‘Electability’: The Democrats’ dangerous obsession?
So desperate are Democrats to defeat Donald Trump, said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post, that they’re obsessed with nominating the most “electable” candidate. That is virtually the only reason former Vice President Joe Biden has jumped out to a large early poll lead over 21 other declared candidates. Few Democratic voters are actually excited about Biden, 76; they just think that enough conservative white males will vote for him to dislodge Trump from the White House. Recent political history shows that this seemingly pragmatic calculation is “completely wrong.” Establishment moderates chosen for their electability, such as John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton, all went down to defeat. “A 40-something African-American senator with an Arabic middle name” won two presidential elections, while in 2016, “a completely unelectable” reality-TV star shocked the world. “‘Electability’ is a crock,” said Alex Pareene in The New Republic. Suffering from PTSD after losing to Trump, Democrats have taught themselves to “vote not for what they want, but for what they imagine their more-conservative neighbors might want.” This is why a retread like Biden is far out in front of dynamic female senators like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, who even languish behind white male neophytes Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg.
Sorry—this is not a normal election, said Andrew Sullivan in NYMag.com. The only way Trump wins in 2020 is by retaining the working-class white men in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania who gave him a razor-thin, 78,000-vote victory in those key swing states in 2016. Why risk alienating those voters again with a candidate carrying “the baggage of left wokeness” like Harris or Warren, or a self-described socialist like Bernie Sanders? Given the deep loathing Democrats have for the reckless authoritarian in the White House, turnout should not be a problem; in the midterms, a record number of Democrats flocked to the polls. Indeed, Biden currently is getting more than 40 percent of the black vote, thanks to his “deep association with Barack Obama”; at the same time, Scranton Joe’s authentic working-class roots enable him to connect with non-college-educated white men in the Midwestern states like no other Democrat in this field. If he wins those states, “he’ll be the next president.”
White working-class voters aren’t looking for a “centrist,” said Amanda Marcotte in Salon.com. Democrats can only make inroads with that group by offering progressive economic policies so bold and appealing to their self-interest that they “set aside the racial resentment” that led them to vote for Trump. “Who knows what ‘electability’ really means?” asked Peter Hamby in VanityFair.com. The Democrats’ most successful candidates in recent decades have been young outsiders who created excitement about the future: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Why should Democrats play it safe with “a 70-something white man” who failed in two previous presidential bids, when they just elected hundreds of women, African-Americans, Muslims, and gays to Congress, city halls, and governor’s mansions “in districts long held by Republicans?”
Besides, “electability” can be ephemeral, said Philip Bump in The Washington Post. Just ask Rick Perry, the GOP’s front-runner in the 2012 presidential race until his infamous “Oops!” gaffe. Biden has a long history of gaffes, so no one knows how he’ll fare in the crucible of debates and primaries. In presidential races, measures of electability “are subject to rapid, dramatic change.” ■