Politics & Policy

A Presidential Candidate Who Believes in What He’s Lived

Rep. John Delaney at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding in Clear Lake, Iowa, August 10, 2018. (KC McGinnis/Reuters)
Democrats could do a lot worse than John Delaney as their 2020 presidential nominee, and, being Democrats, they probably will.

The world’s oldest political party has developed an aversion to discretion. The Democratic party is manacled to an over-caffeinated base that believes that deft government can deliver parity of status to everyone while micromanaging the economy’s health-care sector, which is larger than all but three other foreign nations’ economies. Inconveniently, the party must appeal to voters who, living in dread of their next interaction with the department of motor vehicles, yearn only for governmental adequacy.

Which is why John Delaney, who is ending a three-term tenure as a Democratic congressman from Maryland, is seeking his party’s presidential nomination. His quest will test whether Democrats’ detestation of Donald Trump is stronger than their enthusiasm for identity politics: A white, male businessman, Delaney comes to bat with three strikes against him.

Suppose, however, Democrats are more interested in scrubbing the current presidential stain from public life than they are in virtue-signaling and colonizing the far shores of left-wingery. Delaney is much more than an example of the If-Donald Trump-Can-Be-Elected-So-Can-My-Cocker-Spaniel response to 2016.

His grandparents, he says, “made pencils and worked the docks.” He did not become wealthy, as today’s businessman-turned-president did, through a father’s largesse supplemented by tax chicanery. Neither of Delaney’s parents went to college. His father was a 60-year member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. An IBEW scholarship, and support from the American Legion, VFW, and Lion’s Club, helped Delaney through Columbia University. After Georgetown Law School, where he met his wife, he founded a financial company and became the youngest-ever CEO on the New York Stock Exchange. His next company invests in small and mid-size companies. In 2017, Fortune magazine included him among the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.”

Solidly built and impeccably tailored, Delaney, 55, is a Democrat who believes in what he has lived: upward mobility, with assistance. He recognizes the obvious, that globalization has been “extraordinarily positive” for billions more people than it has injured, but its American casualties are real and deserve government help. He speaks with the calm confidence of one who understands, as the man he hopes to displace does not, that the lungs are not the seat of wisdom. He checks various boxes that might mollify all but the most fastidious progressives: He likes early-childhood education, a carbon tax, a $15 minimum wage, and extending the Social Security tax to higher incomes. He dislikes the NRA, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, high interest rates on student loans, and “outrageous” drug prices. He would achieve “universal” health care by offering Medicaid for all, and for those who choose to opt for private programs, as he thinks most people would, there would be federal subsidies for those who need them.

He says “the screaming top headline” from the midterm elections was that moderate Democrats won. Few not occupying safe seats won while hollering “Single-payer health care!” and “Abolish ICE!” and “Impeachment!”

It is Delaney’s persona — think of a Joe Biden 20 years younger and half as prolix — that will distinguish him and seem either pleasingly adult or insufficiently carbonated when the prancing ponies from the U.S. Senate come cantering into Iowa. If the nomination scramble is a decibel competition, Delaney will lose — and the winning Democrat probably will lose in the November 2020 rendezvous with he who specializes in loud.

Delaney illustrates the reason for tolerating what Iowa considers a Mandate of Heaven — its entitlement to begin the nomination process. Iowans are so thin on the ground that relentless retail politicking can give a dark-horse candidate a fighting chance against the ponies who, being senators and hence barely employed, have ample time to flit around the country raising money and their pretty profiles before coming to where the tall corn grows. Delaney, who is not neglecting New Hampshire, has been tilling Iowa’s political soil as an announced candidate for more than 475 days, and long since exceeded 50 percent name recognition among Democratic Iowans. He has visited all 99 counties with more than 440 days remaining before the 2020 caucuses.

In the ten presidential cycles since Jimmy Carter’s 1976 win in Iowa made the caucuses important, six Democrats have won competitive caucuses and then their party’s nomination: President Carter (defeating Ted Kennedy) in 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984, Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary Clinton in 2016. Delaney in 2020? Democrats could do much worse. They generally do, and probably will. As in 2016, Trump is counting on it.

© 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

George Will — George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist. His email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

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