Current Affairs - October 20, 2019

... I am doubtful that she would beat Donald Trump, and I believe that even if shedidbeat Donald Trump, she would not aggressively pursue the kind of policies that I believe are urgently needed in order to ensure that our most serious social problems are solved. As I see a Warren presidency unfolding in my mind’s eye, it is something of a disappointing mess in which the entire left agenda is watered down beyond recognition, the left becomes demoralized and disillusioned, the right seizes an opportunity and Democrats lose seats around the country, leading to ever-worsening inequality and destructive climate change. We are at a perilous moment, and we have to choose wisely, which means thinking about what a future with each of these candidates would look like. This is not some kind of needless internecine purity politics. It’s an essential part of defeating Trump and making the world better.

... this is a primary, and in a primary you have to ruthlessly scrutinize the candidates, because if you choose wrongly, you will either (1) doom yourself in the general election or (2) succeed in the general election but then bring about a failure of a presidency that dooms you in future elections. If candidates have serious flaws, then, if there is good reason to believe that they would be a disaster against Trump or that their presidency could not succeed, it is critical to get these facts out now so that we don’t all make a horrible mistake that will harm the cause of progressivism.

My own criticisms of Elizabeth Warren are of exactly these kinds: I am doubtful that she would beat Donald Trump, and I believe that even if she did beat Donald Trump, she would not aggressively pursue the kind of policies that I believe are urgently needed in order to ensure that our most serious social problems are solved. As I see a Warren presidency unfolding in my mind’s eye, it is something of a disappointing mess in which the entire left agenda is watered down beyond recognition, the left becomes demoralized and disillusioned, the right seizes an opportunity and Democrats lose seats around the country, leading to ever-worsening inequality and destructive climate change. We are at a perilous moment, and we have to choose wisely, which means thinking about what a future with each of these candidates would look like. This is not some kind of needless internecine purity politics. It’s an essential part of defeating Trump and making the world better.

The conventional wisdom for why Warren makes sense as a candidate, and why she has become the frontrunner, is that she offers the best compromise between liberalism and leftism: She has the fighting spirit and bold agenda of Bernie Sanders, but is a pragmatist rather than a radical socialist. But I think the conventional wisdom is mistaken. If we imagine what Warren would be like as a general election candidate against Trump, I think it’s very clear that she would be weaker than Sanders in ways that should trouble us.

What will the right’s main line of attack against Warren be? I think you can see it already, actually: They will attempt to portray her as inauthentic and untrustworthy. She will be painted as a Harvard egghead who has suddenly discovered populism for self-serving reasons, a slippery elite who isn’t telling you the truth about her agenda. 

As I wrote back in 2016, Democrats have a tendency to underestimate how formidable Trump is as a political opponent; you don’t crush two party establishments without some skill, and Trump is very good at sniffing out his enemies’ weak spots and exploiting them. This means that, when going up against Donald Trump, you will be in a bad position if you have an obvious vulnerability that will be hard to defend. Hillary Clinton, for instance, struggled because she had an indefensible record, meaning that when she tried to criticize Trump for his (many, many) negative qualities, he simply pointed out that she was an untrustworthy warmonger who did the bidding of Wall Street. What you really don’t want, then, is to have your ability to attack Trump undermined by the fact that his criticisms of you are also legitimate, or at least plausible. ...
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