Democrats desperate to win the presidency (and others desperate to elect Anyone But Trump) should search for the candidate who can galvanize Democrats, draw from independents and disaffected Republicans, avoid getting tagged as a scary socialist and pass the commander in chief test. Democrats have said they would be willing to give up agreement on some issues to find the electable candidate, a critical concession to reality for progressives.
If someone identifies as a socialist and scares off moderate voters, that’s a recipe for electoral disaster. For that reason, many center-left and even progressive Democrats will tell you Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is not electable. (That might be one reason he is sinking in the polls.)
That’s not the “electable” many in the media and political consultant ranks talk about, however. The kind of “unelectable” they ruminate about is part of the ongoing angst that Hillary Clinton’s loss provoked. The lesson from Clinton’s loss that many Democrats (even women) extracted amounts to: “A woman isn’t electable.”
This illogically assumes that Clinton’s problem was that she was a woman, not that she ran a status quo campaign or didn’t campaign in the right places or got her knees cut out from under her by then-FBI director James B. Comey’s decision to butt into the election with 11 days to go.
No one goes around saying no more New Yorkers or no more blondes or no more lawyers. That would be foolish. Well? The leap from 2016 defeat to a kibosh on a female nominee is illogical and yet persistent.
You hear it too about other identities. “America’s not ready for a gay president.” “America is not ready for a nonwhite president” (as if the country hadn’t been in 2008).
The best answer I’ve heard to the notion that America isn’t ready for X — fill in the applicable gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation — came from Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.). In an extended interview on CNN, she said, “I know this in my experience, having run for the offices I’ve run for, when I was the first in every one of those positions, when there was no one like me who had done the job.” She recalled that “people would say, ‘oh, they’re not ready for that. Oh, no one like her has done it before. Oh, it’s not your time. Oh, it’s going to be a lot of hard work.’ And I didn’t listen. And, as far as I’m concerned, my track record on this issue tells me the voters are smarter than hearing and listening to all that noise.”
Given the number of “out” gay officials, the diversity of the freshmen congressional class and the enormous uptick in younger voter and nonwhite voter turnout in 2018, she’s certainly on firmer ground than the “Not a woman!” crowd. Is the presidency different? Of course, but deep-red states aren’t voting for a white, male Democrat anyway. However, keep in mind Colorado elected a gay governor, Michigan and Kansas elected female governors, and Stacey Abrams came within a whisker of winning the governor’s race in Georgia.
So, no, I cannot abide by the notion that a candidate’s identity makes him or her unelectable. (Clinton did get more votes than Trump, if you recall.) If a candidate sounds too close to Bernie or has zero charisma or appears clueless on national security, Democrats should run the other way. However, turning away a woman or a nonwhite or gay male who can galvanize Democrats, draw from independents and disaffected Republicans, avoid getting tagged as a scary socialist and pass the commander in chief test would be about the dumbest thing Democrats could do.