There is a tinge of frontier democracy in walking in the snow to the historic courthouse in Breckenridge in the Rocky Mountains to vote in Colorado’s Democratic primary. Fourteen other states will also vote today, Super Tuesday in the US (Wednesday morning Sydney time). The results should propel three leading contenders to take on Donald Trump in November.
Just a year ago, Senator Kamala Harris of California had a fantastic launch in Oakland, 20,000 strong, with many Democrats taken with the notion that this African-American woman, former prosecutor, and relentless inquisitor of the Trump administration, had the right stuff to end Trump’s presidency.
And then there was the upstart-out-of-nowhere, wise beyond his 38 years, army veteran and gay mayor, with a name so unpronounceable (an American version of “Palaszczuk”) that there were tutorials on National Public Radio (“just say 'Buddha” and ‘judge’, and you can’t go wrong”).
Today, Harris is the popular first choice for vice-president to bring urgently needed diversity to a ticket that will almost surely be led by an old white man, and Pete Buttigieg has retired from the field as Rookie of the Year. He has a big future.
Harris and Buttigieg are bookends to a year-long campaign that has left the Democrats without a wildly popular contender to take out a highly unpopular president whom half the country believes should be removed from office. None have yet commanded the enthusiasm essential to reprise victories of Novembers past: Bill Clinton in 1992 and Barack Obama in 2008.
Indeed, it is the electric insurgency of the frontrunner, Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialist Senator from Vermont, who has induced among Democrats what Politico has termed “The Bernie Freakout” – a wave of panic that the removal of Trump will fail because Sanders is so far left, so ideologically extreme, that his populist army will not only be insufficient to overrun Trump, but will ultimately drag down Democrats in the House and keep Republicans in power in the Senate.
This is the year of imperfect candidates who cannot seize the perfect opportunity to navigate the storm that is Trump in power in Washington. Biden: too old, yesterday’s man. Buttigieg: not enough experience. Klobuchar: so much smarts and common sense, but has not won anywhere. Steyer: loved your work on impeachment. Bloomberg: Are you really a Democrat? Is the answer to one New York billionaire really another New York billionaire?
The Sanders mob aside, the question for me as I vote today: who is the strongest anti-Bernie with the best chance to beat Trump? The February primaries distilled a top three: Sanders, Michael Bloomberg and Biden. Sanders simply cannot enact his revolutionary agenda from any conceivable Congress. He would be an instant failed president, spawning class war and economic turmoil.
Observing Bloomberg up close, there is no charisma, no instinctive warmth. The appeal is to your head, not your gut: with his centrist instincts yes, he can manage the economy, take on guns and climate change, reform health care, and attract highly capable people to serve. Like Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Bloomberg will get things done. And with his wealth and unlimited spending – likely $2 billion this year to win – he is already driving Trump nuts.
And Joe Biden. He was a great vice-president with Obama and can do the job from day one. But he is old, and his edge is not as sharp. But he sure as hell knows that America is better than this: too divided against itself to stand, that the institutions and norms that make American democracy truly work must be restored, that the corruption and kakistocracy have to end, that the press is not the “enemy of the people” and that America has to lead the world again with the power of its ideals.
I don’t know if Biden can make it. He came in second in Nevada, staying alive. He won South Carolina decisively on Saturday, showing broader appeal and making him competitive today.
I am voting for Joe to see how far he can go past Super Tuesday so he can help the country end the madness of King Donald, and begin to heal.