The moderate progressive candidates came to play in Tuesday night’s CNN Democratic debate and performed better than they did in the earlier MSNBC round. But I’d bet that the front-runner after Wednesday will be ultra-liberal Elizabeth (“I know how to fight and I know how to win”) Warren.
I can only hope she’s the 2020 version of Howard Dean, whose 2003 lead evaporated before the 2004 Iowa caucuses and whose candidacy collapsed with his legendary concession-speech scream.
Warren is clearly smart, forceful and tough. I can envision her going toe to toe with Donald Trump in presidential debates and holding her own—even possibly besting him in their cage match.
That prospect, plus her anti-corporate, tax-the-rich and make-everything-free-for-everybody-else agenda, will make her the darling of the Democratic base. Only temporarily, I hope.
That’s because her agenda is so far out of mainstream American opinion on health care, immigration, free college for all and cancellation of all student debt, climate change and (ultimately) government management of the whole economy that she’s sure to lose the general election. She’s 2020’s version of George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, who got clobbered in 1972, 2004 and 2008, respectively.
Tuesday night could be called “moderate come-back night” and I hope one or more of the pragmatic realists—Amy Klobuchar, John Delaney, Steve Bullock, Tim Ryan or John Hickenlooper—will emerge and convince Democratic primary voters that beating Trump is more important than liberal purity.
Warren accused them of using Republican talking points, of running scared, of running “with small ideas and spinelessness” Of not being willing to “fight”—a word she repeated endlessly.
But the moderates didn’t act scared of her. Montana’s Steve Bullock accused Warren and other liberal candidates—not by name—of indulging in “wish-list economics.” He noted he’d won three elections in one of the deepest red states—and deep Trump state, at that—on a platform of “get stuff done.”
Delaney went after Warren by name—and Bernie Sanders, too—arguing that “bad policies like Medicare for all, free everything and impossible promises will turn off independent voters and get Trump re-elected.” Better, he said, nominate “someone who wants to unify our country and grow the economy and create jobs everywhere.”
Hickenlooper recalled that “last year, Democrats flipped 40 Republican seats in the House, and not one of those 40 Democrats supported the policies of our front runners at center stage,” meaning Warren and Sanders. His values are “progressive,” he said, but his methods are “pragmatic”—and they’ve succeeded in Colorado, where he was governor.
Ryan kept saying the 2020 choice should not be “about left or right,” but “new and better.” But his best argument was that the Warren-Sanders Medicare for All health plan envisions making private insurance illegal, taking away an employer benefit that union members value.
Klobuchar declared that, “when we have a guy in the White House who has now told over 10,000 lies, we’d better be straightforward with the American people. I don’t think we are going to end up voteing for a plan that kick half of America off their current insurance…. Do I think we’re going to vote to give free college to the wealthiest kids…. What I don’t like about this argument (we’re having) right now, is we’re more interested in winning an argument than winning an election.”
I thought all the moderates made good cases for themselves. It’s hard to know who among them could emerge as the replacement for Joe Biden if he loses his appeal, which will happen quickly if he muffs tonight’s debate as he did the last one.
If forced to do so, I’d say Klobuchar, a forceful woman with a record of winning elections in Trump districts in Minnesota and getting 100 Senate bills passed with bipartisan support.
As to the other debate participants, “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg has shown he has traction, but he made one of the sillier statements of the evening: “It’s true that if we embrace a far-left agenda, (Republicans) are going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know…they’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. So let’s just stand up for the right policy and defend it.”
Why it’s silly is that Warren, Sanders (and also far-out Marianne Williamson) can be credibly charged with being socialists (or near-socialists) and favor policies the public does not like, such as free health care for undocumented immigrants and decriminalization of unauthorized immigration.
The moderate-progressives mostly favor policies already popular with a majority of Americans—a path to citizenship for the undocumented, better treatment for asylum-seekers, improvement of Obamacare, permitting the government to negotiate lower drug prices, somewhat higher taxes on the rich and corporations. And basic respect for capitalism and entrepreneurship.
(Sanders and Warren think their far-out Green New Deal will result in the creation of “millions of new jobs” and industries that the US can sell to the world, but either government is going to create and manage the businesses that produce alternative fuels or they’re going to have to let the hated private sector do it.).
Meantime, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke favors a commission to study reparations for African-American descendants of slaves—an idea opposed by 67 percent of voters. Buttigieg also wants to enlarge the US Supreme Court—something even Franklin Roosevelt was slapped down trying.
Some of what the far-outers say is so: Washington IS corruptly dominated by big corporations who hire armies of lobbyists and make huge campaign contributions to get their way. Black Americans ARE still burdened by the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation and institutional racism.
But the moderates have the right approach to the 2020 election: Job 1 is beating Trump. And keeping the House. And not losing at the state level. If the Democrats fail to do that, nothing will change. In fact, everything will get much worse.