These past two weeks have been, for me, a devastating reminder of just how far we’ve fallen.
The Democratic impeachment managers have been better than I could have dreamed. They have laid out an overwhelmingly strong case for impeachment, but perhaps more importantly, they’ve made a clear, full-throated case for just how critical this proceeding is.
They’ve made the case, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the sheer weight of what we don’t know – all the warning signs that the obvious corruption surrounding Ukraine is only the tip of a massive, immensely dangerous iceberg – demands that Congressional Republicans, even if they won’t convict, engage in real, honest-to-God oversight for the good of their country.
And yet, the fix is in. It has been all along.
The past two weeks have been a devastating reminder that the Trumpists efforts to tear down our institutions, to corrupt and degrade our common understandings of justice, truth, decency and patriotism to the point of meaninglessness, have been, ultimately, successful.
As Republicans bury their heads in the sand – regurgitating Team Trump’s nonsense and feigning outrage at every word to come out of Adam Schiff’s mouth – they are delivering a very clear message: America is no longer a nation of laws, or of common values, it is a nation where the only thing that matters is raw power. Republicans have the power; we don’t; and Americans are just plain silly if they were expecting some kind of justice here.
This is a hard reality to face, not least of all because the one thing we now for certain is that as soon as Republicans deliver Donald Trump his acquittal, he’ll be emboldened, and his behavior will only get worse.
I know I’m not alone in feeling deflated, especially these past few days, as these miserable assholes (here’s lookin’ at you, Mike Pompeo) seem eager to rub our faces in their rank indecency.
But I was nevertheless a little shocked to see a poll from the Washington Post over the weekend in which a plurality of Americans (48/43) said that, regardless of their preference for the 2020 election, they expected Donald Trump to win.
This is disconcerting: that poll question has been a predictive bellwether in past cycles, and anecdotally, I’ve encountered a helluva lot of defeatism in recent months.
And it does seem that that specific poll result was driven by disaffected, scared Democrats – a small but statistically-significant portion of each faction of the primary race has convinced themselves that if their guy isn’t the nominee, all hope is lost.
Given all of that, despite my own perpetual angst, and for the first time in the history of GTFUP.org, I’m going to use our vulgar catch-phrase for a little bit of optimism:
Grow the fuck up, folks: every single Democrat is well-positioned to resoundingly beat Donald Trump in 2020, and every single Democrat would be a damn good President!
There are a lot of factors stacked against us, and it’s going to take vigilance and intense activism to overcome what will be a full-on assault on democracy by Republicans in 2020. But the fact remains that:
- Donald Trump is crazy unpopular – 50% or more of Americans want him removed from office today, and the vast majority of polling shows him being trounced by every Dem.
- Donald Trump is really terrible at this job – we’re going to have the opportunity to remind Americans of this obvious fact, to play back the greatest hits of Trump failures, for the rest of the year.
- Every single Democrat running for president has a unique profile, significant political skills, and a decidedly more positive vision for America than Donald Trump could ever hope to offer.
The Trumpists may very well steal the presidential election – we need to be prepared for that, and be ready to respond accordingly – but the only way we lose this election is if we are not fully united behind the Democratic nominee.
Given that, it’s important to remind ourselves – every time we get so stinkin worked up about the primaries – that Donald Trump wants us divided, he wants us scared.
He wants the moderate Dems and independents whispering to themselves “if Bernie’s the nominee, there’s no way he can beat Trump!” And he wants the progressive left to bury the Internet with “#NeverBiden” mania.
I understand that the primary has grown contentious, I know that each of us have candidates we love, and candidates we sorta dislike. And there’s nothing wrong with that; there’s nothing wrong with a robust and pointed primary fight.
But when all is said and done, and a nominee emerges, the way we win is to solemnly vow, not just to hold our nose and vote for that individual, but to enthusiastically embrace him or her, and all the good things that candidate stands for.
