Booker: An Auspicious Beginning and the Landscape Ahead

U.S. Senator Cory Booker promises to name a female running mate for his 2020 presidential campaign if he wins the Democratic primary election and the Democratic National Convention nomination.

Cory Booker’s announcement of his presidential candidacy on Friday, February 1 could not have been better scripted.

To be successful in winning the Democratic nomination and triumphing in the general election, a candidate must accomplish two objectives in the early stages.  First, he or she must establish his or her personal appeal.  Second, the candidate must emphasize his or her advocacy on issues where there is a traditional Democrat consensus, while avoiding the embrace of progressive Democratic positions which could lead to a general election downfall.

On his announcement day, Cory Booker adroitly accomplished both objectives.

His campaign video was powerfully effective.  It vividly displayed the Booker persona, which is characterized both by charisma and a proud warmth which endears him to his fellow African-Americans while enabling white voters to feel comfortable with him.

Even more significantly, Booker planted his feet firmly in the center-left Democratic camp, as opposed to the Progressive camp.  He did this by stating his support for a continuing role for private health insurance companies.  This is an implicit rejection of “Medicare for All”, which is an article of faith among progressive Democrats, but a general election disaster that will boost budget deficits by trillions of dollars.

The Wall Street support for Booker is actually a positive for him.   It enables him to avoid the Donald Trump charge that mainstream Democrats are socialists, a claim that has some validity when applied to progressive Democrats. Every Democratic presidential nominee since Bill Clinton has received substantial campaign contributions from Wall Street players.  This is a campaign asset for any mainstream Democrat.

There is one progressive Democratic stance which poses a problem for Booker and other Democratic candidates.  There has been an alarming tendency among progressive Democrats to turn away from the longstanding core Democratic support for the American-Israel alliance.  This trend has worsened with the election of three new virulently anti-Israel Democratic members of the House of Representatives:  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, the last a virulent antisemite who was rebuked for her flagrant antisemitic rhetoric yesterday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Booker had been for his entire adult life a warm friend of the Jewish community and a firm supporter of the American-Israel alliance.  His reputation in this regard was adversely affected by his Senate vote in 2015 for the executive agreement between Iran and the United States, an accord viewed as significantly jeopardizing Israel’s security.  If he continues to support legislation in opposition to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), he can recapture support he lost in the Jewish community due to his Iran agreement vote.

By the way, on the issue of antisemitism, I have a book recommendation.  Deborah Lipstadt, one of the greatest intellectuals of the Jewish world, has authored a book, Antisemitism: Here and Now, that has just been published and is by far the most authoritative work on the subject.

Ultimately, Booker’s campaign outcome will be a result of the campaigns of his Democratic opponents, as well as his own.  Accordingly, an examination of the landscape facing Booker must include an evaluation of the status of his declared and prospective opponents as well.

Will Uncle Joe Biden run?

The former Vice President is a beloved figure among mainstream Democratic voters.  He is truly a young 76. He has a wide lead over the rest of the field in the polls and is viewed as the leading center-left candidate.

While it appears that he wants to run, it is not certain that he will.  And while he would likely cut deeply into the vote of his fellow center-left Democrat Booker, his ultimate success is not guaranteed.  Uncle Joe has come up short before.  And he has come under renewed criticism for his handling of the Anita Hill testimony as Senate Judiciary Chair in the 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Still, all other Democratic presidential candidates continue to ponder what will Joe do.

Sanders is over the hill

Bernie Sanders was inspiring for the Progressive Democrats in 2016.  Now, he looks old and tired.  The Progressive Democrats are seeking another standard bearer.

Elizabeth Warren will be the first candidate to implode

Initially, Elizabeth Warren will be the candidate of the Progressive Democrats.  Thus far, however, she has been a model of political ineptitude.

