JOE BIDEN, Creative Commons
Who is electable?
That’s the question of the year for Democrats in 2020.
For insight on electability, the 2016 experience is instructive. Donald Trump appealed to a minority coalition of mostly white voters — voters seething with resentment because they felt disrespected and ignored by a prosperous, elitist urban America on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Donald Trump’s coalition was, and is, somewhat short of a majority. The resentment coalition included:
- Southern whites
- Residents of “flyover country”
- Evangelical Christians
Those three groups do not constitute a majority.
Trump added to his coalition a necessary margin of voters in the upper Midwest. Not quite enough to make a true majority. But Trump’s Midwestern voters were strategically located to swing the Electoral College. That made Trump president in 2016. Can he do it again, or will one of the Democrats be more electable?
Bernie Sanders is gathering a coalition of the oppressed and left-out. That includes:
- Voters of any age who feel mercilessly exploited by winner-take-all capitalism — the underemployed, underinsured, and over-indebted. Importantly, many younger Americans feel trapped at the bottom. They find hope in Bernie Sanders.
- African-Americans who have always been — and remain — oppressed and exploited in America.
- Latinos who feel downright unwelcome in Trump’s America.
- Liberal white Democrats are supportive of the oppressed coalition.
Voila! It looks like a plausible Bernie Sanders majority.
Joe Biden can hold together the African-American and Latino parts of the oppressed coalition, and probably do even better with liberal white Democrats. But no one believes he can energize the younger generations the way Bernie can.
Elizabeth Warren could arguably hold together that same coalition of the oppressed, minorities, and liberal Democrats. Plus, she might increase participation of oppressed women. But her support among minorities and the young is unproven.
Young voters could destroy the Democratic Party in 2020 if they believe the nomination has been stolen from Bernie.
It is reasonable to question the electability of all three — Sanders, Warren and Biden — for different reasons.
Can Sanders or Warren energize and turn out African-Americans and Latinos in sufficient numbers to win?
Can Biden or Warren turn out the younger voters who are fervently committed to Bernie?
But wait. Any of the presidential hopefuls might enhance their electability with the right vice presidential candidate. It’s easy to guess that a popular African-American on the ticket could make all the difference. Cory Booker? Maybe a Latino running mate would have the same effect. Julian Castro? And if the nominee is Bernie or Joe, a woman running mate might change the dynamic.
Amy Klobuchar is the candidate with je ne sais quoi. Klobuchar is the surprise waiting to happen. I like her because she could win Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. Those states made all the difference in 2016. And don’t forget that Klobuchar is potentially the first woman president. With the right running mate, a Klobuchar ticket could motivate minority voters. Alas, Klobuchar doesn’t have the numbers and she’s fading from the picture for 2020.
And former Mayor Pete? Wall Street Pete? Electability calls for experience, and Pete doesn’t have it. His support is limited and it’s difficult to imagine him putting together the necessary coalition.
Finally, Mike Bloomberg. Former Republican mayor of New York. He’s wealthier than Donald Trump. And perhaps more arrogant. Is any part of the Democratic coalition really waiting for another wealthy, arrogant New Yorker?
Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren. All plausible. In the end, it’s up to Democratic primary voters to decide..
— John Hayden