make the world better, perhaps the most effective methods to reach souls and achieve a better world are indeed similar. While the Democrats will probably get by this kerfuffle, I never discount their capacity to self-righteously self-destruct.

On Elizabeth Warren

As the Democratic Presidential hopefuls separate into tiers, MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren is by some measures displacing VT Sen. Bernie Sanders as the favorite among the Democratic progressives. While I have great respect for Sen. Warren’s intelligence and command of policy, and very much enjoy her feistiness, it seems to me that she might be the Democrat whom the President would most like to run against. Although Ms. Warren objectively scores well in a number of the measures that I indicated a while back I consider to be of paramount importance in selecting the Democrat that can defeat Mr. Trump, I would submit that in her case, the whole is unfortunately markedly less than the sum of the parts:

  1. Sen. Warren is tough. She will look strong on the stage against the President, and indeed, has a talent for getting under Mr. Trump’s skin. Her age – 71 at the time she would take office – is clearly not a problem against the older President and she looks and acts younger than she is. A ticket to a Trump-Warren debate would be worth Super Bowl prices. Even so, Sen. Warren may be the one Democratic candidate whose strength could be as much curse as blessing. More on that below.

 

  1. Ms. Warren, if not as rounded for the presidency as former Vice President Joe Biden, otherwise appears as or more intellectually prepared as anyone else in the Democratic field. She is deeply versed in the ways of the U.S. financial industry. She has a plan for everything to address the needs of our economically disadvantaged people (except perhaps for health care). She’s less seasoned in foreign policy, although I doubt anyone on either side of the aisle would question that she would be steadfast on America’s behalf in dealing with Russia, China, and other adversaries or quasi-allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. That said, Ms. Warren doesn’t necessarily possess – to put it delicately – a compromising and conciliatory nature. One can surmise that as president she might have difficulty working with business interests. One can fairly question whether a Warren Administration would make any progress on domestic issues if Republicans maintain control of the Senate and KY Sen. Mitch McConnell continues as the Senate Majority Leader; every issue will become a brawl.

 

  1. To her credit, Sen. Warren is – subject to the self-inflicted ethnic gaffe discussed below – not campaigning as an identity candidate; she certainly supports women’s rights but her heart seems more focused on economic issues. She is likewise not a shiny new toy in Democratic politics, another plus.

 

  1. Ms. Warren is overtly progressive, to me a drawback. In addition to her attacks on business, she has reportedly said that she is “in all the way” on the Green New Deal, a bugaboo for many voters (although she’s apparently been less forthright about her approach to Medicare for All). As I have noted before, Democrats need the center to win; swing voters’ concerns about the President seem centered upon his demeanor, his veracity, his biases, and his disregard for our institutions, and much less on his substantive policies. Mr. Trump’s most favorable substantive advantage at this point is the apparent strength of the economy. Ms. Warren is extremely vulnerable to being painted a “Socialist” by Mr. Trump and the conservative media – which, whether or not warranted, could persuade some centrists that she is scarier than Mr. Trump.

 

I indicated above that President Trump might consider Sen. Warren his most favorable matchup; I offer such because of intangibles. While beloved by progressives and despite her good intentions, she doesn’t, at least in my view, present a warm image; she seems too much the nagging schoolmarm (or, to us veterans of old time Catholic education, the intimidating nun) who scolded you (and perhaps rapped your knuckles) for not paying attention in class. The Senator’s unforced missteps regarding her Native American ancestry have invited the President’s ridicule, and his mocking references to “Pocahontas” – combined with his inflammatory claims about “Socialism” — will, I suggest, resonate among some of the swing voters that will decide the election. I predict that in any debate between Mr. Trump and Ms. Warren, policy wonks will judge her the substantive winner on every question, but for a pivotal segment of our electorate, the contest will evoke the age-old classroom drama – the President as the irreverent class clown, Ms. Warren as the strict grade school teacher – that Mr. Trump will win handily.

The Democratic Party has already run one Hillary Clinton; I would submit that if they nominate Sen. Warren, they may well, despite her objective qualifications, be in effect doing so again.