Welcome, passionate Democratic Primary voter. You love the candidate you have chosen, just like I love the one that I have chosen. It is your very love for your candidate (whoever that might be) that fills you with dark imaginings about all the others. In every candidate not your own, you see a laughing specter of Trump. If we nominate [Insert Candidate Here] we will be handing over the election to Trump in a cakewalk. Is that what you want, you say, passionately, eyes wide with concern.
No. That’s not what I want.
But I’ve got news for you. This is a country where a black man with the middle name of “Hussain” (and a pastor who once said “God damn America”) won twice. Handily. Once, against a war hero and longtime Senator. And once against a man who looked like he was out of central casting for the role of President. This is a country that elected a buffoonish conman over a former Secretary of State in a victory that no one expected, least of all the buffoonish conman and his team.
Any of these candidates can win against Trump. Yes, I mean any—including the Socialist Jew, the young gay-married Vet, the women, the touchy-feely fuddy-duddy, the Asian book-writer. How do I know this? For proof, I offer the man sitting in the White House. QED.
But looking at it another way, every single candidate running for the Democratic nomination can lose. Every single one of them will piss off important constituencies. Every single one of them has glaring inadequacies. Every single one of those inadequacies will be endlessly flogged on Fox News and some that don’t even exist and have to be made up. They will make them up. There is no candidate who will emerge unscathed from the right-wing slime machine.
In fact, it is almost guaranteed that Trump will open bogus investigations into the Democratic nominee, whipping up a frenzy. Remember Emails? Uranium One? All of which came from nothing, amounted to nothing, but did their damage.
Let alone the slime that will come from the Right. The nominee will also face deep suspicion from other blocs within the Democratic party, no matter whether it is a centrist or a leftist who wins. The mutual recrimination is already intense and will only grow.
Think about the constituencies in the Democratic coalition that the nominee must please. The young (mostly white) Progressives. The hard-core Lefties. The White Working Class that inhabits the diners that beat reporters haunt. The Hipsters in the coffee shops that Jacob Wohl haunts. The Moderate voter who is always seeking, but never finding, bipartisanship. The Centrist, equally frightened by Socialism and Fascism. The Racist who nonetheless is very angry about being called a Racist. The older church-going African Americans. The young Latinos who resent being thought of as solely concerned with immigration. The Farmers. The Coal-miners. The Toothless. The Heartless. The Penniless. The Wall-Streeters. The Religious. The Spiritual. The Atheists. The Celebrity-obsessed. The Conspiracy-theorists. The Political Pundits and their doppelgangers, the Political Analysts.
Why, it is a miracle that anybody wins, ever.
In fact, among the Democratic field today, you can argue and second-guess every single candidate into Trumpian Hell in short order. In fact, I’ll show you how it’s done.
These attacks may be impressionistic and juvenile but the Democrat will be facing a juvenile opponent with a juvenile media as the peanut gallery. I lay these out there so we can steel our spines and anticipate them.
The Oppo dump
How he will be attacked: Old. Gaffe-prone. Is he facing cognitive decline? Fuddy-duddy with old-fashioned notions of women. Treated Anita Hill shabbily in the 1990s. Voted for the Iraq War. Long career with many questionable votes. Likes Republicans (is he insane?) and thinks he can work with Mitch McConnell; will give away the farm instead. Trumped up accusations about corruption in Ukraine might have an impact. Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden. Uses old-fashioned language like “malarkey.”
Was he really sniffing that one woman’s hair?
His pluses: Will bring normalcy back. Has done this before. Good guy and basically nice. Been through personal tragedies which taught him empathy. Trump is obviously terrified of him to the point of getting impeached over trying to muddy him up.
Says “malarkey” frequently. People love that (think of the SOTU drinking games). Experienced. Reminds people of the halcyon days of the Obama Administration, when all was love and harmony, green fields grew golden corn, and Russia was that country that had Olympics or something.
How he will be attacked: Old. Had a heart attack. Yells. Angry. Socialist. If you think Middle America will vote for Breadline Bernie you’re insane.
Suspiciously Soviet-friendly—he actually honeymooned in—wait, in Moscow? Who does that when he could have gone to Paris or Rome? Why on earth were Soviet officials congratulating him for winning a mayoral race in the People’s Republic of Burlington? Why were the Russians trying to help him in 2016? It says so in the Mueller Report. Read it for yourself. What shenanighans did his wife pull at Burlington College that the FBI was investigating?
What has he done in his 30 years in Congress besides naming Post Offices? Why did he call the first female nominee of any major party “unqualified”? Why doesn’t he control the social media trolls who attack anyone—women, especially—who dare to say a word against Saint Bernie, sometimes with snake emojis? Does he really think he can convince people in McConnell’s state to support Medicare For All? That is a fantasy, and he is a fantasist. If that could be done, why doesn’t Vermont have single-payer?
His pluses: He has created a movement, not just a base. His candidacy has inspired a generation to fight for Medicare For All and other basic things that other Western nations all provide. He is authentic, has never changed his message for different audiences, and nothing if not consistent. Anti-Iraq-war from the beginning. In 2016, he polled better than Clinton in head-to-heads against Trump. Seems to have a similar appeal for the populists and the rurals that Trump had. Joe Rogan has endorsed him; and that is about 100 times more meaningful than a New York Times endorsement in this fallen world.
