The Search for Sanity, Part 1

A Partial Guide to the 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates

Yes, I know the 2020 presidential election is a long way away. But it is probably less than a year before the Democratic Party will choose its nominee, and since Democrats have to winnow that down from a current total of 18 or more candidates—the New York Times is keeping a running tally—we’d probably better start getting a handle on who they are right now.

Why so many candidates? Didn’t they learn from the debacle of the last Republican primary, when many good candidates got lost in the crowd and victory went to the guy with the most pop culture name recognition? Well, it’s happening because Democrats are facing the same conditions as Republicans four years ago.

Then, there was a weak and unappealing “inevitable” Democratic candidate, leading a lot of people to think that whoever could win the Republican nomination had a good chance of winning the general election. Today, there is a weak and unappealing Republican incumbent who is not likely to face any significant challenge within his own party. (The Republican establishment is working hard to make sure of it.) So this time, Democrats are the ones who think they have a likely win set up for them in 2020.

Four years ago, there was no Republican who was “inevitable”–no incumbent or clear successor with a built-in lead for the nomination. With Hillary Clinton out, the same is true for Democrats today. So anyone with an once of political ambition will decide that this just might be his year. There is one more factor that is new because of the 2016 cycle: Trump’s victory created a sense that the normal rules of politics have been thrown out the window and anything is possible, which is one of the reasons you’re seeing some really improbable candidates.

Because the Democratic field is so large, I don’t intend to be comprehensive. Many of these candidates have no real chance and are running purely out of vanity, which is never in short supply in politics, or to push an agenda item or sell a book or build a mailing list. You have never heard of some of them and probably never will, so there’s no need to look at them unless they start to catch on.

Why does it matter, anyway, particularly since this newsletter has an audience that is not exactly eager to vote for a modern Democrat? Yet many of you, like me, are not happy with Donald Trump—his failure to stand for the free markets and more worryingly his militant anti-intellectualism—so you may be hoping that maybe, just maybe, Democrats will do the smart thing and nominate a sane moderate that we could consider voting for as an alternative. That’s a real long shot, for reasons we are about to see, so we also have to consider the fact that Donald Trump is not in a particularly strong position to win re-election. Having 45% of the voters on your side can get you elected against a dispiriting and uncharismatic opponent, if the Electoral College breaks your way. It is not a strategy you want to try every time you go to the polls. So the Democratic nominee will have a good chance of winning in 2020, and we had better be prepared for the possibilities now.

As for whether the Democrats will be smart enough to choose a moderate who can appeal to the wide center of American politics and to disgruntled Republican voters—well, the overall trend is represented by two minor candidates I will only mention in passing. California Congressman Eric Smallwell has launched a campaign based on a proposal for the forcible confiscation of semi-automatic rifles. But as someone pointed out on Twitter, the only people who vote based on this single issue are gun owners. Similarly, the New York Times tally I linked to above says that former Maryland congressman John Delaney “has pitched himself as a bipartisan problem-solver, but has also endorsed liberal causes like universal health care.” That’s a pretty consistent theme: candidates trying to describe themselves as “moderate” while adopting a far-left agenda down the line.

Here, as a preliminary sketch, are a few useful notes on a selected group of Democratic candidates.

Joe Biden: The Man That Time Forgot

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