With that in mind, this is the first of three posts reflecting my personal read on the Dem candidates, and where they rank in my book, both in terms of their arguable strengths and weaknesses in a general election, and their ability to do the mammoth job of POTUS, in a post-Trump America.
I plan to post Part II no later than Thursday, and Part III – containing the coveted and esteemed GTFUP.org 2020 Democratic Primary endorsement – by Saturday.
These are only my humble opinions, I am all too aware that some of the very best Resisters I know will disagree, but the bottom line is this: even the Dems I like the least are individuals who I admire, and who I can, and will, proudly get behind in 2020, and for as long as it takes thereafter to rebuild America.
If every American who opposes Trumpism will make the same, simple commitment, every single one of these Democrats can, without question, defeat Donald Trump.
There are plenty of reasons to be fearful and apprehensive, but that simple calculus – we win as long as we stay together, as long as we don’t let them tear us apart – is reason for sincere, real hope.
They Coulda’ (Shoulda’) Been a Contender
Before we get into the candidates who are still kicking, I wanted to raise a glass to a few who, in my humble opinion, dropped out just a little too soon.
First, I’ve found it hard, watching this race, to articulate what the theme – the driving philosophical motivation – is, for many of these campaigns (including some of the leading candidates). That was never the case for Cory Booker, who stayed true to his quixotic message of universal love right until the end. And in a more sane world – in a world where, say, Americans were joining together to reject Trumpism, seeking to reconcile differences and heal old wounds – Cory Booker would be the perfect antidote to Donald Trump. It’s a shame we don’t live in a sane world, but regardless, I’m hopeful Cory is on every candidate’s shortlist for VP.
On the other hand, I think the fundamental flaw of Kamala Harris’ campaign was that she lacked a central theme, an animating raison d’être. Nevertheless, it pains me that we won’t get the chance to see that badass woman go toe-to-toe on stage with Donald Trump. We’ve been having this “electability” argument for months, and for the life of me, there was never any candidate in the race that checked more boxes than Kamala.
Finally, there has been a lot of scuttlebutt – especially lately – about the extent to which Democrats should engage in “identity politics.” This is, I believe, an absurd conversation: all politics is identity politics, not least of all Trumpism, which appeals to “the white working class” (and, generally, aggrieved, angry, insecure white men) by promising to put everyone else – people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and women – in their place.
Meanwhile it is those communities (the “everyone else”) who (i) have most borne the brunt of Trumpism to date; (ii) will be punished for decades, even if we win in 2020, thanks to the Trumpist corruption of our judiciary; and (iii) are likely to face horrific consequences if Donald Trump remains in office past January 20, 2021.
Julian Castro understood this dynamic better than anyone in the race, and he was an extraordinary and fearless champion for those among us who will suffer the most if Donald Trump is not defeated. Castro wowed me in this primary process, he too would be an exceptional VP candidate, and for now at least, he’s missed.
7 – 12. The Also-Rans
Believe it or not, per Wikipedia, there are twelve Democrats who are technically still “in” the race (hence the “7-12” above), but to my mind, only two of the bottom 6 in GTFUP.org’s rankings have shown any ability to make a dent in this race.
Tom Steyer seems like a really nice guy. He’s a billionaire, yes, but he is all-in on progressivism, and even though he falls to my left on a lot of issues, I admire that.
But he’s in the unfortunate spot of being the “other” billionaire in the race: Mike Bloomberg has lots of flaws, but he’s a far-more seasoned politician, he has actual, honest-to-God experience as a political leader, and he’s a helluva lot richer than poor Tom Steyer, which unfortunately counts for something (see below).
Dear Tom: if you drop out soon, commit $50 million to providing air support for the Dems, and another $50 million to supporting local news, you will be my hero for life!
And Andrew Yang is charming as hell. He’s drawn in an impressive amount of support, and he’s brought provocative, positive ideas to the race, as well as a refreshingly old-fashioned liberalism mixed with new-age, neck-tie-less chill, sensibility.
