2020 Democratic Primary Prediction + Endorsement
Oh, c’mon. You’re not working today anyway. You’re hungover from the Super Bowl and you’re frantically refreshing the news feed to figure out Iowa tonight. So, you may as well read this TL;DR post.
Prediction: Joe Biden/Kamala Harris.
Endorsement: Pete Buttigieg/Stacey Abrams.
The Iowa Caucuses are today, so it’s only fair I make my 2020 election prediction now. It’s like turning in your brackets and placing your bets by noon on the Thursday of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament. After that, you’re cheating. And if there’s one thing the United States doesn’t tolerate in our elections, it’s cheating. (And money. Definitely no money in our politics, either.)
I normally make a forecast at the very beginning and I have a tendency to stick by it even in the face of new data because…
- That data is constantly changing.
- The earlier your prediction, the more impressive.
To be clear, I think Trump will get reelected. It kills me to write this and I’ll explain my rationale in another post. Stay with me here.
OK, so for a candidate to win a general election, s/he can employ one of two strategies:
- Energize your base.
- Go for the crossover and play for the middle.
It’s widely acknowledged the Democratic base is much larger than the Republican base; it’s just that they don’t turn out as often. Older folks skew conservative and what do senior citizens have to do in their spare time besides vote? And run for office, apparently.
So, each candidate has to look at how s/he will build a coalition. In marketing, we learned if you target everybody, you target nobody. So, are you going after the Far Left? The Middle? Suburban Moms? The white working class? Younger African Americans? How do these overlap and intersect? Does one alienate another or do they mesh well? Think of it this way: the candidate is a theory. The campaign is the theory in practice. (Exhibit A: Beto O’Rourke.) When you put on a hard hat and speak to workers on a factory floor, do you look like Tommy’s Dad in Tommy Boy (so good that “he could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves”) or Michael Dukakis in the tank?
Toward the end of 2018, I called Joe Biden/Kamala Harris, with my rationale that, due to both sides’ embrace of identity politics, the Democrats would need one white person and one person of color (POC) and one man and one woman. Visibility lent itself to those on the national stage, so the organic fit appeared to be Biden/Harris. The smart money would still be on this. Biden has shown remarkable durability: he’s like the 1990 Cincinnati Reds… wire-to-wire, baby… in first place the entire season. Two major constituents — the white working class and African Americans — will likely turn out for Biden. And Harris balances the ticket and brings it into the 21st century.
Stacey’s Nom Has Got it Goin’ On
That said, I think Stacey Abrams, the almost-Governor of Georgia, is a better VP pick. I had coffee with a 21-year-old college student who summed up all I was trying to say about Harris: “She was Attorney General… she may be too conservative… she locked up a lot of people.” His summary was three words: “She’s a cop.” Yep, that’s it. She’s a cop. (I should have him edit my posts.) Harris is too law-and-order for the Woke Left. And do you really think the American people are going to go for a fiery black woman from California? At the bottom of the ticket, sure. But not at the top. So, Stacey Abrams is the Democrats’ ace in the hole. She would bring just about any white candidate over the finish line. But I think Biden goes with Harris, perhaps only because she’s more familiar to him. When’s the last time your Grampa ordered a new dish at the Cheesecake Factory? I’M SAYING MY DUDE IS ANCIENT.
THE RESTORER: JOE BIDEN
OK, so on that: I don’t think it’s necessarily bad that the Diversity Party selects somebody who’s old, straight, cis, white, or male. But all of those things? It does feel a bit tone-deaf in 2020. The bigger problem with Biden is the first one in that list. Do I think every 78-year-old is too up in age to run the country? No. Many Presidents, Senators, and Governors, due to good genes and (probably more importantly) access to the world’s best health care, live well into their 90s. But Biden looks out of it, confused, and behind the times. Bluntly, he looks like he’s physically going to collapse. Back in 2016, there were videos — actual, not doctored — of Hillary Clinton’s climb into a car, appearing drunk and tired. Well, Biden doesn’t need to get drunk. As it is, he looks like he’s fixin’ to keel over. And honestly, that’s what I think will happen if he’s the nominee. He’ll literally pull a Gerald Ford and fall down.
Either way, Biden likely would’ve beaten Trump in 2016. Though the currents that swept Trump into office were building for decades, Clinton had been demonized for a quarter century and was therefore uniquely hated. The craziest thing about Biden is that the death of his son, Beau, prevented him from running in the last election; it may be the deals of his son, Hunter, that prevent his winning this one. Indeed, I had it on authority from a major Democratic donor that Hunter would be a liability for Biden… and this was before the Ukraine story broke. Funnily enough, though, it’s not due to corruption; it’s more that Hunter Biden is such a wild card. What was told to me was said in confidence, so let’s just leave it at that.
