Electability is key to Democrats’ 2020 fortunes

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As the nation takes some much-needed downtime at the end of another chaotic political year, many Democrats, indeed many Americans, will start to ponder what 2020 will bring. 

What kind of candidate will Democrats need to nominate to beat Donald Trump? It’s an important question in a year that promises to bring unprecedented scorched earth tactics from a president who is reeling from an impeachment that will tarnish his legacy forever.

Is it a centrist like former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) or late-comer Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is spending a grotesque amount of personal money to make a name for himself in the Super Tuesday states?

Or do Democrats need an unapologetic progressive in the mold of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or a Democratic Socialist like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)? Sanders seems to be consolidating the progressive vote after a year that saw his political future being written off after a Warren surge ate into his base of support, and after suffering a heart attack at 78 years old.

Oddly, or perhaps expectedly, things have come full circle. Biden is still comfortably atop the polls, with strong support among communities of color, which are critical voting blocs within the Democratic base.

After starting out with a strong announcement, Biden seemed to fall into a string of politically fraught situations — the resurfacing of his hostile treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings three decades ago, his recent treatment of women, his verbal flubs and his non-stellar debate performances. All of this led many Democrats, including many of Biden’s supporters, to engage in collective bed-wetting about a man who did not seem up to the task of taking on Donald Trump.

Except Trump himself seemed to think Biden was up to the challenge. Ironically the same actions that put Trump on the path to his impeachment are the actions that, perhaps unwittingly, betrayed Trump’s biggest fear: That Biden would be the Democratic nominee. Trump’s fear of Biden convinced many Democrats that Biden might in fact be the strongest candidate.

Sanders is holding to a close second place in most polls, as he was at the very beginning of the campaign. Sanders has proven his staying power. His supporters are coming home to him after a dalliance with Sen. Warren.

It seems 2020 will be a showdown between Biden and Sanders, or more accurately, the moderate, more centrist wing of the party and the more liberal progressives. 

Democrats and everyone else who is tired of the chaotic Trump presidency needs to remember that electability is key. 

As we begin 2020, it seems that the most electable person is Biden. At least for the time being, he can do what no other candidate has been able to do: Consolidate support among the Democrats, voters of color, independents, disaffected Republicans and Never Trumpers, who can easily see themselves voting for Joe Biden but would never pull the lever for Warren or Sanders.

Importantly, Sanders’ and Warren’s signature issues, such as “Medicare for All,” are not wholly popular. Free college and student loan debt forgiveness are worthy goals for our collective communities to get behind. But many Americans see them as slippery slopes to socialism.

As the campaign continues to unfold in 2020, two things will happen: If Warren and Sanders remain among the top Democratic tier (they will), Trump will continue to try to paint all Democrats as radical socialists who want to turn the U.S. into Venezuela. 

If Biden continues to top the field (which seems likely at the moment), Trump will spew fabricated conspiracy theories trying to tie him and son Hunter Biden to a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor. Trump will turn the focus on Biden, or try to, to deflect attention from his Senate impeachment trial.

So where does that leave Democrats? If it is with Biden, Democrats need to remember that the most important thing is beating Trump.

This means that Bernie and his supporters would need to come on board quickly and enthusiastically, and endorse and support Biden’s candidacy early on. 

If it is Bernie or Warren, which is less probable, the same needs to happen with Biden. And while I think the party will be substantially more vulnerable to Trump’s attempts to portray Democrats as socialists with Bernie at the helm, Democrats can still prevail if they get out the vote.

About 100 million voters stayed home in 2016. Many, I suspect, can’t stand the thought of another four years of Trump. They need to be told why the Democratic nominee would be a better option for them and for the country.

It’s time to step up, Democrats. The future of our nation demands it. 

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona. 

Tags Amy Klobuchar Anita Hill Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders Biden family Clarence Thomas Democratic Party Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Impeachment Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign Michael Bloomberg Pete Buttigieg

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