When discussing policy, we can divide the 10 credible candidates who participated in all three Democratic debates into three categories: The unabashed progressives are Warren and Sanders. The centrists who look left for solutions are Castro, Harris and Booker (and maybe O’Rourke). The centrists, all of whom seem to cozy up to corporate interested more than the other candidates, include Biden, Buttigieg, Klobochar and Yang (and maybe O’Rourke). If we want to include the 11th candidate to qualify for the fourth debate, Tom Steyer, we can place him with Biden and Buttigieg, only more enamored of the right.
Since I’m a progressive (actually a socialist), at this point in the campaign my main concern is who I and other progressives should support: Bernie or Liz. While their programs are very similar, they come from vastly different ideological starting points. Sanders is a democratic socialist, which means he wants a democratically elected government to control most of the means of production. Warren is a capitalist reformer, who essentially believes in capitalism, but wants government to reign in free market abuses and achieve an equitable distribution of wealth. In a real sense, Warren stands in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Barack Obama (the most conservative of this group) and Hillary Clinton. Like LBJ and unlike Obama and Clinton, Warren has absolutely no interest in using the free market to solve problems that the free market has created, which brings her much closer to Sanders than Obama or Hillary were on a variety of issues, including the environment and education.
I have put together the scorecard I used for evaluating the two most leftwing candidates running for the Democratic nomination. The variables include electability, competence, ability to bring the party together for the fall campaign, debate skills, relative immunity from Trump’s smears, and possibility of getting something done once president. Their stand on issues is not one of the variables, because their programs are so similar.
Rather than discuss the various elements that go into being more or less electable or rehashing the unproven speculation of the many mainstream media pundits, let’s head straight for the numbers. The most recent polls show both Sanders and Warren beating Trump way beyond the margin of error. As I wrote a few weeks ago, barring voter suppression and manipulation, Trump is probably doomed no matter which Democrat runs, mainly because the electoral stars are not likely to align perfectly for his election a second time around—no FBI investigation of his opponent’s email, no ignoring of three key states by his opponent, no long-standing, deep-seated hatred for the other candidate by large segments of the electorate, a more general knowledge of Trump’s history of incompetence, corruption and racism. Warren and Sanders, plus Biden, do better against Trump than other Democratic candidates do, so let’s call it a tie between Bernie and Liz, based on the polling numbers alone.
Bernie Sanders is a very competent individual who has achieved a lot in his life, primarily by running as an outsider. But while he can excite crowds and win votes, no bill for which he was a primary sponsor has ever been passed into law. By contrast, Warren has always excelled working within the system to make the system fairer and provide more to the average person. For f—‘s sake, she virtually single-handedly created one of the departments of government! Both are among the most competent candidates to run for president in recent years, certainly with more on the ball than Trump, Bush II or Gore. I am reluctant to declare a winner in this category since both are highly intelligent, experienced and skilled. But then I think that one of the first jobs of whomever we elect to replace the Trumpster Fire will be to undo all the harm that Trump has inflicted on the government—restaff departments and reinstate regulations—all the small bore stuff that Warren knows so well. Let’s give Bernie one point and Warren a point and a half.
Likelihood to bring the party together
Once the candidate, which of the two will be able bring together the party after the fight for the nomination? Warren has always been a party animal. She enthusiastically supported Clinton and worked her butt off to help Democrats up and down the ticket in 2016 and 2018. By contrast, Bernie did the bare minimum to help the Democrats in 2016 and is known as an outsider. Warren’s demeanor is one of an empathetic cheerleader-school teacher, someone who encourages and guides. Bernie’s personality has been a veritable motherlode of jokes for Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and others, who have established Bernie’s image as a crotchety, if somewhat loveable, old eccentric, a variation on Larry David’s television persona. Clearly, Warren seems to possess more conciliation skills and can call on a deeper reserve of good feeling among those who didn’t support her. Moreover, because of her party allegiance, her personality and her disavowal of socialism, most of the many subsegments that compose the Democratic Party are likely to support her enthusiastically against Trump, except for the “Bernie Bros,” by which I mean those white men of the left who will never vote for a woman. Warren wins this category hands down.
Both have good debate skills. They both can turn a memorable phrase and both have command of the facts. Neither is going to back down to either Trump or a pro-Trump moderator such as Matt Lauer. My sense, though, is that with all that aging, if in Trump’s case probably enhanced, testosterone flying around, Sanders-Trump debates might devolve into a shouting match between two grump grandpas. Warren’s coolly passionate style may contrast more positively with the bombastic Trump than Bernie’s would. I give the point to Warren
Ability to withstand Trump’s smears
No matter who is nominated by the Democrats, Trump is going to spend a lot of time insulting the candidate, distorting their record and accusing them of all sorts of unsavory, stupid or unpatriotic nonsense. The big questions are whether the fact that Warren is a woman will make her more of a target, as it did Hillary Clinton, and whether the misogynistic segment of the electorate will be as big this time as it was in 2016. Apart from her sex, all Trump can do to smear Warren, or to make her look small and ridiculous, is to call her “Pocahontas,” which has the dual effect of issuing a racial invective while reminding us of the one small scandal on Warren’s record—the fact that her family always thought they had native American ancestry. On the other hand, Trump has three enormous cudgels with which constantly to beat Bernie: 1) He’s Jewish; 2) He’s a socialist; and 3) He’s old. Right or wrong, these are large wedges between Bernie and different parts of the electorate. Trump will lie to smear any candidate, but he doesn’t have to lie to call Bernie Jewish and connect with anti-Semites. He doesn’t have to lie to call Bernie a socialist and frighten the millions of people who have been fed negative propaganda about socialism for decades. He doesn’t have to lie to call Bernie old and thereby deflect attention from his own age-related mental enfeeblement and the fact that his heart is a ticking time bomb. That I find these potential smears against Bernie to be repugnant doesn’t prevent me from giving this point to Warren as well.
More likely to get something done in office
Warren and Bernie present similar programs, especially when compared with other, more business-friendly Democrats.
But if the question is which of the two would get further, faster in implementing their program, the answer is a no-brainer—It’s the candidate who has worked within the party and knows her way around both the federal bureaucracy and Congress. It’s the candidate who is owed big time by elected officials for whom she campaigned. It’s the candidate whose sunny disposition and friendly demeanor will make it easier for her to bring opposing sides together to work out compromises.
Like most Democratic socialists, I love what Bernie Sanders stands for. But it’s time for him to yield the field to another leader of the progressives, one more likely to be elected and far more likely to implement key portions of the progressive program than Sanders ever could.
If Bernie Sanders really cares about the country more than he cares about his own power and self-aggrandizement, he will quit the race and throw both his support and his treasury to Elizabeth Warren.