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Opinion Terry McAuliffe’s presidential audition tape

Then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and his wife, Dorothy McAuliffe. watch former president Bill Clinton address the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 26, 2016. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s nascent 2020 presidential bid may excite a portion of the Democratic Party. But remember that DNA test incident back in October? Not good. It showed President Trump has her number.

Democrats need someone who won’t take Trump’s bait — and maybe has a Trumpian streak of his own.

Democrats may find the candidate they need is none other than former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe.

Yes, that Terry McAuliffe, the one I wrote about back in 2017 who was making noises about running for the Democratic nomination after handing the governorship over to fellow Democrat Ralph Northam.

McAuliffe surfaced again Sunday, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” program to comment on the government shutdown. Viewers got was his semiofficial presidential audition tape.

The ex-governor was in fighting form. He belittled Trump’s shutdown, saying it was all because Trump’s talk-radio “puppet masters” had “questioned his manhood” over funding for a border wall.

And McAuliffe was just getting warmed up, calling Trump “too emotional and unstable” to be president and accusing him of being a “constant liar.”

Now, to be fair, plenty of folks will find it especially rich to hear McAuliffe toss those kinds of barbs Trump’s way. Remember, this is the guy whose long, checkered and unquestionably shady history as a fundraiser and fixer is the stuff of legend (and plenty of lawsuits).

But it was the rest of the interview that gave viewers a glimpse of what a potential McAuliffe presidential bid might look like.

Hint: It wouldn’t look much like Warren’s campaign. Democrats, McAuliffe said, should not run as resistance leaders. “Here’s the message for Democrats,” McAuliffe said. Americans “don’t want an angry liar in the White House.” What they do want, he believes, is someone who is “compulsively optimistic and realistic.”

McAuliffe said Democrats need to lay out an “agenda of success” and “what we plan to do.”

Naturally, that kind of script reads a lot like McAuliffe’s stint in Virginia’s Executive Mansion, where, like other governors, he had to balance the budget, build roads, “clean the roads” and fund education.

“We don’t have filibusters as governors,” McAuliffe said. And if that seems like a knock on the Democratic senators eyeing a presidential bid, that’s because it is.

McAuliffe also took some swings at a few progressive sacred cows, saying Democrats “can’t be making promises that aren’t realistic.” What does that include? The pitch from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for free college tuition, for starters. “There’s no way the Democratic Party should support paying for the children of wealthy parents to go to school,” he said.

And while McAuliffe says he likes and supports the idea of Medicare-for-all, he also says “we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to pay for it.”

It’s a solid and potentially effective critique of the wannabe presidential contenders.

McAuliffe also went back to his Clintonian roots, talking up free-trade deals and economic development. All good. And all of it in contrast with the current White House incumbent and McAuliffe’s fellow Democrats.

The obvious question, though, is whether as a Clintonian white male, McAuliffe could possibly win the Democratic nomination.

McAuliffe told host Dana Bash he would run on his Virginia gubernatorial record, including his push to restore voting rights to felons, economic development and turning around state finances.

His most intriguing pitch is how he would run as a former Southern governor who helped turn a red state blue.

That point may appeal to Democratic primary voters who understand Trump has a solid chance of winning reelection. A statement nominee such as Warren may make Democrats feel great, but it will ensure a Trump victory.

Democrats may not be keen on McAuliffe — for a host of good reasons. But they need to embrace his message: optimism, realism and a couple of sharp elbows.