Last Spring, I wrote a way-too-early analysis of the likely 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. A lot has changed since then. While back then, no one had formally declared their candidacy, now a shit ton of candidates are campaigning away with more likely to join the fray. So, I’ll give an updated rundown of who I like and my assessment of a bunch of the major candidates’ chances.
For this round, I’ve retained the betting odds, and I’ve replaced Professor Garth’s grades with the highly scientific M-S (Manchin-Sanders) Progressivity Scale. Each of the candidates is rated from 0-10 on how progressive they are. The scale is based on the range of political views permitted within the Democratic Party. If WV Senator Manchin were running, he would get a zero rating, as the least progressive Democrat imaginable. Bernie Sanders, who pushes the upper limits of progressive-ness allowed, gets a ten. The test scores are based on a highly sophisticated mathematical analysis of positions on key issues, and… oh, for fucks sake, who do I think I’m fooling? It’s based on vague recollections of a few statements or votes, general impressions, and random whims.
Yes, there will be litmus tests. It’s not just me. The Democratic primary voters are not in the mood for somebody who will “reach out across the aisle”. Save that shit for some time when the Republican Party is not stark raving loony nutso mad and just plain evil. There is no negotiation and no compromise possible with these nutjobs.
The Democratic primary voters are not in the mood for pragmatic incrementalism. Candidates must fight for what they believe in, even if it doesn’t pass this time. One year’s hard-fought loss may well be the next year’s glorious triumph.
Nobody will win the D nomination who is not an active proponent of some kind of single payer/ medicare for all healthcare system. Nobody will win the D nomination who is not an advocate of major campaign finance reform, or who is widely perceived to be a puppet of super-PACs, big pharma, the insurance industry, or, yes, AIPAC.
In the General Election, whoever wins the Democratic nomination will defeat whatever creature emerges from the smoldering ruins of the post-Trump Republican Party. Trump himself will be in jail by November 2020.
Since there are so bloody many candidates, I’ll divide them into some semi-arbitrary groups.
These candidates don’t have much of a chance, but I kinda like them. Who knows, one of them might develop a real following.
Jay Insley. The Governor of Washington and former Congressman is building his campaign on a foundation of fighting anthropogenic climate change. That’s a good thing. It sounds like he’s a good Governor, too. But he’s a boring oldish white guy with hardly any national profile.
M-S Rating: 7. Odds: 50:1
Pete Buttigieg. The whippersnapper Mayor of South Bend is well informed, nicely progressive, and spectacularly articulate. He’s also got a wee little problem with name recognition. It’s hard to imagine anyone making the jump from Mayor of a mid-sized city to President.
M-S Rating: 8. Odds: 75:1
No Chance at All
These campaigns are DOA. These candidates should not give up their day jobs. Fuhgeddaboutit. Ain’t happening. Just give up already.
Cory Booker. The NJ Senator poses as a progressive, while doing the bidding of his corporate overlords, esp. big pharma. Corporate Dems think he’s too lefty, lefties think he’s a completely untrustworthy puppet of lobbyists.
M-S Rating: 5. Odds: 500:1
Tulsi Gabbard. Sigh. There’s so much to like, only… The Hawaii Representative gave up her position in the DNC to campaign for Bernie in ’16. She’s young, she’s smart, she’s progressive on domestic issues. I could even forgive her historic homophobia, since she was a kid then, and she’s renounced that crap and apologized, and doesn’t vote that way. But on foreign policy, she’s just plain nuts. She’s cozy with Assad and Hindu Nationalist Modi. She’s pro-torture. She wants to minimize US troop commitments (good) but she wants to maintain US empire by aiding some really awful regimes.
M-S Rating: 7. Odds: 1000:1
John Delaney. The former Maryland Congressman and loansharking tycoon is the vilest of the Democratic candidates at present. He’s campaigning hard, trying to replace his near-zero name recognition with near-universal revulsion. “Different kind of Democrat” blah blah blah “national unity” blah blah blah “teamed up with Republicans to introduce legislation” blah blah blah “let’s meet in the middle”… That pig ain’t gonna fly in today’s atmosphere.
M-S Rating: 2. Odds: 1000:1
Julián Castro. A Barrack Obama wannabe. While one could certainly pick far worse role models, now is not the time for pretty speeches and plodding incrementalist perpetual gridlock.
M-S Rating: 6. Odds: 300:1
Amy Klobuchar. Her announcement got some buzz, and she started out as the scion of some sort of Clintonian middle America moderate tradition, but with a little more of a working class edge or something. While some might argue that the revelation that she’s the world’s worst boss is a trivial sideshow, I’d disagree. Especially in a crowded field, being an unspeakable asshole is enough to reduce one’s chance of standing out, at least in a good way. And yes, I would too say the same damn thing if she were a male asshole. Plus, she’s too damn conservative to win the nomination this time around.
M-S Rating: 5. Odds: 500:1
Steve Bullock. It’s nice that someone with a D after their name won a statewide election in Montana. But…
M-S Rating: 4. Odds: 500:1
The two Coloradans. Two boring white guys from Colorado are likely to run. Senator Michael Bennet and Governor John Hickenloper are spectacularly uninteresting moderate Democrats who want to
capitulate to oops, I meant work with Republicans. Nobody cares. Fuck ’em.
