The Corner

Politics & Policy

It’s Going to Be Bernie vs. Beto

Beto O’Rourke speaks with supporters in Dubuque, Iowa, March 16, 2019. (Ben Brewer/Reuters)

When Joe Biden announces his candidacy for the presidency, he’ll be the clear frontrunner. I expect he’ll remain the clear frontrunner for a few months. Then he’ll fade once people remember he’s Joe Biden. The guy who first ran for president when Miami Vice was still on the air. To put it mildly, his views on matters like segregation (which he supported as recently as 1975) are not going to endear him with today’s Democratic primary. All he really has going for him is the halo effect of standing near President Obama for eight years. That will fade once he’s on his own. I doubt Obama is going to offer any ringing endorsements of Scranton Joe.

The list of Democratic presidential contenders is long but not particularly impressive. Kamala Harris plainly doesn’t know what she’s doing. Kirsten Gillibrand is a bowl of porridge. Amy Klobuchar’s weird combination of lukewarm policy and demented behind-the-scenes personality is not the formula for success. Elizabeth Warren is going to remind too many voters of the disaster that was Hillary Clinton. The most formidable contenders are going to be the ones who inspire true passion, ignite a movement, make people want to wait in line for hours in the snow. The ones who excite people enough to buy T-shirts and ring doorbells.

This is my opinion only, but I think those candidates are Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke. It so happens that the two candidates neatly personify the conflicting personalities of the Democrats today. Beto (sort of) represents the Establishment wing of the party, the guy who doesn’t seem as though he wants to burn down America and start over, who once drove across the country with a Republican congressman (and refused to endorse a Democratic rival in what turned out to be a close race last November). He channels Obama’s hopeful, future-facing rhetoric. He looks like Bobby Kennedy. Women find him cute. He figures to do very well among voters who value electability above all else. Sanders, on the other hand, is the Democratic party id, a scourge of capitalism, a take-no-prisoners enemy of not just the Trump Administration but the system itself. He’s the Democratic party when it’s had a few drinks, when it dares to let itself dream. Sanders would not ordinarily have a shot, Americans being generally unenthused with undisguised radicals and Socialists. But it may be that Democrats detest President Trump so much that they think America will pick literally anyone who has a (D) next to his or her name on the ballot.  They may be in the mood to roll the dice. Sanders has a shot.

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