A Different Direction: A First Take on the Democrats Running for President

Just over a month into 2019, we’ve got a rather large crowd poised to contend for the Democratic nomination. There will likely be more big names joining over the next few months like Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Congressman Beto O’Rouke, former Vice President Joe Biden, and maybe ex-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. It’s very, very early in the campaign. In fact, many would assert it’s way too early. Unfortunately, the race for the White House is now this–a two plus year season.

The current crop of Democrats seeking their party’s nomination is interesting. It is the most diverse and authoritative group I think I’ve ever seen. I think it’s a useful personal exercise to rank the candidates as they stand in one’s mind today (February 6th). The order can, should, and will change as the political landscape shifts, but it’s always valuable to know where one stands, how and why one is drifting towards one candidate and away from another.

I would love to read your rankings, so please feel free to give them in the comments.

If the nomination were held today, preferred ranking…

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10. Marianne Williamson, inspirational author

Williamson is a fringe candidate with little to offer to any policy debates especially in terms of originality. She also doesn’t have anything to distinguish herself from stronger, more qualified woman candidates. I can’t see her making any kind of impact or even making it to the first primary or caucus.

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9. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii Congressional Representative

Gabbard is a rather odd candidate in that she gives off a sort of Tea-Party vibe but coming from the other end of the political spectrum. American Samoan and Hindu, a veteran, young, and very briefly a mid-ranking member of the Democratic Party, she would seem to be a rather good option.

However, I doubt the sway a Representative from Hawaii can have across the continental forty-eight states. I’m most troubled by Gabbards rather conservative social views (especially regarding homosexuality) and her bent for isolationist foreign policy. Isolationist isn’t quite right. Her willingness to meet with Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad in the midst of the nation’s civil war was, at best, tone deaf and smacked of appeasement. I’m a radical pacifist desperate for the end of US aggression towards, occupation, and manipulation of peoples abroad but giving into dictators, refusing to ally or aid those struggling for freedom, and retreating because it would cost less is craven. We’ve seen this done by the current administration while saber-rattling elsewhere. Yet, this kind of attitude so easily summed up as ‘America shouldn’t be the World’s police,’ could appeal to a lot of grouchy Boomers.

Quite simply, I don’t trust Gabbard and need to hear more from her.

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8. John Delaney, former Maryland Congressional Representative

I honestly have no idea who this man is. Utterly forgettable, it seems as though Delaney is running as a deep establishment Democrat, the kind that will essentially take the temperature of the electorate for candidates like former Vice President Biden. Honestly, if Biden gets into the race, there’s no reason for Delaney to be around.

Centrism within the Democratic party too often means capitulation to the right wing. Thus, even though Delaney is trying to portray himself as a moderate, I don’t get the feeling he stands for anything other than being in government. Part of me also suspects he is running for President to raise his profile for a more appropriate office for himself such as Senator or Governor. I would also contend that in a field of big personalities with meaningful ideas, Delaney is too small a fish.

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7. Andrew Yang, ‘entrepreneur’

A long shot candidate, Yang is unlikely to survive the year as a candidate. I’m glad to see an Asian-American in the race, and it’s certainly possible he could find a devoted niche. The most interesting aspect to Yang’s nascent campaign is his desire to implement a Universal Basic Income. I truly believe in this idea. If Yang can persist, his forcing the issue into the wider campaign would be a good move. I also think Yang could put together the kind of run that secures him a cabinet post, which would then give him more heft to run for office again in the future.

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6. Pete Buttigieg, South Bend Indiana mayor

It would seem odd that a mayor from a small town in Indiana could reasonably think they could successfully run for President of the United States. In the case of Pete Buttigieg, he’s been almost hand-picked as President Obama made it a point to mention him prominently when talking about future party luminaries. Buttigieg also made a name for himself when he challenged for the chairmanship of the party. Honestly, I wish he would have won that intra-party contest. I would much rather have a Buttigieg at the helm of the Democratic party than a McAuliffe or a Wasserman Schultz and I would rather see more Dems like Buttigieg in the party than Clintonian Dems.

When considering Buttigieg you can’t escape his demographic appeal. He’s a politically successful left-leaning Millennial, a veteran, openly gay, and extremely well-spoken able articulate his positions in a manner where content is left-leaning but crouched in centrist language.