Biden is like Hillary Clinton in 2016. Mitt Romney in 2012. John McCain in 2008. John Kerry in 2004. Al Gore in 2000. Bob Dole in 1996. George H.W. Bush in 1992. George Washington in 1788. OK, maybe not that last one.
In literally every single election in the last three decades, the losing candidate is a person within the party who’s older, established, and saying, “Hey, I waited my turn.” The closest thing to a fresh face in that pack is Mitt Romney, which should tell you a lot. Those candidates always seem to come up short. And Bush was already President in 1992. Granted, Presidential predictions are hard due to the small sample sizes, but Biden is part of a non-winning pattern. We’ve seen this movie before.
Since Trump doesn’t want to debate, Biden should take him up on this. Joe Gaffe-Again should refuse to debate Trump. It’s not that hard. I’ve asked out women who said no, and it was pretty easy to take them up on that. You don’t show up to the restaurant, either. Biden can get his message out in other ways: ads, town halls, televised rallies. But if they stand next to each other, Trump will look dominant. As Bill Clinton said in 2002, which also ominously portended John Kerry’s impending loss to George W. Bush in 2004, “When people are insecure, they’d rather have somebody who is strong and wrong than someone who’s weak and right.” Many Trump Supporters don’t dispute that Trump has told 15,000 lies. They just don’t care. They see him as tough. Btw, Trump looks terrible. But because his fuel is pure evil, this keeps him young. The vindictive often appear vigorous.
Ironically, the biggest headwind Biden will face is that he’s correctly identified the problem but has provided the wrong solution. For once, it is not “the economy, stupid.” It is about the soul of America. He nailed the diagnosis. The issue is that he’s prescribing the wrong medicine: restoration. It’s nearly impossible to stare at Biden and not see the past. My friend, Raman, has a rule I’ve implemented in my own life: he’ll only go somewhere if he can spend twice the amount of time enjoying the place as he did getting there. So, if it’s an hour there and an hour back, he’ll make the trek if he can hang for four hours. It works even better if you change units: two days of travel for four days of chillin’ is worth it. Less than four days seems like a waste. After slogging through four years of the Trump Presidency, our reward is we go back to more of the same? That is not to impugn whites or men… but it would just feel like we stalled for nearly half a decade. Besides, the working class, particularly in MIPAWI (Michigan-Pennsylvania-Wisconsin, where the battle is fought), doesn’t want to return to normal. “Normal” wasn’t working for them, which is why so many of them tried something brand new in 2008…
… and then threw a Hail Mary in 2016 with Trump.
THE REVOLUTIONARY: BERNIE SANDERS
Here’s a very serious question I have for White America: Do you see Donald Trump as Captain Sully on the plane or as the quartet on the Titanic?
Like, do you think Trump can and is saving the United States from a crash landing or have you accepted that the USA is a sinking ship and at least he’s making the end entertaining? Look, just about every candidate seeks to provide hope and stoke fear about his/her opponent. Of course, Trump won by fear mongering. But the hope/fear mixture matters. If you think Trump is Sully, then Bernie has a shot, because that means Trump voters are hopeful things can get better. And if you have hope, then you may be open to supporting anyone who can make things better. As opposed to voters who are 100% driven by fear… fear would make them cling to Trump and not let go no matter what.
I understand Trump has made whites and men feel better about being Caucasian and male (which they should). I get it. But if you take a look at the economy, what Trump has done is to put the pedal to the metal. If you pay no attention to the speed limit, the long-term health of the vehicle, or the risk from driving so fast, you can set your cruise control to 150 mph. Keep interest rates artificially low, cut taxes for the wealthy/corporations, and kick regulations (especially environmental and safety) to the curb. If economic fundamentals were truly strong, we’d be at well over 4% growth. We’re at 2.2%. The crash is coming. If it happens by October, Trump will almost certainly lose in a landslide. If it comes after that, he probably wins. And this is why I’m sticking with Biden as my prognosis. If the economy is perceived as strong, revolution will not gain critical mass. If the masses are convinced things are generally going well, why throw a Hail Mary? Stay the course. So run a moderate. If it crashes, then a Democrat wins either way. So run a moderate.
I get the Bernie argument. If enough working class folks think things have not really improved for them, then they’d try Bernie, whose solutions are empirically better for them in the short- and in the long-term than Biden’s or Trump’s. And one way to frame up many elections is this: Clinton was so bad he led to Bush. Bush was so bad he led to Obama. Obama was so bad he led to Trump. And Trump is so bad he would lead to Sanders. Pretty darned wild swings for the American electorate.
And from where I stand in the middle, Bernie’s too far left for me. But I’d vote for him for three reasons:
- Anyone but Trump.
- He’ll be able to get so few of his proposals passed in pure form that what he does eke through will be more palatable to me.
- After such an extreme slant to the right, an extreme slant to the left would be a play back to the middle.
The problem is that America is more fascist than socialist. It’ll be so easy for Trump to paint Bernie as a socialist… because that’s precisely what he calls himself. This despite the fact that Trump is in the tank for Russia, but the masses don’t get irony. Yes, I’d love to see Sanders win, but add up socialism, age, Jewishness, Bernie Bros, and curmudgeonry, and I think that’s just too many strikes. It’s dangerous to draw parallels between America and Britain (though both are now monarchies)…
… but a Far Left candidate in Jeremy Corbyn lost in a landslide to a pro-Brexit Boris Johnson. The biggest difference may be that Corbyn’s an anti-Semite and Sanders is, well, a Semite. (In fact, if Sanders picks an African American for his running mate, they could kick off their joint campaign at a national park and their slogan could be YoSemite!)
THE REFORMER: ELIZABETH WARREN
Which Democratic candidate has the biggest base? It would seem to be Biden by a long shot. But what about between Bernie or Liz? The former pulls more white working class voters but the latter may stack up more suburban Moms. I like Elizabeth Warren. She’s clearly very intelligent when it comes to policy. It’s just that she’s not so sharp when it comes to politics. Of course, I’ll take substance over style, but as it’s been said, what it takes to get to the White House and what it takes to be successful in the White House are two different skill sets (CLEARLY). Warren fell hard for the Pocahontas label, taking that idiotic DNA test. And let’s be honest: her claim of being Native American is, on its face, offensive. I do think saying you can’t listen to her talk for four years is tinged with sexism, but I’ll say this: I can’t listen to her talk for four years*. And that’s a shame, because I actually think her words are far more relatable than one initially thinks. She gave a great analogy about why Amazon shouldn’t be allowed to operate a platform and also manufacture products for its own platform. She said that, in baseball, you can either be an umpire or a player but not both. Wow. That’s an extremely easy-to-understand and accessible way of putting it that the average American can grasp. But I had a feeling she was doomed when somebody said this to me: “She just sounds like an old, female college professor.” You know who said that to me? An old, female college professor. At a gig I did in San Francisco. In fact, those were the words she used to describe Warren — and herself. At first, it’s ironic. But then you realize it’s not: takes one to know one. She knew the battles she faced her entire career as a female in higher education and she knew all too well that America wouldn’t go for her.
Beyond that, a slight problem: I fear Warren may be disingenuous. When her rivals tried to get her to admit that her health care plan would raise taxes, Warren insisted it wouldn’t, but we all know it will. This is where Sanders came across as authentic and consistent (and he’s nothing if not authentic and consistent): he straight-up stated that, yes, your taxes will go up, but in the long run, you’ll pay a lot less. The price is higher but the cost is lower. So, the value is greater. It’s a more complex argument, but if there’s one thing on which America runs, it’s not Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s value. This entire nation is built on value. Say what you will about Ford v. Ferrari, but I learned this as an engineer: the Europeans value performance (BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari) and safety (Volvo, Saab). The Japanese love reliability (Honda, Toyota). And the Americans worship at the twin altars of value and convenience.
Warren’s probably toast — and this is good. She would get decimated by Trump, even if she were to select Cory Booker or Should’ve-Been-Florida’s-Governor Andrew Gillum. And at any rate, if Sanders and Warren want to abolish private insurance, then they’re giving up Democrats’ biggest advantage over Republicans: in myriad polls, when Americans are asked whom they trust more on health care, the Dems lead by about 50 points. Yes, Trump wants to destroy Obamacare, but the net effect is still the same: many people would lose their private insurance. Terrible political move. Warren has a good ground game and she could throw her support behind Sanders. Baller political move. Maybe she even gets the VP slot.
Could that ticket win? I’ll give an analogy about left-wing candidates and right-wing candidates. In the movies, a common refrain from the villain to the hero is: “You’re not so different, you and I.”
In this video, they break down how the main antagonist and protagonist in Se7en (Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman) and in True Detective S1 (Glenn Fleshler and Matthew McConaughey) ironically have roughly the same worldview.
