The American constitutional ritual of voting has begun. Five months of primary campaigning and voting will lead to a presidential nominee for each of the major parties. The Republican nominee is presumed already known. Yet in the crazy political world of Donald Trump’s daily turns and surprises, who continually snatches defeat by stepping on his own victories, anything is possible. (Future essays will discuss separately the Trump candidacy.) On the Democratic side, the ultimate victor is far from clear. Who the Party’s voters will choose, who the Party’s convention will select, can still go a number of different directions – and will be subject to the same currently-unforeseen twisting and turning events as Trump’s campaign.
Unlike the few Republican challengers against Trump, the Democrats started this campaign season with over two dozen candidates. By any criteria, it was as diverse a pool as could be imagined: age, race, gender, background, political / governmental experience, issue priorities, name recognition. By the start of primary season in February 2020, that number has narrowed to approximately six viable candidates: Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren (with Tom Steyer in the wings).
From the initial pool of diversity, the survivors include:
-4 are aged 70+, 1 in her 50s, and 1 only slightly above the minimum age of 35
-4 are males, 2 are females
-all 6 are white, with no minority candidate
-4 are married, 1 is in a gay marriage, 1 has a long-term life partner
-3 are former mayors, 4 are current or former U.S. senators, 1 is a former Vice-President
-2 are from New England, 2 are from the Middle Atlantic states, 2 are Midwesterners
-2 are former Republicans, 1 an Independent (making his 2nd try), 3 are long-term Democrats
-all but 1 are millionaires through mega-billionaires
It is diverse, but hardly the expected resulting profile from the original candidate pool.
All candidates agree that priority #1 is to beat Trump in November. But who is best qualified to accomplish that goal is not clear among the candidates, the Party, and the voters, as each candidate has different strengths and weaknesses to match up against Trump. Huge turnout is accepted as the key to victory (as proven in the 2018 midterms). The ability to get that turnout will likely depend on several strategy considerations:
1. Hillary lost some key traditionally-Democratic states (e.g. PA, MI, WI) by narrow margins. Those states were key to Trump’s win. Some of that loss reflected Hillary’s neglect of those states and taking them for granted in her campaign. Some loss was simply Trump’s appeal to a portion of those voters. Then there was a large number of voters who were deeply opposed to Hillary personally and voted against her. How do Democrats get these voters back?
2. “Bread and butter / dining room table” issues won for the Democrats in 2018. While anti-Trump opinions were high, in the important Midwest it was moderate candidates stressing these close-to-home issues who won in previous Republican districts. They won enough to flip the House to Democratic control, and in 2020 they need to win those seats again to keep control.
3. Some Democratic voters are passionate about achieving a “radical change / big ideas” agenda on a quick timeline for America. The changes include economic restructuring, income redistribution, social justice and equality goals. Moderate Democrats also seek economic and social changes, but on more of a building-block basis of accumulating changes. Revolution versus evolution. Nether camp has sufficient numbers alone to win the November election outright. How will these two camps reconcile their differences and unify for November? In truth, all candidates agree on virtually all programmatic OUTCOMES, but simply differ in their methods. For example, Democrats share a desire for all children to receive needed healthcare, and there are multiple good ways to accomplish that. Quibbling now over mechanics and details is not helpful, versus demonstrating the leadership that will be needed to bring America together to accomplish these things later.
4. Each candidate has pledged to support the ultimate nominee, whomever wins. But which nominee(s) can unite the party, bridge the Left-vs-Moderate agenda divide, while still energizing an across-the-board turnout? Will Sanders’ and Warren’s supporters follow a moderate nominee? Will supporters of the four moderates follow a radical change nominee?
5. All candidates acknowledge defeating Trump is Priority #1. There are certainly many line-item reasons to do so. Who can most skillfully make the case AGAINST Trump’s actions and words over the past four years? Who can make the case to America FOR a Democratic alternative – a clear, clean, simple, succinct , but cogent case?
These are some of the overall strategy considerations for the candidates, their advisors, and the political consultants to consider. However, there are two overall dominating factors that loom over this election, and what can then be accomplished over the next decade.
First, the American public is tired. They are worn out and exhausted from the endless national political arguing and chaos. The constant Tweets, political maneuvering, personal attacks in lieu of serving constituents. The negative changes in the essence, ethics, and conduct of the Presidency. The dropping of yet one more bombshell shoe after another. The headline-dominating daily conversations about “what did the President do or say today?”
The vast majority of Americans are not looking to be so consumed by political or governmental conversations. They are looking to live lives focused on nurturing and providing for their families. Engaging with friends and their communities. Pursuing their personal, professional, and recreational goals. The “Washington Drama” is not where they want to put their attention. They long for the politicians to take care of the necessary political business, the government to provide the services promised, while the rest of us get on with our lives. The “Theater of the Absurd” has simply gone on too long. And Americans have always had a short attention span.
Second, as important as such topics as healthcare, climate change, immigration reform, economic fairness, and a host of other issues are, they are necessarily secondary to an even greater priority. Before taking on these notable issues, Trump’s replacement is necessarily going to have to face the need to first rebuild the foundations and structures of our government after all the change and damage that has been inflicted upon them. Trust in our governing institutions, respect for the rule of law versus person, and the everyday functioning of our governmental bodies and agencies – all carefully developed over 230 years – have all been strangled or ripped apart in just four years. We are now looking at a federal government hollowed out and decimated of knowledgeable professionals, and the breaking or elimination of orderly processes.
Before any grand agenda of new policies and programs can be put into place – no matter how seemingly desirable on their face – this destruction must be reversed and rebuilt. It will be slow, unglamorous, detailed, and painful work, requiring a steady hand. This work will likely consume the entire next presidential term – a significant factor for Biden and Sanders who would likely be a one-term president due to their age. (It is a transitional role similar to that admirably performed by Gerald Ford following the “long national nightmare” of Richard Nixon.) But until that reversal is done, and pride and integrity are restored, and American confidence and leadership are renewed, and our many competing groups find a way to respectfully talk and actually WORK together – we will be stuck where we are. One cannot build policy and program castles on a foundation of sand using broken tools with no workers on hand to operate them.
Until we restore America’s faith and trust in each other, along with the mechanics needed to accomplish the next extraordinary dreams of America’s story, talking about specific ideas and detailed programs is a fool’s journey aiming at a brick wall. Measured against that true priority, which one of those speakers on the Democratic debate stage can best lead us to our future? Which one has best demonstrated an ability to be truly inclusive and join people in working together? That is the important question for each of us to thoughtfully answer.
© 2020 Randy Bell https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com