Nearly all of his policy positions would be those held by many supporters of Sen. Sanders, Buttigieg’s advantage over Sanders is his youth (not being a curmudgeon) and social awareness (not being culturally tone-deaf). With the exception of those Sanders supporters who were merely angry populists, it’s difficult to not see Buttigieg as the kind of Democrat the Sanders’ campaign had wanted. I think Buttigieg is a longshot, but I also think he could be a force within the party for years to come.

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5. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Senator

The first to throw her hat in the ring, Sen. Warren was someone a lot of people had hoped would run in 2016. She didn’t and instead we got Sen. Sanders. However, Warren is ready now and it seems she’s at the top of the pack. As a lefty who loves regulation, the idea of a President Warren appeals to me. Wall St. isn’t the only industry in desperate need of reining in by the hand of the people, which is government.

But while I like Warren the senator, I don’t know how effective Warren the president would be. Much of the overwrought and sexist criticism levied at Sec. Clinton will be re-branded and thrown at Sen. Warren. Too much of the white, male, and Boomer voting bloc has nothing but contempt for strong, vocal women who are their peers. I would guess at least a third of Democratic voters are this bloc and they would much rather back a Biden or a Sanders simply because they look like them. It would certainly be a circus if Warren and Trump went head-to-head, pure theatre, and I worry it would further drag down US politics. This isn’t Warren’s fault; she’s not to blame. I believe she could silence this faction having learned lessons from Sec. Clinton’s campaign.

Policy-wise, Sen. Warren seems fixated exclusively on economic issues. This is certainly necessary since anyone coming after this kleptocratic executive will have massive, multi-year clean up job to do. Yet, I feel she’s been far too quite on social issues. It’s relatively easy to have one’s focus be just on the numbers, it’s difficult to make decisions when looking into human faces. The consequences are more intimate, the stakes higher. I think if Warren wants to sty in the race, then she’ll need to find some face-to-face issues to maximize her impact. This is especially true is Sen. Amy Klobuchar enters the race. 

4. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Senator

Senator Gillibrand is ambitious, but in a quiet sort of way. Listening to her speeches, one is rarely roused even as she is undoubtedly passionate. She has grown from a conservative Democrat representing a rather red part of upstate New York to a liberal in the vein of the senator she succeeded, Hillary Clinton. 

Sen. Gillibrand’s current challenge is dispelling the myth she’s responsible for former Sen. Al Franken resigning. For many Democrats, most of them of a certain age and a certain gender, Sen. Gillibrand cost the party a stalwart voice and presence. However, what these Dems tend to ignore, the seat wasn’t ‘lost’ as it stayed in the blue category and Franken was accused before Gillibrand spoke out and had pretty much admitted to the inappropriateness of his actions. It’s unfortunate a section of the Democrat electorate can’t see past their own sexism.

I love how Gillibrand isn’t afraid to call out sexist behavior on all fronts and that may be the strongest aspect of her campaign against one of the most misogynistic presidents in history. And her recent State of the Union reaction has me charmed:

Policy-wise, Gillibrand is not nearly as left-leaning as she and the media would like to imagine. She seems to hold fairly standard Democrat positions, but I believe she is looking for opportunities to move left of center. I’m not impressed with her stance on guns nor her willingness to given markets rather free reign. However, one can’t be a representative or senator from New York without making sure Wall St.’s apple cart isn’t overturned and hunters are sated.

Essentially, she’s a standard center-right Democrat in the mold of former Senator and Secretary Clinton and President Obama. In fact, Gillibrand already holds all the positive positions former Vice President Joe Biden would have while being able to move beyond and better than those stances Biden is sketchy on. This makes Biden getting into the mix needless. The crux of her decision making seems best expressed in her announcement, “I’m going to run for president of the United States because as a young mom, I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own.” I do like her attitude as she goes into this race for the nomination:

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3. Cory Booker, New Jersey Senator

Around 2006, I saw the documentary Street Fight. It follows Cory Booker in his attempt to become mayor of Newark. He failed in that attempt but would eventually become mayor before ascending to the US Senate. This was when I first learned who he was and, honestly, quite liked him as a politician.