But Andrew Yang is not remotely qualified to be president, and it seems unlikely that he is going to be. I’ve seen lots of commentary suggesting that Yang should be on short-lists for cabinet posts, and I’m fine with that. But I’d rather he use the clout he’s built up with the venture capitalist, Silicon Valley, tech bro/business crowd, and help create a climate in that community of ethics and morality, and old-fashioned brothers’ keeper liberalism, that is very much lacking right now.
6. Mayor Pete
I’m not a big fan of Mayor Pete.
I’ve been frustrated with the way his campaign operates: a lot of carefully-calibrated negative campaigning, squishy, poll-tested “positions” and messaging, and when pressed about very real reservations voters might have about Pete’s candidacy, the Buttigieg campaign tends to fall back on faux outrage, and “I know you are but what am I” sleight of hand.
As for Pete himself, I have absolutely no idea why he’s running for President, other than he really would like to have the job. There is no discernible rationale, no compelling theme, no guiding philosophical North Star, for Pete’s campaign.
This is, to be sure, a problem other candidates face, but those candidates have decades of public service and achievement under their belt – you can look at what, say, Amy Klobuchar has prioritized in her years of public life, and understand what a President Klobuchar might look like. Not so much for Mayor Pete.
But there is no denying the impression Pete has made on voters in the early states, and on certain Democratic power-brokers. And for all my frustrations with him personally, if he were the Dem nominee, I’d be proud as hell to knock doors for him, and with the right support from everyone in the Resistance, I know he can beat Donald Trump.
How Mayor Pete Might Fare in 2020
Downside: If you’ve ever been involved in hiring decisions, you know applicants like Pete Buttigieg all too well. You look at their resume, and on its face, it appears to check every single box. So you bring this fella in for an interview, and for the first half-hour, every single answer seems to speak directly to the job description. But then you dig a little deeper, you ask some unexpected questions, you knock this fella off his game, and things start to unravel.
From an “electability” standpoint, that is my biggest concern with Mayor Pete. His resume looks really nice in theory – soldier! small town mayor! from the heartland! – but a little scrutiny and skepticism reveals that resume is stretched as thin as stone soup.
Pete’s performance as mayor of South Bend was mixed, at best; his record of winning over “heartland” voters is non-existent; he was an Obama “organizer” for … one week. And while his experience as a soldier is terrific – and his rationale for joining up admirable – that experience is, like everything else with the Mayor, strikingly thin, and ripe for Republican attacks (remember John Kerry?).
If Pete Buttigieg is the Democratic nominee, experience will be a major issue, and I think it would be a tougher lift – as opposed to some of the more accomplished Democrats – to explain to America that (a) we’re in an outright American Crisis, Donald Trump must be defeated, and there is a massive amount of work to be done to rebuild our country; but (b) the man to do that job’s chief qualification is two terms as mayor of a city whose entire population could fit into a Big Ten football stadium. I’ve heard Pete’s boilerplate answer dodging the experience question at least a dozen times now, and it works the first few times – but over the course of a grueling national campaign, that’s going to be a tough sell, even against Donald Trump.
Finally, in the key constituencies that hindered Democrats in 2016, Mayor Pete is notably lacking. The hard-left, Bernie-or-Bust crowd is going to be a problem for any candidate, but Pete Buttigieg is the definition of a poll-tested “neoliberal,” and while Pete, at 38, is very much of the younger generation, his cautious, centrist politics are not. And for all of Pete’s talk about his connection to the hardworking heartland, his only foray into statewide politics in Indiana resulted in a devastating defeat. Most importantly though, Pete has a very real problem with Black voters – the backbone of the Democratic Party – and his record in South Bend will be exploited in that regard.
Upside: All of that said, Pete Buttigieg has been incredibly successful, not just for a 38-year-old small town mayor, but for any candidate who entered the race without the name recognition of Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders. I’m not nuts about his campaign’s tactics, but it is undeniable that the campaign has been effective, that he’s outlasted and outperformed candidates who looked much stronger “on paper.”