She has found herself in a continuing web of controversy regarding her dubious claim of Native American ancestry.  While various politicians and journalists, including myself, have predicted that Trump may be forced to leave the presidency in 2019, Warren has tastelessly taken matters to a new low level by speculating that Trump may be in jail at this point next year.

At a time when Democrats as a whole are being criticized on the American-Israel alliance issue, as stated above, Warren now finds herself embroiled in a fresh controversy of her own.  Specifically, at a campaign event in New Hampshire, a questioner stated that there currently exists basically an “apartheid situation in Palestine.”  Warren failed to dispute this characterization.

Elizabeth Warren is simply not ready for prime time – and never will be.

What lane is Kamala running in?

At the outset, it appeared that California US Senator Kamala Harris would be the frontrunner if Joe Biden decided to refrain from entering the 2020 presidential sweepstakes.  In a campaign where women appear to have a decidedly strong preference for a fellow woman candidate, Harris would appear to fit the role perfectly.   

Kamala has been a supremely successful fundraiser, with a record of strong achievement in the lucrative California campaign finance market.  As a former Attorney General of California, she has perhaps the strongest law enforcement credentials of any candidate in the 2020 presidential campaign.   

Her communication skills likewise are equal to, if not greater, than those of Booker.  Her charisma was demonstrated most graphically by the remarkable turnout of 20,000 supporters in her home turf of Oakland, California. 

Then, Harris blundered.

In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Harris challenged the fitness of a judicial nominee due to his membership in the hallowed Catholic fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus.  Specifically, she noted the organization’s opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion.

This was a totally politically clueless move on the part of Harris.  The Knights of Columbus is a most revered organization at the grassroots of the Catholic community.  Its charitable and communal good works are most laudable.  John F. Kennedy was a Knight.  This Harris blunder could cost her dearly among Catholic voters, specifically in ethnic communities where the Church still plays a major role, such as the Italian-American and Irish-American communities.

Worse, the Harris blunder appears to have been deliberately calculated.  Kamala saw the strong likelihood that the Sanders and Warren candidacies would falter.   She decided to make her own attempt to garner support among progressive Democratic voters while retaining her center-left base.  The result of her outreach attempt was her Knights of Columbus attack.

This was the type of blunder that Booker this far has avoided.  Harris has time to come back from this setback.  Perhaps her outreach to progressive Democrats will eventually pay huge political dividends.  But she cannot afford to have any such unforced errors in the future.

Amy Klobuchar, A most intriguing dark horse

Minnesota US Senator Amy Klobuchar may well emerge as the Democratic presidential candidate who best fits the political mood of 2020.

Americans are weary of the partisan bitterness that pervades Washington.  Amy Klobuchar has a record of exquisite bipartisan cooperation and legislative achievement in the US Senate.

Her academic credentials are sterling, having graduated magna cum laude from Yale and as associate editor of the University of Chicago Law Review.  She has a reputation for supreme competence as an attorney, with distinguished service in both the public and private sectors.  Her record is solidly center-left, and if Biden does not run, Amy stands to inherit a large share of Biden’s centrist Democrat support.

The complaint about Amy Klobuchar being rough on her staff is largely sexist.  Lyndon Johnson used to make his staff meet with him while he was sitting on a toilet, and students of history say what a great legislative leader he was!

Full disclosure:  Like my fellow classical conservative and Republican expatriate George Will, I will be supporting Amy Klobuchar for president.  My support is largely motivated by the fact that on issues of special Jewish community concern, such as antisemitism and support for Israel, Amy Klobuchar has by far the best record of any prospective 2020 presidential candidate in either party.  

There is another sentimental factor with me:  I will always be an admirer of the late Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey, one of the great heroes of the civil rights movement.  Amy occupies his US Senate seat.

It is still early in the race, and I can envisage a scenario where Biden, Booker, or Harris win the nomination.  They will, however, have to look over their shoulder, as Amy Klobuchar is coming up fast behind them.

Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under Gov. Christie Whitman.  

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