M-S Rating: 5 Odds: 1000:1
Candidates Who Have A Credible Shot
There are really only four candidates I can easily visualize actually winning this thing. Once the voting starts, we’ll be down to two pretty fast. It’s like a basketball tournament. In the progressive bracket, we have Sanders and Warren. In the corporatist bracket, we have Harris and Gillibrand. The winner of the progressive bracket goes up against the winner of the corporatist bracket for the nomination. It’s rather refreshing that none of the credible candidates are unambiguously, irretrievably awful.
Bernie Sanders. Yes, he’s old. But he’s the real deal. While other candidates waffle and pose and equivocate, Bernie fights for justice. As long as his health is good, he’s a formidable candidate. He has his campaign structure fundamentally intact—bigger and better, actually—and his message is on-point as ever. The hatred directed at him from the leadership of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media only make him stronger. It’s not just me saying this: with enemies like those, he must be doing something right. The Facebook meme is almost literally true: for every bad thing that the US has done in the last thirty years, there’s video of Bernie trying to stop it. His time has finally come.
M-S Rating: 10. Odds: 3:2
Kirsten Gillibrand. Speaking of waffling and posing and equivocating, the Senator from New York was one of the most conservative Democrats in the House when she was a Representative, now she’s one of the most liberal Senators. What happened? One explanation is that she’s accurately representing the will of a different constituency. Her House district was fairly conservative, while NY state as a whole is pretty liberal. Maybe it’s OK for a legislator to be something of an anemometer, but I’d like to see some backbone in a President. Perhaps she recognizes the way the wind is blowing and is disingenuously feigning progressive-ness. Perhaps she’s really had a conversion. She often speaks about seeing things which changed her mind on key issues. Still, when it comes to a choice between somebody who has been right all along and someone who claims to be right now but has a history of being politically labile, I’ll choose right all along, thank you very much.
M-S Rating: 6. Odds: 4:1
Kamala Harris. The California Senator has done an excellent job of positioning herself for this race. She has a lot of support from the corporatist wing of the party, and she’s made lots of progressive policy pronouncements. But what about her actual record? Some folks I usually agree with are arguing that all former prosecutors should be summarily dismissed from consideration. The problem with that argument is that it’s too ridiculous to waste time refuting. It is, however really hard to meaningfully evaluate the record of someone whose record is primarily in the legal/prosecutorial realm. Perhaps the law points one way and political convictions point the other, but the prosecutor’s job is the law. Her record as a Senator is… short. All she’s really had to do is vote against Trump stuff and grill the occasional witness or appointee. She’s done that well, but that ain’t much. I remain skeptical of her deep commitment to progressive issues.
M-S Rating: 7. Odds: 2:1
Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts Senator has a lot going for her. She has considerable progressive support, and isn’t too too terribly scary to the corporatists. She’s spectacularly intelligent, and a gifted speaker, not so much for soaring oratory, but clear detailed explanations. Her history as a Harvard Professor no doubt has something to do with her intelligence and communicative clarity. Her progressive support has been damaged somewhat by her failure to endorse Bernie before the ’16 MA Primary, when it might have made a big difference. Her public image has been eroded a bit by the silly Native American heritage kerfluffle, but that shall pass. She’s ready to take the progressive mantle should Bernie falter.
M-S Rating: 8. Odds: 5:1
Please Don’t Run
These possible candidates haven’t firmly declared their intentions yet, and they really really shouldn’t even consider the possibility of running.
Joe Biden. Great gravy, what a horrible idea. The folks who think Bernie is too old are championing Joe Biden. The folks that think Bernie shouldn’t be running because he’s a white male are fine with Joe Biden. The hypothetical Biden candidacy shines a brilliant spotlight on the hypocrisy of the corporatist wing of the Democratic Party. It’s not about age or identity politics, it’s about kowtowing to your corporate overlords. It’s about loving perpetual gridlock. It’s about pretending support popular policies which we all know you will not fight for. Stay retired, Joe. On second thought, perhaps from a strategic point of view, a Biden campaign would be good for progressives. He’d divvy up the corporatist vote pie into thinner slices, and he wouldn’t win. He’s run before, and his campaigns have always gone splat. As soon as he emerges from the shadow of Obama nostalgia and has to stand on his own, he’ll go splat again.
M-S Rating: 5. Odds: 80:1
Beto O’Rourke. Thanks for the nice Senate campaign, Beto. Better luck next time. But you lost. And your record as a Congressman is not nearly as progressive as your campaign rhetoric. Which is the real Beto? I’m inclined to believe the record when it’s in conflict with the pretty oratory.
M-S Rating: 6. Odds: 100:1
Sherrod Brown. The Ohio Senator had some credibility with progressives until he set that credibility on fire recently by declaring single payer impractical and saying he’d rather massage Obamacare a little. Pre-emptive surrender is not an option.
M-S Rating: 7. Odds: 200:1
Bill De Blasio. The NYC Mayor has his hands full with his day job.
M-S Rating: 7 Odds: 500:1
And hooray to bunch of folks who’ve already said they will not run: Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, Michael Bloomberg, Michael Avenatti,… By not running, you’ve freed me from the obligation to point out why you shouldn’t run.