Pete is a demonstrably smart guy who seems able to quickly grasp and communicate complicated ideas. If you are a staunch believer in the moderation theory of 2020, his studiously moderate, inoffensive positions are just what the doctor ordered. And while his struggles with Black, hard-left, young and heartland voters should be of concern, he is uniquely tailored to win the constituency that was so critical in 2018: suburban, well-educated voters who are looking to dump Donald Trump, but not necessarily launch a revolution.
For my money Pete is at his best when he’s talking about foreign affairs, and he’s capable of speaking eloquently and powerfully about America’s place on the world stage. This is a conversation we should welcome with Donald Trump, and Pete is well-equipped to have it. And when those Republican MF’s try to “Swift Boat” Pete, we’ll be ready.
Buttigieg also has proven quite adept at throwing elbows on the campaign trail, and while that has rubbed me the wrong way some of the time, it was a true delight to watch, during one of the fall debates, him unbraid Tulsi Gabbard, dripping with disdain. If he can bring that same sort of righteous disdain to dealing with Donald Trump, I could very much get on board with that!
What “President Buttigieg” Might Look Like
Again, my biggest complaint with Mayor Pete, generally, is that I have no idea what drives his candidacy, why he wants to be President, or what he would do in the Oval Office. He started the 2020 campaign as a bold progressive, then saw an opening in the centrist lane and reinvented himself as a pragmatic bootstrap midwesterner.
When he launched his campaign, many of Pete’s ideas were pretty boilerplate, but the one “bold” idea he pushed was restructuring the Supreme Court. It’s been disappointing, and disconcerting, to watch him equivocate on that front.
That tendency to equivocate, that lack of any clear philosophical mooring – along with the fact that the man is, for all his talents, profoundly lacking in experience, wisdom and qualifications – makes me question whether President Pete would be up for the immense job ahead.
Nevertheless, while there are others I’d rather see in the Oval Office, Pete Buttigieg would be a perfectly good President. He is extremely bright, he has the capacity to think big (if not necessarily boldly), and his election, as an openly gay man, would be historic and inspirational.
While Pete would likely track too far to the center for many within the Democratic base, he is a young man looking to secure a legacy and a second term. I’m sure it wouldn’t take long for him to recognize that governing as a progressive – serving that base and building something enduring – is the surest way to do that. Indeed, while he has charted a political course that is at odds with his younger generation, I have no doubt that he recognizes the urgency of this moment in the same way others in our age bracket do, and I would expect Pres. Pete to act accordingly.
Mayor Pete is far from my favorite, as a candidate, and as a prospective President. But his election over Donald Trump would be, unequivocally, a watershed moment for inclusivity, for smarts, and competence, for the forces of good. And if he’s the nominee, I’d be thrilled to get behind that.
I struggled with whether to place Mike Bloomberg above Mayor Pete. The two are quite similar in terms of their prospective policy profiles – both catering to the same crowds – as well as in terms of the constituencies with which they’d likely excel, and those which might prove problematic.
I’ve got personal misgivings about Buttigieg, which may be unfair (but it’s my damn blog, so deal with it!); but on the other hand, I’m very much put-off by the reality that, if Bloomberg becomes the nominee, he will have largely bought that honor.
In the end though, despite my real issues with Bloomberg’s candidacy to date, I suspect he would likely fair better than Pete in 2020 due to his vastly better experience and enormous war chest. And far more importantly, as things stand right now, I think Bloomberg has the potential to be a better, wiser, and more consequential President.
How Mayor Bloomberg Might Fare in 2020
Downside: To my mind, Mike Bloomberg’s biggest strength is also his biggest liability: he’s rich as hell, and while there are lots of reasons to feel confident about that, it is not hard at all to imagine Republicans relentlessly attacking an elitist New Yorker (with a heavy dose of ugly anti-semitism) as out of touch with the “real America,” a guy who “bought the nomination,” and who shows just how elitist and out of touch the Democrats are.
