Given the state of the economy and the many advantages of incumbency afforded any chief executive, President Trump remains a solid bet to be re-elected, and very possibly by a larger margin than in 2016. But the Democrats have to nominate somebody to take him on. The problem is that, for the longest time, it has been terribly difficult to envision which, if any, of the Democrats’ 29 declared presidential candidates could actually step up and distinguish himself or herself as the clear choice to take on and beat Trump.
Now that we are just days away from the first votes being cast, and the field has narrowed substantially, the final debate before the Iowa caucuses may just have left us with the answer. Not to the question of who will win the nomination, but who should win it, if the Democrats are serious about repairing their tattered image and fielding a candidate who will not scare off swing voters and who can be competitive in the Heartland which drove Trump’s victory three years ago.
First, let’s enumerate the fatal flaws of five of the six candidates on the stage Tuesday evening in Des Moines.
A Motley Crew of Contenders
Joe Biden, who as the nominee could count on being savaged by Trump more than ever for the transparent corruption involving his son, predictably stumbled through multiple incoherent responses in Iowa, sounding dazed and confused. He sought forgiveness from the hard left in confessing that he was wrong in voting for the Iraq War, but asserted that his oversight of Barack Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq should grant him clemency. As is his wont, he replayed the tragedies in his life and projected a backward-looking vision. The pièce de résistance was when the former vice president actually shouted with rehearsed fury, amid a roaring economy, that the working and middle class are being “clobbered, killed” by the Trump economy, and that “the wealthy are the only ones doing well.” Really? Biden’s only real credential is that he’s got name recognition and is not Trump, but the consistent chatter around the Swamp – and the Heartland – is that he is simply not up to the task.
Bernie Sanders, with a slightly less angry countenance than usual, and Elizabeth Warren, straining to sound authentically working class by referring often to her “mama” and her days growing up in Oklahoma, burnished their well-established socialist credentials. Warren suddenly said, however, that she will now defend Obamacare, backing away from her call for a radical Medicare For All plan, which scared off voters once she ascended to the top of the polls weeks ago. Nominating a socialist opponent in the midst of a years-long economic upturn would promise to produce a decisive victory, if not a landslide, for Trump.
Pete Buttigieg, military veteran, pulled the “it’s personal to me” card on the Iran confrontation as he regaled the audience with stories of going off to war while dropping in enough phrases like “environmental justice” to satisfy the rabid base and enough religious references to comfort voters who care about such things. Mayor Pete is a skilled politician, but young – very young – and faced with the issues of being gay and a striking inability to attract essential black support. He has impressively punched wildly above his weight class up to now, but is clearly a candidate for the future rather than the present.
Billionaire Tom Steyer – not to be confused with alternative billionaire candidate Michael Bloomberg, who is ignoring the first four contests – spouted a succession of textbook Trump-hating, globalist-loving bromides, looking every bit the bug-eyed wooden soldier. He was – finally – asked to explain how his radical climate change agenda can be reconciled with the hundreds of millions of dollars he made from fossil fuels as a hedge fund manager – before he got religion on the climate. Like Biden, he fantastically claimed he will “beat Trump on the economy.” And for good measure, Steyer repeated his pledge to declare a national emergency due to climate change on his first day in office – and “make the whole world go along with it.” Good luck with that. Whatever talent made Steyer wealthy in business has clearly not translated to the political sphere. He will, like Bloomberg, carpet bomb Super Tuesday states with ads, but has no chance.
And that leaves the one candidate on the stage in this seventh Democratic presidential debate who has, if only by default, established herself as the most prudent choice to represent the Democratic Party against Trump: Amy Klobuchar.
Trump Vs. The Anti-Trump
Let’s be clear that this does not mean the party will nominate the senior senator from Minnesota, only that it should. She offers several intrinsic qualities. She is admittedly uninspiring, but in a party that cares more about beating Trump than anything else, it should not matter. She carries far less baggage than her rivals and has established sufficient street cred by plowing methodically and competently through seven debates. As a woman in a party given over to identity politics, she would be a showpiece for Democrat diversity and smooth many of the ruffled feathers from Hillary Clinton’s disastrous attempt to shatter the glass ceiling. And if she loses, Democrats can repeat their claim of rampant sexism rather than deal with a defeat by an old white male. Cynical but true.
Importantly, Klobuchar has presented as the most likable of the contenders; in many ways, the anti-Trump. She is unthreatening, unlike the socialist candidates, and has consistently hewed to conventional liberal (now known as “moderate”) positions on critical issues while spurning radical notions of reform. This is in sharp contrast to her competitor in the “moderate” lane, Biden, who has unconvincingly reversed his historical positions on multiple issues in openly pandering to progressives.
She is best positioned to compete with Trump in the Heartland because she is an authentic Midwesterner, unlike Biden, who touts his everyday Joe image after spending almost half a century as a poster child for the D.C. establishment. And she has properly touted her unbeaten record in elections, as well as her success in Republican-dominated districts, while Biden failed badly in two previous runs for the presidency and won only non-competitive Senate elections repeatedly in a virtual one-party state.
At the same time, as someone who has not made enemies or infuriated any particular interest groups during the primary, Klobuchar is unlikely to agitate the party base, unlike the frontrunner Biden.
She would be the underdog against Trump to be sure, but an upset victory by an amiable woman running as a palatable centrist – an acceptable not-Trump – is not nearly as inconceivable as a victory by Biden, Warren, Sanders or Buttigieg. The corollary is that she would be least likely to lose in embarrassing fashion. We could expect her to be competitive but to concede defeat with sufficient grace to dampen memories of Hillary, who attacked Trump in the campaign for refusing to say he would honor the results of the election, and then became the most infamous sore loser in political history.
The best Democrats can hope for in trying to rid the nation of a man they believe to be evil is to remove the substantial background noise surrounding the other contenders and make their case that the election is about Trump vs. not-Trump. And there is no better choice on that field of play than Amy Klobuchar.
Read more from Tim Donner.