How she will be attacked: Female. Contains ovaries. Speaks of female things like childcare and selfies and her Aunt Bee. Who cares about her Aunt Bee? Or Cee or Dee or other relatives she might have. Tries too hard to be the populist with those folksy stories and comes across as fake. Is a school teacher, and looks like she might scold you. Wall Street hates her and Wall Street is the engine of all that is good. Scoldy, angry, female. Don’t tell me what to do, school teacher.
She’s a liar. She lied about being Native American. She can never survive being called Pocahontas and Fox News will rebrand itself as Pocahontas News if she is the nominee.
Centrists think she is too far left, more-or-less the same as Sanders. Leftists think she may as well start heading up Goldman Sachs.
Her pluses: She is tough, smart, pragmatic, and has the deepest policy understanding of any of the candidates. She has shown she can solve problems. Created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Wall Street is legitimately terrified of her. Has the best understanding of the structural inadequacies of the country and how to solve them with detailed, workable solutions.
How he will be attacked: Who is this guy? Looks like Alfred E. Neuman from MAD Magazine. A mayor of some small town somewhere? What makes him think he can be President? What does he know, what has he done? Wasn’t even a good mayor. Marijuana prosecutions in South Bend went up disproportionately for African Americans while he was mayor. People of color don’t think much of him.
He’s gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But did I mention he’s gay? The country has moved beyond homophobia. But have those 80,000 voters in WI, PA, and MI?
A McKinsey consultant and it shows. Isn’t that the nihilistic company that puts lipstick on some pigs, including Saudi Arabia and the maker of OxyContin? Or something? His responses sound rehearsed, as though they’ve were produced during a brainstorming session at a consulting company workshop. A master of platitudes who can impress people at first glance but what’s beneath the facade? He’s the teacher’s pet front-bencher that everyone hated.
He is good friends with Mark Zuckerberg and takes advice from him. Will he be tough on big tech? Sure doesn’t look like it. Big tech billionaires love him for a reason. If Neoliberalism was given a human form, it would be Pete Buttigieg.
His pluses: Young, fresh-faced, so unlikely to have a lot of baggage that he can be pilloried with. A Vet. Says reasonable, smart-sounding things. Not divisive. Seems capable-ish.
How she will be attacked: Female. Many people will not vote for woman. Boss from hell. Throws things and yells when a subordinate displeases her. Vindictive. Eats salad with a comb…or was it a hairbrush? Did she pick out the hair at least?
Inspires no one. Flat affect and moderate policies. Not known for any policies in particular aside from airy generalities. Ex-cop. Sucks on environmental issues. If you want same-old same-old, vote for Klobuchar. You’re not going to have “Klobucharmentum”, like ever. Can never fill a stadium. Hey, have you seen the number of people at a Trump rally? Beat that!
Her pluses: Practical, calming, humorous and comes across as someone who’s got this. Can handle it. No Drama Klobuchah. Just efficiency and competence in a nice Midwestern package. One of the most popular Senators in the country. After Trump, people will be yearning for the Basic Girl of American politics.
The Woman Thing and Other Things
I get it. Democrats lost an election in 2016 and we are all suffering from PTSD. Clinton is a woman. Does that mean, therefore, that “this country will never elect a woman”?
No, of course not. This country did elect a woman.
Yes, I know she lost by a surgical strike exactly where it mattered: in the heart of the electoral college. But think of the forces that needed to align against her in order to pull that off. Trump had come through the Apprentice, a ten-year informercial about his skills as a businessman framed as a “reality” show, even though we know now that it was not, by any means, reality. He was always destined to get partisan Republican votes in a strongly partisan country; plus, Clinton had faced over two decades of propaganda, with Wikileaks and the Russians pitching in. Despite this, she almost won.
No candidate will escape Trump’s jabs, and the media will dutifully play along. Each jab at each potential candidate jabs at the very soul, increasing our worry that perhaps that will be the killer shot. How can we choose? No one actually knows who is electable. In the absence of data, we permit our fears to drive us.
But look. We need not ascribe magical powers to Trump. He’s no political savant. He has run in two elections in his life. He won the first (the Republican Primary of 2016) quite emphatically, because his demagoguery against immigrants and Obama-hatred was tailor-made for the Republican base, and none of the others felt the resentment that the base jived with.
He won the second election by a hair.
By an absolute razor thin, feather-light, puff-of-wind; by a flap of a butterfly’s wings: under 80,000 votes in 3 states.
Since then, many who thought he’d be the competent businessman portrayed in the Apprentice reality show are tired of his bullshit. Yes, his base has stuck with him. We can’t shake them. But they don’t matter. He needs more than his base to win.
Democrats are in a solid position. The midterms of 2018 showed that voters are fired up; the turnout was higher for a midterm than any election since 1914. Those who learned to distrust Trump by 2018 have not learned to love him since.
Democrats can lose. Elections are full of contingencies; Nate Silver, statistician extraordinaire, pontificated that if it hadn’t been for the Comey Letter in the last week before the election, Clinton might well have won. One cannot draw grand conclusions from a loss that narrow.
Any such contingency can arise again. We will have to fight for every vote. It’s going to be an insane dash for the finish line no matter what. But Trump is incredibly beatable. And any of these Democrats can beat him.