The slow spectacle leading to July 2020 begins: who will be the presidential candidate on the Democratic side?
While the world is mesmerized watching President Donald Trump and the Robert Mueller investigation which is nearing completion, a fascinating game will unfold in 2019 on the other, less exposed side of the spectrum. Who will become the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party?
It is a long-term spectacle, because we will not know who the candidate is until July 2020.
Yet there will be monthly debate beginning in June 2019. The first candidate, the very left-leaning and experienced Sen. Elizabeth Warren, announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee on New Year's Eve.
After the unexpectedly thrilling 2016 race, in which Bernie Sanders made it much more difficult for the favored candidate Hillary Clinton than expected, and even portrayed her as a grasping Wall Street puppet in front of her own voters, there is no reason to assume that things will run more smoothly this time around. Not so much because the old giants (he 77, she 71) still leave open the possibility there will be new participants, but because the party is at a crossroads without any clear signposts.
Like left-leaning parties in most countries, the Democratic Party has lost its traditional constituency. Tim Ryan, the representative from Ohio who made several unsuccessful attempts to become party leader, summarizes the situation as follows: the working class no longer considers the Democratic Party as its home.
Then for whom is it a home? The latest elections, the November midterms, provided a clue when the Democrats achieved a resounding victory in the House of Representatives and lagged further behind the Republicans in the Senate.
The most appealing Democrats in the campaign were distinctly left-leaning, but in the end, most winners were moderate. As such, Amy Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota, convincingly won her seat for the third time in a row in this traditionally Democratic, yet rather conservative, state. Clinton barely managed to keep Trump behind her here in 2016.
On the other side is Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat that almost became senator in Texas and generated the most optimistic excitement among the country's left-leaning voters. Nevertheless, he lost.
Which wing will prevail? In the American electoral process, a radicalizing mechanism is embedded in all elections, but especially for the presidential race., In the primaries, the candidates run against each other within their parties. This means that they must not distinguish themselves from political opponents, but from politically kindred spirits. That distinction can only be clear enough if a candidate has much stronger ideas than the rest of the playing field. As such, all candidates trend toward the edges of their party. It is the hard core who, in the primaries, at which far fewer voters show up than at the actual election, determines the fate of the candidates. And this hard core is rather left-leaning on the Democratic side, with ideas about immigration, discrimination and weapons that are too radical for many Americans.
If the Republicans are smart, they will hold back with their pontifical presidential candidate and watch the Democrats get bogged down in ideological debates, which have never lured voters to the polls.