Almost two dozen candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination to take on President Donald Trump in 2020. I don’t know who will be the eventual nominee — but what I do know is that I will vote for, contribute to and offer volunteer help to whomever is the alternative to Trump’s re-election.
I’ve been asked fairly frequently which Democratic candidate I favor. My answer is simple: whoever has the best chance to beat Trump. Inevitably, the follow-up question is which candidate I think that it is. Truth is, at this point, I don’t have a clue. That’s why I like the primary process and the fact that so many candidates are running. While overly long and sometimes tedious, the primary campaign tests the candidates through the rigors of a nationwide campaign. As long as the contest for the nomination does not morph into the proverbial circular firing squad, the eventual nominee will be stronger for ending up at the top of a very competitive slate of candidates.
Several candidates have referred to the 2020 election as “existential” for our democracy, and I concur. Donald Trump has blatantly and repeatedly violated the most basic norms that have enabled our American democracy, imperfect as it often is, to survive in a world in which the trend is all too frequently toward autocracy. A re-election victory for Trump will validate his actions and empower him to further erode our democratic values. That’s why my top priority is a candidate who can defeat him.
The question is often posed whether the strongest candidate is one who can attract suburban moderates and disaffected working-class voters or a candidate who can motivate the progressive base to turn out in large numbers. The answer is “YES." A successful opponent to Trump must be able to do both.
By the time Jimmy the Groundhog sees his shadow in Sun Prairie next winter, the long list of contenders will be substantially winnowed. I expect that at least some of those now thought to be in the top tier of candidates will be history, and one or two current also-rans will emerge as serious competitors. Politics can be a rough game, and some candidates who look good out of the gate stumble or otherwise lose their appeal.
I am very concerned that progressives may shoot themselves in their feet, as many did during the 2016 race. I saw numerous diatribes against Hillary Clinton on social media in the weeks leading up to November. We now know that many of those posts, naively spread by some progressives, originated in Vladimir Putin's troll factory. All too many folks who now lament Trump’s reign either voted third-party or stayed home. Unquestionably, that contributed to Trump’s razor-thin margins in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that enabled him to win the Electoral College.
I wasn’t a Clinton supporter during the primary, and like many of my ideological cohorts on the left, I was disappointed that Bernie Sanders wasn’t the nominee. I shared their anger at the way the Democratic National Committee tilted the scales toward Clinton. Way back in March 2016, in my Capital Times column, I called out the DNC and said Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then DNC chair, should resign because of the unfair actions of the DNC. Nonetheless, when it was Clinton vs. Trump, I knew it was time to put away the disappointment and try to make sure Trump didn’t become president.
There may well be things I do not like about next year’s Democratic nominee. But I won’t forgot the pending disaster of 4 more years of Trump.
Spencer Black served for 26 years in the state Legislature. He was chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and the Assembly Democratic leader. Since leaving the Legislature, Black has been vice president for conservation for the national Sierra Club and adjunct professor of planning at UW-Madison.
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