During the Obama years, Booker became a national figure. Over that time, especially as a senator from New Jersey, he’s had to make alliances with less than reputable special interests. Specifically, Sen. Booker is too cozy with Big Pharma. Practically, it would be political suicide to not have some kind of deep relationship with the pharmaceutical industry–just as it wouldn’t really make any sense for a senator from New York to not have Wall St. ties. In order to get elected and stay in power in our nation, for better but mostly for worse, one has to accommodate in state industrial powers. I believe that as President, Sen. Booker would abandon this, but that’s taking a lot on faith.

Side bit of trivia, in 2006 I ran for US House of Representatives when I lived in Connecticut. Granted, it was as a Green so there was no hope for victory. But during that campaign I put forward a plan to have the city create what I called Birth Savings Accounts for every child born in the city. Coming out of the gate, Sen. Booker has presented us with what he calls ‘baby bonds.’ I love this concept and believe it would be a wonderful way to address the wealth gap in out country while augmenting the social safety net. If Sen. Booker runs on this as hard as Sen. Sanders ran on healthcare for all, then I think the Democratic Party will be the better for it.

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2. Kamala Harris, California Senator

Perhaps the current front-runner in the process. Senator Harris certainly has the steel to face-off against our current President. She’s intelligent, patient, and clinical in her responses. Over the last few years, she’s made it a point to craft a progressive activist brand around herself. Harris has certainly accomplished more in the Senate than also-ran Sen. Sanders but she seems to lack his vision, only joining the calls for healthcare for all and free college after Sanders spearheaded those issues into the mainstream.

Yet, I must admit I’m feeling the draw towards Harris’s campaign. If she can thread the needle, she ought to be able to present herself as the best parts of President Obama and Sec. Clinton. That person, that person trounces President Trump by not just calling out but crippling him in his own misogyny and racism. But there’s a major hurdle with Harris, one that will be very difficult to ignore.

What Harris has been the most focused on has been issues of policing, but from a pro-police stance. Her record in California as Attorney General was premised on law & order campaigns, means to incarcerate people of color. Whether you look at it cynically or pragmatically, being pro-police is a tried and true means to not just get elected but stay elected. For me, this is the biggest stumbling block in embracing Sen. Harris’s candidacy. It is also a way she can win because nothing rallies white voters more than ‘tough on crime’ stances.

1. Julian Castro, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary

As it stands right now, Julian Castro is my preferred candidate. While I find Castro’s personal story compelling, it does feel as though he’s relying too much on it right out of the gate to make the necessary impact. However, Castro is pushing hard against the racist and xenophobic policies of the current administration and that alone makes me want to stand behind him, “We say no to building a wall and say yes to building community. We say no to scapegoating immigrants, and yes to Dreamers, yes to keeping families together, and yes to finally passing comprehensive immigration reform.” While it might seem too narrow a focus, how a nation welcomes others is a pure reflection of how it views and treats the marginal and minorities within it.

I find with Castro a candidate with whom I have only minor disagreements with, quibbles, unlike Senators Booker, Harris, and Warren. If he can make a strong showing in Iowa and Nevada, I think Castro could be a lasting candidate and one who can call out and challenge other candidates to clarify, justify, revise, and refocus their past erroneous positions. He has stated he has no interest in being anyone’s Vice Presidential pick, but one does have to assert that this early in the process–no one wants to be seen as running for running-mate. That said, any ticket with Castro is a stronger ticket than one without him.

Conclusion

For me, Gillibrand is rising while Booker, Harris, and Warren (the three most dominate and likely to last candidates) are stagnating. Yet from each of the Big Three there is an agenda item I could very much get behind.

What I have no interest in is former Vice President Biden or Sen. Sanders–all of their possible positions are already covered. I appreciate Sen. Sanders has done much to influence the policy debates in this country, yet the idea of him as President is as distasteful as the current occupant. A New Englandized, that is sanitized or well-meaning, racism and sexism isn’t something I’m interested in and Sen. Sanders trafficks in it routinely unawares. Other names like Sen. Sherrod Brown or Sen. Klobuchar would better serve the nation as lions in the Senate pushing agendas forward. Likewise, Beto O’Rourke is someone who needs to focus his energies on making Texas purple if not blue.

However, I am a far left voter, not a Democrat, and well beyond the casual positions of most Americans.

Over the next few months, this order will certainly change with candidates dropping out and others entering the race. What will be wonderful about this nomination process is it will involve more women and POC than ever before. I truly hope this will be the new default for the Democratic Party.

Again, I would love to hear your Top 10 or even Top 5 candidates, and why you’re supporting them.

 

 

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