Buttigieg and Klobuchar have challenged the conventional wisdom among pundits and Twitter addicts that the party has moved far to the left. These pragmatists have demonstrated — with more than 40 percent of the combined vote (and more than 50 percent including Biden) — that a message of steady but non-revolutionary change and bread-and-butter economics actually plays well with voters anxious to beat President Trump. In resisting the Medicare-for-all craze, they showed both good policy sense and keen political judgment, in contrast to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who latched onto it and then suffered the consequences when forced to explain how to pay for it.
While not the focus of the race, both of these candidates have also propounded a traditional internationalist view on foreign policy, eschewing the “bring the troops home” slogan and making the case for continued American leadership based on a tradition of universal human rights.
The first side-by-side comparison might come as early as next week at the Feb. 19 debate. Bloomberg needs just one more qualifying poll to get onto the stage for the first time. He will need to defend against what is likely to be an avalanche of attacks from resentful opponents who seeing him “buying” the race. He will also need to defend his record on “stop and frisk,” which has once again come front-and-center thanks to a 2015 recording in which he appears to praise the practice two years after he left office. (Nevertheless, it is not clear that any of the other contenders, with the exception of Biden, can challenge him for the African American vote.) Bloomberg’s argument might center on electability: Only he can bring progressives and more centrist Democrats as well as independents and moderates together; only he can outspend and unnerve Trump.
Buttigieg and Klobuchar might not have to directly challenge Bloomberg so long as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Warren are there to rail against billionaires and the evils of spending one’s own money to win the presidency. Where Buttigieg and Klobuchar can help themselves and the party is going after Sanders for, among other things, peddling a pig-in-a-poke Medicare-for-all plan he cannot pay for and in pointing out his record of non-achievement in Congress. Simply put, they can make the case, with an assist from Biden and Bloomberg, that Sanders is an unelectable ideologue.
Here is where foreign policy might actually play a role. My Post colleague Josh Rogin has ferreted out some of Sanders’s outlandish positions and remarks, including his benign view of the Soviet Union and Central and South American socialists. He was even worse in 1980 when he aligned with the Socialist Workers Party, particularly when it comes to his views on the Iran Revolution. The Daily Beast reported:
The SWP’s position on Iran is part of what distinguishes it from democratic socialist groups. When its presidential candidate, Andrew Pulley, came to speak at the University of Vermont in October 1980, Sanders chaired the meeting. Pulley attracted only 40 students to his rally, where he concentrated, according to the SWP’s newspaper The Militant, “on the Iran-Iraq war,” and condemned “anti-Iranian hysteria around the U.S. hostages.” Military action against Iran was not at that point theoretical — Pulley’s speech came six months after the attempt to free the hostages in Operation Eagle Claw had failed. ...Six months after the 1980 election, on May 21, 1981, Sanders spoke at another Pulley rally. “For the last 40 years,” Sanders said, “the Socialist Workers Party has… been harassed, informed upon, had their offices broken into, had members of their party fired from their jobs, and have been treated with cold contempt by the United States government.” Even worse, he went on, apparently referring to the Iranian hostage crisis, “now anybody who stands up and fights and says things is automatically a terrorist.” He claimed that he had been investigated himself by the FBI because “I was an elector for the Socialist Workers Party,” referring to his formal role in the 1980 election with the Trotskyists.
This is not simply a mile-wide policy blind spot, but a serious electability issue for someone who will go up against Trump and portray himself as a tough guy — beefing up defense spending, taking out Iranian Quds Force Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani and opposing Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro (as if Trump were some grand defender of democracy and friend of the military).
With such a target-rich environment, it would be a mistake for Sanders’s rivals to attack one another, as Republican challengers to Trump did in 2016. Unless Sanders can be knocked down to size, none of the pragmatists have a shot at the nomination. The good news is that Buttigieg and Klobuchar, as well as Bloomberg, have been running as uniters who can win and then heal the country. At some point, might two of the three team up for a ticket? That is down the road. For now, they need to focus on putting a stake through bad punditry and Sanders’s revolution.