The Democratic Nominating Process is Much Ado about Very Little

Centrist pundits are raising alarms about the possibility of Bernie Sanders getting the nomination, convinced that his so-called extreme policies will turn off centrist voters and conservatives who are disgusted with Trump’s hateful rhetoric. Supporters of Buttigieg, Biden, Klobuchar and Bloomberg are all saying that their candidate is the only one left who can defeat Trump. Panic-provoking pundits from all over the severely limited mainstream media spectrum are saying that the Democratic party will do what they claim it always does—fracture, shoot itself in the foot, turn off key constituencies and stay at home election day.

But if we look at the hard numbers, review the extremely narrow path that Trump had to Electoral College victory in 2016 and analyze the contrasts between Trump and the Democratic Party, it should befuddle us why so many are in, or pretend to be in, a frenzy.

The truth of the matter is that unless Russians or Trumpites manage to change the actual voting tallies, every Democratic candidate will defeat Donald Trump and every Democratic candidate (with the possible exception of Elizabeth Warren) will end up accomplishing pretty much the same thing as president.

Trump’s losing hand plays out in six key states. We start with the former blue wall of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, all of which Trump won by razor thin margins, all of which are suffering economically as a direct result of Trump’s economic and foreign policies. These three states are now in the hands of Democratic governors, which means it will be harder to suppress the vote in 2020. The Democrats completely ignore Wisconsin in 2016, which won’t happen again. Trump should lose at least one and maybe all three of these states.

A battleground state that Republicans usually seem to win by extremely small margins in Florida. A court recently ruled that Florida cannot make voting by ex-felons contingent on paying the court costs they owe, meaning that there should be a massive influx of new voters in Florida, most of whom will lean blue.  About 200,000 had already paid their fees before the ruling, and only 57% of these voters have to vote blue to give whomever is the Democratic nominee Florida’s 29 electoral votes

All the Dems need is Florida and any one of the former blue wall states to win in the Electoral College, but they are also threatening to turn two long time red states into Democratic strongholds: Georgia and Texas, and for good reason: the enormous growth of minorities in those two states. 

In short, Trump needs another series of miracles to win reelection. Virtually any Democrat should beat Trump.

And virtually every Democrat, from the corporate B-boys (Bloomberg, Biden and Buttigieg) to self-professed socialist Bernie Sanders will do the same things:

  • Try to raise taxes on the wealthy, although some will want to bump up what the rich pay by more, some by less.
  • Heal the wounds the Trump Administration dealt to the Affordable Care Act and build on the Act to cover more Americans and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the healthcare system. Again some will want to go farther than others towards a single payer system, but all will want to offer a public option.
  • Reverse the many Trump Administration decisions to weaken environmental, safety and other regulations.
  • Try to mend the relationships we have with our allies and get back into the Paris Accord and, if possible, the Iran Nuclear deal.
  • Ratchet up election security regulations and laws.
  • Institute a relatively large program to repair and update our infrastructure of roads, highways, sewer systems and mass transit systems.
  • Address global warming with a combination of administrative and legislative action, although some will want to do more than others.
  • Rethink the current military budget, which is just about equal to what the rest of the world spends on guns, bombs and soldiers. Again some will cut the military budget more, some less.
  • Do something to make higher education more affordable.

Moreover, every Democrat (and many Republicans, too) will almost always tell the truth to the American people; demonstrate respect to all people, even enemies; and base most decisions on science and reason.

Some of the tasks on the Democrats’ action list a president can do by her/himself and some require Congress to pass legislation. A careful parsing of the list I put together reveals that the Democrats left in the race tend to disagree most on the things that a president has the least control over because they require legislation: reforming the healthcare system, commitment to global warming, how much to raise taxes on the wealthy and how much educational support to give to families. The things these candidates could do without Congress if elected tend to be stuff they agree on, such as reversing Trump’s regulatory carnage and getting back into international treaties from which we’ve withdrawn.

In other words, no matter who is president, she/he will have to work with Nancy Pelosi and will be subject to Nancy’s program, which will in all likelihood reflect the 2020 Democratic platform. Nancy’s influence will loom especially large if Sanders, Buttigieg, Steyer or Bloomberg are elected. In the case of America’s favorite small-town mayor and the two billionaires, their inexperience will concentrate more power into the hands of Pelosi and her senior congressional team. Bernie’s former role as a rebellious backbencher will limit his ability to influence Congress without Pelosi’s support. It is likely that of all the candidates, Bernie would have the least impact on what a Democratic Congress produces.

In general, we can characterize Nancy Pelosi as a central Democrat, which means she stands at the center position of the Democratic Party, which makes her left of center when considering the entire electorate. As far as the candidates go, she stands slightly to the left of Klobuchar and Biden and slightly to the right of Booker and Harris.

Elizabeth Warren knows how the administrative branch of the federal government works better than any other candidate, simply because she is the only one to have created a federal bureau. Like Biden and Klobuchar (and unlike Bernie) she has deep roots in the party and has worked cooperatively with other legislators, so she will therefore be less beholden to the Speaker of the House. For these reasons, Warren would likely be able to drive the country further left as president than any other Democrat running, which is why I support her. But no matter who is the winning candidate, most of the first term will be spent first returning the government and the regulatory state to the pre-Trump days and then taking Nancy Pelosi-type steps (perhaps not perfect, but not too cold and not too warm) to build upon the party’s vision in the areas of global warming, inequality, healthcare, education and a cooperative approach to international relations.

All the hand-wringing and finger-pointing about the candidates’ electability and vision make for great spectacle and enable social media users to blow off a lot of steam. But at the end of the day, the Democrats should prevail no matter whom they nominate and the winning candidate should move the country back to “Obama” normalcy and start to fix some of our long-term problems. There is no need to fear either Sanders or Buttigieg. (Bloomberg is another story, since he is trying to buy the election, a very significant step away from a representational democracy.) Instead, Democrats should fear poll manipulation and low turnout.