Along the East River, which is not really a river (it is a 16-mile-long tidal estuary), perhaps 20,000 people actually chose to spend a gorgeous autumn afternoon last Saturday listening to socialist Bernie Sanders, who is not really a socialist — he just wants to confiscate capitalism’s bounty to fund his promises of free stuff. This might seem counterintuitive, but: It bodes well for the republic that so many were eager to hear yet another of Sanders’ harangues about the inequity of all existing social arrangements.
They gathered in the borough of Queens, the incubator of presidents (well, of the 45th), in order to affirm that the Vermont senator should be the 46th. If you believe, sensibly, that removing the 45th is a precondition for all improvements, you should want Sanders’ coming defeat in the Democratic nomination scramble to be postponed for a while.
Saturday’s rally was Sanders’ announcement that he, like the Young Man in Longfellow’s poem, is “up and doing, with a heart for any fate.” His message was: Never mind my heart attack. He is 78, and in his second run for the nomination is no longer a novelty, which Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a sprightly 70, is. Her persona, that of a hectoring schoolmarm, can be grating, but is less so than his, which recalls Dorothy Parker’s description of Katharine Hepburn: “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.” Sanders fluctuates between anger and indignation. Besides, it is entertaining to count how many times Warren plans to spend the same revenues from her wealth tax before it is declared unconstitutional (see Article I, Section 9).
The longer Sanders lasts before Warren cannibalizes his support, the better it will be for Joe Biden. And the longer Biden lasts as the broccoli candidate — not fun but good for you — the more time there will be for two grown-ups, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and Colorado’s Michael Bennet, both senators, to thrive as unrecycled moderates. Were Democrats to nominate either, Trump’s removal, which Democrats insist is their sovereign objective, would be assured. Consider some electoral realities:
Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report, in collaboration with the Kaiser Family Foundation, has found: “Swing voters tend to be younger, more moderate, and less engaged in politics” than those who already firmly support or oppose Trump, or than the overall electorate. Warren is not suited to make them swing away from Trump.
Matt Fuehrmeyer writes in The Hill that Democrats could win back Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and still lose if Trump wins Minnesota, where Republicans flipped two House seats in 2018. Clinton defeated Trump there by just 1.5 percentage points, the weakest Democratic showing since 1984. Klobuchar would probably put Minnesota beyond Trump’s reach.
In Michigan, the closest 2016 state, Trump’s victory margin was just two-tenths of a point. In 2018, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, whose un-Warrenesque slogan was “Fix the damn roads,” was elected governor as a moderate who had opposed the Medicare for All proposals of her Democratic primary opponents. Warren is not ideally suited to recapturing Michigan.
In purple Colorado, voters in 2016 resoundingly rejected, 79 percent to 21 percent, a ballot initiative to create a state-run universal health care system that would have replaced private health insurance. Warren is not as suited to Colorado as is Bennet, who has twice won statewide there.
In New Hampshire, where Clinton won by just three-tenths of a point, a recent poll found that whereas 28 percent want “radical change” — Warren’s promise — 57 percent want the country to get “back to normal.” No Democratic presidential candidate has carried Texas since Jimmy Carter in 1976 (barely: with just 51 percent), and Democrats have not won a statewide race in Texas for a quarter of a century, since 1994. But although the state is acquiring a purple tinge — whites are only about one-third of Texans under 30 — it is not apt to be smitten with Warren in 2020.
Trump won Florida by just 1.2 points. In 2018, Republicans won the governorship by just four-tenths of a point and a U.S. Senate seat by two-tenths. The state’s 29 electoral votes are within reach, but Warren is not the Democrat most likely to capture them. The same is true of purple Georgia, Arizona and North Carolina. In 2017 in Virginia, Democratic primary voters rejected the most progressive candidates for governor, then Democrats won the governorship.
Finally, the most charming, the most adult campaign promise this season has been: “If you elect me president, I promise you won’t have to think about me for two weeks at a time.” So says Michael Bennet.
Will is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post. Email him at email@example.com.