It’s also, notably, tough to handicap Bloomberg’s political chops at this point, because he hasn’t appeared in a debate, it’s not clear he’s done any level of grassroots campaigning, and he’s largely been out of direct political eye since 2012. He’ll be 78 years old in February, and while we have a decent sense of the limits of Bernie and Biden (for both, I see age as a net negative from a campaigning standpoint), we have no idea how Mike Bloomberg will hold up on the trail.
Finally, while Bloomberg is a powerful advocate on a couple of critical Dem issues – climate change and guns – he is very much out of touch with the grassroots of the Democratic Party. Much like Mayor Pete, it’s not hard to imagine Bloomberg struggling to connect with Black voters (his civil liberties record in NYC will be exploited), with hard-left Dems, with young people, and with the elusive “working class.”
Upside: All of that said, Mike Bloomberg is rich as hell. He’s much, much richer than Donald Trump, which will absolutely drive the President insane. Moreover, assuming the Trump campaign puts an awful lot of eggs in the “strong economy” basket, Bloomberg is well-positioned to forcefully push back on that, both based on his experience in the business world, and his position as the only “real” billionaire tycoon in the race.
Bloomberg has a moderate profile that, depending on your outlook on American politics today, may well “sell” better in key states. While we don’t know how he’ll look on the trail, he’s run successfully in the past as a Republican and as an Independent, and Americans generally love that kind of thing, even if many Democrats may not.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s bread and butter issues – climate change and guns – are existential crisis issues that, I suspect, will drive a considerable amount of voters in 2020. Bloomberg’s policy portfolio is a mixed bag, it will piss off many on the left in the Democratic Party, but if he is singularly and passionately focused on climate change and guns – while moderate, but still seeking progress, on other fronts – I believe that could be a compelling general election message. And I think it’s the kind of message that big swaths of the left can get enthusiastically behind.
Also, and this is critical, Mike Bloomberg is rich as hell. With a net worth of $60 billion, he could easily drop $5 billion into this race, and his pocketbook would not be worse for wear. Is this an honorable or righteous reason to support a candidate? Of course not. Is it problematic, long term, for democracy? Yes. But Mike Bloomberg has the capacity to bury Donald Trump, and the Republican Party, with money. And that is not nothing.
What “President Bloomberg” Might Look Like
A Bloomberg presidency would likely nibble around the edges of income inequality; it would not prioritize the post-Trump social justice restoration (and acceleration) that I believe is absolutely essential; and I have a hard time seeing Bloomberg attacking the structural democracy reforms that will be needed to set us on the right course, for the long term.
But there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic that Bloomberg would make progress in many those areas. His legacy as mayor of New York was marked by bold, sometimes controversial, action, and an openness to pro-active public policy. While he would certainly not be the darling of the most vocal progressives, I would expect Bloomberg to work hard to keep those folks in the tent with targeted, bold action.
Moreover, given his experience as mayor of New York, it’s fair to hope that Bloomberg would be an effective executive: more equipped than many candidates to weed out Trumpist corruption as a practical necessity, to diagnose and address problems within the executive branch.
Most importantly though, President Bloomberg would prioritize the world’s most dire crisis – climate change – and America’s darkest present psychic crisis – guns – and for my money, those are priorities I can 100% get on board with. If in 2024, Donald Trump has been out of office for four years and the United States has enacted sweeping climate legislation and robust gun control laws – while making more modest progress on other critical fronts – that’s a result I’d be thrilled with.
Thanks for reading! Again, I plan to publish Part II – unpacking candidates 4, 3 and 2 on my list – on Thursday, January 30; and Part I, containing the prestigious official GTFUP.org endorsement, no later than Saturday, February 1.
Until then, here’s The Band doing a killer version of Bob Dylan’s Blind Willie McTell: