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November 14th, 2019

Insight

What sets these Dem candidates apart

Jennifer Rubin

By Jennifer Rubin The Washington Post

Published April 9, 2019

What sets these Dem candidates apart
If you watch enough of their town halls, interviews and speeches you realize that, with the exception of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the rest of the Democratic presidential candidates sound very similar on a whole host of issues.

All are in favor of democratic reforms, including a new Voting Rights Act and financial transparency for elected leaders. All praise the Green New Deal as "aspirational" and support criminal justice reform, legalizing "dreamers" and increasing the minimum wage.

They favor intermediary steps (e.g., reducing drug costs, lowering the age to qualify for Medicare), even if some want to arrive at Medicare-for-all.

They will all say that they would repeal and redo the Trump tax cuts; reenter the Paris climate agreement; and subsidize child care in some fashion.

One senses that just about any of them could feel comfortable on a ticket with any of the others.


Now, some do take distinct positions. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, refreshingly, did not endorse tariffs and protectionism. During an interview with the New Yorker's David Remnick, Buttigieg explained that tariffs just aren't "terribly helpful, because we have, in the South Bend metro area, more companies that use and purchase steel than we have companies that make it."

He continued, "Even our conservative and normally Trump Alliance member of Congress for this district broke with the president on the subject of tariffs, because it was not good for our economy. It also speaks, though, to the broader issue, which is that, you know, most of what accounts for the changes that have happened to our part of the industrial Midwest is technological."

Unlike many on the left and Trump supporters on the right, the mayor fessed up: "Some of it has to do with trade, but, look, it's just easier to blame another country, or to blame immigrants, than it is to confront some of the faceless but profound changes that have come our way - to do with, for example, technology and automation. But that's simply smoke and mirrors compared to - if it becomes an excuse to not face the deeper and tougher issue." Well, that is refreshing.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has a plan to substantially increase teacher pay, as well as a tax plan that, unlike others, doesn't have a wealth-tax component but instead features a huge increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit.

So, aside from Sanders, where's the big ideological struggle between the far left and center-left? So far, I'm not seeing much sign of it.

There also are differences in priorities. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, D, wants first and primarily to tackle climate change, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wants to go after corruption. And there are differences in tone - some more inspirational, others more nuts-and-bolts. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., preaches about love; former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, about "coming together."

However, what most separates the candidates are their biographies. Their life stories are radically different. There's a daughter of two immigrants who spent most of her adult life as a prosecutor. There is the Midwestern gay mayor who served in the military. There's the daughter of an alcoholic newspaper man from the heartland.

A field that "looks like America" is a trite phrase, but these candidates really do represent a dizzying array of life experiences, backgrounds and geographic bases (California, Minnesota, Texas, New Jersey, Indiana, Colorado, Washington). They may have similar ideas, but no two have the same backstory.

So unless you think a self-labeled socialist is the winning pick for Democrats, how should primary voters choose among them? Let me suggest a 70/30 test.

Seventy percent should be the candidate's ability to beat Trump. That includes remaining calm under fire, having the ability to attract independents and disaffected Republicans, and having superior organizational skills and charisma - can he or she excite and inspire?

The other 30 percent should be the ability to govern, understanding he or she won't have filibuster-proof majorities in either the House or Senate (i.e., the wish list is not going to be realized). Voters should look for ability to peel off Republican support for workable compromises, intelligence and willingness to learn, good judgment in personnel, steadiness and empathy. (In other words, think of Trump and look for the opposite.)

Above all, you want political courage - the ability to defy one's own side, to put the national interest above partisanship and to admit error and course correct. (Think of President Ronald Reagan and arms control; President George H.W. Bush and the budget; President George W. Bush and the Iraq surge.)

In short, Democrats will find less ideological variety than they might expect. (And remember, whatever they say they want to do usually is premised on the unrealistic assumption of a one-party, filibuster-proof government.)

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