How to Choose the Most Electable Democrat in 2020


The complicated choice facing Democratic presidential primary voters, desperate to pick the right candidate to beat President Donald Trump in 2020, was encapsulated this past weekend. Elizabeth Warren, who on Saturday delivered populist fire in her formal announcement speech, represented the view that fierce ideological conviction can carry the day in the general election. The next day, Amy Klobuchar touted her Midwestern roots as she personified the belief that a candidate from the middle—both politically and geographically—would be the most electable nominee.

And both candidates had their rollouts somewhat clouded by scandalous accusations—Warren’s past identification as an “American Indian” and allegations that Klobuchar is an abusive boss—that raised questions about their “electability.”

Democrats say they care more about winning in 2020 than anything else. In a Monmouth University poll, when asked to choose between “a Democrat you agree with on most issues but would have a hard time beating Donald Trump,” or “a Democrat you do not agree with on most issues but would be a stronger candidate against Donald Trump,” Democrats threw their policy preferences under the bus by 56 percent to 33 percent. And when Democrats were asked, in a CNN poll, which of seven candidate attributes are “extremely important,” they ranked “has a good chance of beating Donald Trump” the highest, at 49 percent. Ranked second-to-last with 25 percent was “holds progressive positions on the issues.”

These are disturbing numbers to some on the left. A growing chorus of voices has argued that electability is a nonsensical ruse concocted to box out true progressives in favor of timid moderates. “It’s alchemy and a crock,” scoffed Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, noting that nominating Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders didn’t save us from Trump, and picking John Kerry over Howard Dean didn’t stop George W. Bush’s reelection. New York’s Eric Levitz further suggested that Trump’s unpopularity makes the electability metric, however slippery, irrelevant for 2020: “In all probability, it will take only a minimally politically competent Democrat to get him out.” The Week’s Joel Mathis recently counseled primary voters, “Don’t ask yourself which candidate is electable. Ask which candidate you want to elect, then act accordingly.”

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