Remember that old expression about some people being so hapless that they could screw up a free lunch? Welcome to the Democratic Party circa 2020.
With the nation watching the curtain rise in Iowa on the opening act of the Democrats’ lone attempt to remove President Donald Trump the old-fashioned way, through the ballot box, a party already bracing for final impact on its failed foray into impeachment could not have experienced a cold-sweat nightmare any worse than the embarrassment of a process that failed to even render any results before the world moved on. The “quality control” offered as the pathetic excuse, which left people hanging for hours on end, was amateur hour on parade — on the world stage.
Five candidates — Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar — all delivered their prewritten victory speeches in a result-free environment. It was Bizzaro World. Trump must have been doubled over laughing.
But even bigger problems than gross incompetence await this party headed for the cliff. The outcome, or lack thereof, in Iowa will soon be forgotten, relegated to a fast-fading memory of the first trickle in the flow of results cascading before an anxious American electorate girding its loins for a massive overdose of political theatrics. And they hardly solve the fundamental dilemma facing a party so deeply divided, so unsettled about its very identity, and so unable to reflect and regroup more than three years after their historic takedown by Trump.
Are Democrats the party of a Sanders-style socialist counter-revolution against Trump, or the Biden-style party committed to returning the country to post-Trump “normalcy,” meaning the salad days of familiar establishment rule?
Imagine a public debate in the GOP right now between the visions of Trump and Mitt Romney, with open contention between the populist/conservative and establishment/moderate wings of the party. There is no such battle, because Trump has won the argument and commands the support of 90% of the GOP faithful.
But Democrats are still nowhere near settling their battle for the heart and soul of the party. It’s as if the Trump triumph sent the party into a persistent state of PTSD and so retarded their processing of grief and disbelief that they have been frozen in time on 11/8/16, the day their whole world came crashing down.
Biden begs for a return to the world of 11/7/16. Sanders intends to exploit the outrage unleashed on 11/9/16.
In a race teeming with hard-left resentment still simmering over Sanders’ takedown by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016 — and promises of violence if it happens again — could this intraparty fracture lead to a 2020 Democratic convention in Milwaukee eerily reminiscent of the infamous, riot-plagued 1968 Democratic convention just a short hop to the south in Chicago?
Would Trump-deranged Democrats’ nomination of Sanders be the 21st-century parallel to the Richard Nixon-deranged party’s death-wish nominee in 1972, George McGovern, the most radical candidate ever nominated for the presidency, who was steamrolled in an historic landslide?
Has America changed so much in the last half-century that a candidate far more extreme than even the 1972 nominee could dramatically improve on McGovern’s annihilation in the Electoral College, 49-1, and the popular vote, 62%-38%?
With a potential twilight struggle between individualism and collectivism – Trump, an unabashed, unapologetic capitalist, versus Sanders, a self-proclaimed “democratic” socialist — has society changed enough in the last half-century that socialism, thoroughly repudiated then, could carry the day now?
But the Democrats’ alternative is a replay of the disaster of 2016: a weak establishment icon from days gone by, offering nothing new, riven with self-dealing and corruption, from a discredited political class obviously ripe for a reckoning. Is that really an option? Is the faint praise of “we wouldn’t lose as badly with Biden” enough to rally the party faithful and overcome the certain resistance of the socialist wing of the party?
Democrats could split the difference and nominate an amiable, conventionally liberal woman in this era of extreme gender awareness who would challenge Trump in the pivotal heartland whence she came. That would be Klobuchar. That would be sensible. That is not going to happen.
Sanders can fully expect to be cut off at the knees by establishment figureheads from the good/bad old days, party hacks ranging from John Podesta to Barney Frank, and failed presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and John Kerry — an almost flawless mirror image of the duo of failed GOP candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney, who tried to pull exactly the same maneuver on Trump in the GOP.
But things will soon get even more complicated. Sanders is sitting in the catbird seat with a commanding lead in New Hampshire. Biden is even further on top in South Carolina. Nevada may be a jump ball. So these four early contests appear likely to generate just the kind of ideological chaos that would form the desired backdrop for Michael Bloomberg, he of a mind-bending $300 million already spent on ads. The Republican-turned-Democrat former mayor of New York looms over Super Tuesday and its 14 contests in one month like a beacon in the night for a party gone dark or a fake Democrat, uber-wealthy control freak who will be met with a violent reaction by the activist, anti-capitalist party base.
The numbers for the top five presidential candidates show roughly half of Democrats polled are on board with a return to Obama-era normalcy, while the other half favor a teardown and rebuild of the party and the nation from the ground up. How can this fundamental schism be settled? If Sanders prevails, Democrats will become the party of socialism. But if Biden secures the nomination, the growing radical base will surely be enraged and will punish and defame the party nominee and leadership. Leftists have already attacked the DNC for filling its prestigious convention committee with party regulars who oversaw Hillary’s meltdown.
With this escalating level of vitriol and indecision, how can the Democrats escape their own nomination process with a compelling vision of the future? Sanders opposes most everything this country represents, and Biden offers only imagined past glories.
The only caveat to the primrose path down which the Democrats are headed is Trump himself. A victory by the bombastic billionaire long seemed a fantasy. But when it happened, the nation was shocked into awareness of the irresistible forces for change growing around them and have since witnessed the seemingly immovable objects standing in the way. Four years ago, Trump and Sanders both presented the prospect of actual change, big change, unprecedented change. Both will again. But until the Democrats make up their minds about who they really are, beyond not-Trump, their forecast for 2020 will continue to look even bleaker than 2016.
Read more from Tim Donner.