It’s the supposed hero (Brad Pitt and Woody Harrelson) who’s caught in the middle. Those of us in the middle are the people pleasers, the flawed optimists seeking compromise in a world we think can still be saved if we make some modifications. In that way, then, Sanders v. Trump would be an interesting match-up because they want to burn it all down. But I still think Bernie, with all of his radical stances, gets his ass handed to him.
THE REALIST: AMY KLOBUCHAR
*While I did say that Warren would be tough to take for four years, you know who wouldn’t be? Amy Klobuchar. Despite the reports of how she treats her staff (which may be unfairly emphasized as it’s probably no worse than some men treat theirs), I really like her. She’s just so darned FOLKSY. I can picture her at the county fair, telling corny jokes and ruffling kids’ hair. She’s a PTA Mom. Suburban women would flock to her. She’d be a tough one to beat and I’d enthusiastically support a moderate like her, someone who can win by double digits in Trump districts. I know The New York Times endorsed her (whatever that asset — or liability — may be worth to voters), but the reason I won’t is because she doesn’t seem to be catching on. That may sound like a copout but support matters. Do I think she and her equivalent, Cory Booker, could win? (Why is he her equivalent? They’re both pretty darned unexciting.) Yes. I think this is a solid ticket that would do very well. They’re just tough to hate. They come across as nice and likable and reasonable. I’d jump up and down if this were the ticket, but I don’t see it happening. I think that if Biden collapses, the middle-of-the-road candidate that gets the boost is not Klobuchar but Michael Bloomberg.
THE RIGHT ANSWER: PETE BUTTIGIEG
Which all brings me to Mayor Pete. Yes, he’s young, gay, and the executive of a small town, and these points may be enough to sink him. Then again, young leaders are blossoming all around the world. Emmanuel Macron took office in France at 40. Nayib Bukele in El Salvador at 38. Jacina Ardern in New Zealand at 37. Sanna Marin in Finland at 34. How do I know all of this? Well, Please Give $5 to Keep Wikipedia Alive. Yes, the United States is vastly larger, but Pete would be in good global company.
Buttigieg can’t change his years of experience or his sexuality (but he could at least TRY at one of Mike Pence’s camps, the slacker). His biggest challenge is his lack of minority support. But who knows? The cynic in me thinks maybe that’s a PLUS with some white folks in the Midwest. “The blacks don’t like him? Let’s get him in there then.” I do think this is mitigated with Ms. Abrams as his VP pick. She has made herself available as a VP ticket selection… I think she wants Biden but I’d imagine she wouldn’t be opposed to Buttigieg. Would it be a blatant play? Yes, but so is his entire career. He’s been resume-building for a long time. Some people think that’s a negative but I see a forward-thinking, driven individual. After four years of a President who flies by the seat of his proverbial pants, some calculation would be nice. Also, in the words of Seinfeld and Major League:
George: I wanna put a picture of me and my boss, Mr. Morgan, up at the office.
Jerry: What for?
George: They’re reorganizing the staff, and I’m on thin ice with this guy as it is.
Jerry: Isn’t putting this guy’s picture on your desk a little transparent?
George: It better be.
Jake Taylor: Well, I would, if I knew where she lived.
Willie Mays Hayes: That’s easy. Just tail her home from the library.
Jake Taylor: What, do you mean sit in the car and wait for her to come out? That’s kinda juvenile, don’t you think?
Willie Mays Hayes (shrugging): Yeah.
With Abrams in the VP role, African American turnout would surge. Women may think, “Well, at least we get some female representation at the executive level.” Of course, these are broad generalizations but can you say I’m wrong?
Now, of course I’d go for Mayor Pete. I’m completely his target audience: college-educated, intelligent, moderate yet progressive, just barely straight. I’m in that All-Around Badass Set.
Moreover, a gay and a black to take down Trump? Yes. That ticket would just look like progress. It would make the last four years worth it. Trump would be the 500 yards of crap and we’d be Andy Dufresne, putting our arms up into the sky from the gutter. Buttigieg would annihilate Trump in a debate. The contrast would ensure Trump looks out-of-touch, stupid, and above all else, OLD. Pete and Stacey, even if inexperienced, would look and feel like the future. And Americans love an underdog story: what a comeback.
THE RICH GUY: TOM STEYER
“Got a machinehead… it’s better than the rest.” — Bush
Of course, Trump is out of touch with the ideal vision of America, but he’s crazy in touch with the real version of America. You know how clueless the Democrats are? I already mentioned Ford v. Ferrari. But how about Joe Versus the Volcano?
