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Up until this point, there were only one firm prediction I was willing to make regarding the Democratic Presidential Campaign of 2020. That prediction has been that the Democrats will nominate a center-left candidate, rather than a progressive.
This prediction stems from the emphasis Democrat leaders are placing on electability, rather than ideology. An effective center-left Democratic candidate would precisely have the ability to achieve election.
The two leading advocates of the Democratic electability/center left formula are House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez. And the rank and file Democrats are likely to follow their lead. Pelosi is the most effective Congressional leader of either house since Lyndon Johnson, and Perez is the most effective chair since Bob Strauss in the 1970s.
If Joe Biden enters the race, as is widely expected, he is expected to initially carry the center-left mantle and the Democratic frontrunner position as well. But his continuing ownership of the center-left mantle and front-runner position up to now has been far from a certainty.
To begin with, there are serious doubts about Biden among women and African-American Democrats, the two most significant constituencies for the Democrats in the forthcoming 2020 presidential election. Women are less than exhilarated about a Biden presidency because of what they regard as his unsympathetic treatment of Anita Hill at the 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
In terms of the Democrats in general, there has always been the well-publicized Biden tendency for the embarrassing gaffe. In the age of Trump, however, there is a rising tolerance of gaffe-prone candidates, as long as they have countering positive attributes.
The major drawback regarding Biden among the Democratic grassroots is his inability to energize the Democratic base. The fear has been that he would be as ineffectual as a center-left consensus Democratic candidate as Ed Muskie was in his unsuccessful 1972 primary campaign.
Accordingly, there has been rising discussion among pundits and Democratic pols as to the heir to the Democratic center-left mantle and frontrunner status if Biden falls flat. And there has been growing evidence, although not yet reflected in the polls, that Cory Booker may be the most likely candidate to then ascend to center-left leadership and frontrunner status. There are three reasons for this: 1) The flaws in the other putative center-left candidates; 2) Booker’s positive candidate attributes; and 3) Booker’s astute center-left issue positioning. I am not a Booker supporter, but his progress in the campaign is undeniable.
First, a review of Booker’s rivals for the center-left mantle is in order. The newest entry, Beto O’Rourke raised a torrent of money overnight. He is indeed a rockstar, but he has no uplifting song to sing.
Then, there is Kamala Harris. who at one time appeared to be actually a probable center-left frontrunner. On both economic and cultural issues, however, she has moved way over to the progressive far left. She not only favors legalization of marijuana, as even I do; she speaks of the “joy” of marijuana. She castigated the highly respected Catholic Knights of Columbus for their stance on abortion. She supports “Medicare for All” and the elimination of the role of private insurance policies in financing healthcare. Finally, she defended antisemitic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and opposed any Congressional rebuke of her, even if only implicit. Kamala Harris can no longer be nominated as a center-left candidate. She can only win the nomination if the party becomes open to a Progressive nominee.
Amy Klobuchar is a highly competent public servant who has wisely approached the issues in this campaign in a sound center-left political and policy manner. She does not appear to have the money to compete effectively, however, in the center-left arena.
By contrast, Cory Booker has made strong moves to the center over the last six months. By making his “Baby Bond” proposal, which is a race neutral way of subsidizing the education of poverty affected children, he has avoided any political pressure to embrace racial reparations, which is a potentially destructive issue for the Democrats in the general election campaign. And although at one time he supported “Medicare for All,” which could lead to multi-trillion dollar deficits, he moderated his position on this as well in his campaign announcement, supporting a continuing role for private health insurance companies.
In the meantime, Booker, who has always been a highly effective fundraiser, is expanding his fundraising activities into the contribution rich markets of New York and California. And he has vividly displayed his superb communication skills in his early campaign appearances.
Yet just as Booker was starting to emerge as the most viable center-left option to Joe Biden, the news leaked that the former vice president was considering naming Georgia State Senator Stacey Abrams as his running mate and coupling this with an announcement that he will serve as president for only one term.
The various national political pundits are of various opinions as to the wisdom of such a move. I do not claim to have any special wisdom in this regard, but I think that it would energize African-Americans and women to enthusiastically support the Biden campaign (assuming he runs), thereby going a long way to securing him the nomination.
Although Stacey Abrams has never held federal office, she is a woman of exquisite achievement in the realms of state government, academia, public policy, and authorship, including both novels and issue analysis works. Her communication skills are first rate.
Within two weeks after the 2020 election, Biden will turn 78. His one term pledge would contain an implicit guarantee that Abrams would be the heir apparent to the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024. This would further motivate women and African-American support for his campaign.
Abrams has two negatives on her record: the back federal taxes she owes and her credit card debt. In this era of previously unsurpassed Trumpian private and public misfeasance and malfeasance, any Republican who made an issue out of this would be laughed out of town.
There is both an implicit and explicit message in Biden’s one-term commitment. More than anything else, this signifies Biden’s promise to return America to the beginning of an era of normalcy. The American public now desperately thirsts for normalcy in the face of a mentally unhinged and morally and physically coward President Donald Trump who with his vile attacks on a great deceased American patriot, John McCain, has proven himself to be the most unpatriotic president in American history.
For Cory Booker, a successful Biden-Abrams ticket would be the end of his 2020 presidential campaign. He has conducted it in a way to bring pride to New Jersey. Often, however, the success or failure of a campaign for any office results from events beyond the control of a candidate. A Booker defeat due to the emergence of a Biden-Abrams ticket would be a classic example of this truism. Booker should hope that such a ticket does not soon materialize.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.