Well, this is the reverse. Michael Bloomberg would win in a landslide. I suspect Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard also would.
Yet the Democrats are oftentimes held such hostage to the Woke Left that Yang feels like it doesn’t fulfill their quota. Sure, he’s a PoC but he’s not a real minority (black or Latino). Personally, I think he pigeonholed himself as a one-issue candidate, speaking about UBI (universal basic income) for so long. And I don’t think the charges of incorrect polling apply here: our elections are now nationalized, subverting the wisdom of “all politics is local.” And ALL of the candidates got a TON of media exposure. If you couldn’t crack 5% and get yourself on the debate stage, then that’s on you.
And yes, while Gabbard was a victim of the Democratic National Committee’s relentless attacks, I think she sunk herself multiple times, not least of which was voting “Present” on the impeachment vote. I was so furious I emailed her telling her what a mistake that was. Yes, I know I should be diplomatic with the one candidate I can text, but this isn’t personal for me. The country is at stake and hers was a nakedly calculated political move.
That said, the reason I think Yang could win is that he’s talking about an issue that resonates: automation. He’s meeting Americans on their level and you get the sense that he respects the voters. He probably would beat Trump. And so might Gabbard, as a war veteran and as an attractive female. A lot of male voters could see themselves getting behind her. So to speak. #NakedPoliticalMove #MoreTrueThanSexist
Yet, of all the candidates, despite the fact that he’s also an old Jew, Bloomberg stands alone. He comes across well, successfully governed our flagship city, and is actually a billionaire and doesn’t just play one on TV. In fact, he owns the TV. Well, just one channel, but that’s one more channel than Trump.
To parallel the 1950s slogan for the Republican back then, I Like Mike. He could do it. And if there’s really a progressive vs. moderate divide that splits results across Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, then Bloomberg may run the table on Super Tuesday (since he’s already bought up a lot of the ad space), or at the very least, benefit from a brokered convention. Would this enrage the Democratic base? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think the Woke Left turns out for Bloomberg due to complications in his non-perfect treatment of minorities and lack of full embrace of #MeToo and #TimesUp, but man, would he win the independents. And my boy just has SO MUCH money. $52 billion. He could spend $50 billion and still have $2 billion left. Hell, he could spend $52 billion. How many billions do you need? I’ve lived my whole life with no billions. His incredible wealth may be off-putting to some Americans, but on the real, this is America. Large wealth is more of turn-on than a turn-off. As The Man in The Middle, I am attracted to Bloomberg’s stances; he likely mirrors 80% of the electorate: capitalism with guardrails, higher taxes on the wealthy, fed up with guns and high-calorie drinks, pro-choice with restrictions, and the list goes on.
So, that’s the problem with the Democratic Party: you’ve got at least three candidates who are better than the four most likely to win the primaries.
But at least an Independent and not the Establishment candidate is leading the first two states. Sanders is on fire right now and could win both Iowa and NH (though NH tends to buck Iowa because Live Free or Die) and gain some momentum. And if Biden somehow wins both, he may be off to the races, especially as he’d likely do well in the Silver State and will steamroll everyone in the Land of the Gamecocks.
Still, it’s early days yet. We get one shot at this. If you had to load the gun, who’s your bullet? We have no Obama this time around. Every candidate has glaring faults. That said, my bullet is Mayor Pete. The question is: we didn’t think America was ready for a black man in 2008. Is America ready for a gay man in 2020? The LGBTQIA community has made leaps and bounds in the last 12 years. My thoughts? I don’t know. I was stunned Barack Obama pulled it off. I still am. I thought John McCain would win. And I was equally wrong about 2016. So maybe you shouldn’t listen to me**. But now it’s too late. You already read all of this. Or you at least scrolled to the end.
PREDICTION: Biden/Harris loses to Trump/Pence.
ENDORSEMENT: Draft Buttigieg/Abrams to beat Trump/Pence.
**Perhaps you should listen to my Mom. Mom’s saying Trump dumps Pence and brings on Nikki Haley. Now that would be a baller move… locking up even more of those suburban women. If he does that, he may win easily. After all, we thought Pence was the reason the evangelicals voted for Trump. It’s not. It’s abortion. He has them either way. May as well go for the disruptor and neutralize the Left’s women play. Let’s see. Only a few hours till the first results. Let’s do this.
Rajiv Satyal is a standup comedian who interned on Capitol Hill in 1999 and somehow believes this qualifies him to discuss politics 21 years later. He resides in Los Angeles. Special thanks to Drew, Raman, Curtis, Kyle, Mark, and Neil for being amazing sounding boards.