Are You Sure You Know Who is Most Electable?

History Tells Us We are Not Very Good at Recognizing the Ideal Candidate

A majority of Democrats are most focused on having a candidate that can defeat Donald Trump. They would support a candidate not aligned with their views if that person is the most electable. That is a mature, even a noble position. It is one we could all aspire to ourselves. But knowing who that is may be a tougher task than many would expect. Take a look at recent history, and the current roster of candidates on the Democratic side.

What Does Recent History Teach Us?

Who would have thought Jimmy Carter would win his party’s nomination? Georgia is a big state, but Carter had no national standing. Yet in the end he won both the nomination and the presidency.

Carter won that contest only to be replaced by Reagan. Reagan had been the governor of California, but still seemed a lightweight to many. A lightweight who won two term,  handily. Bill Clinton was a popular governor of a small, rural state. Few people would have bet on him to take the grand prize. Especially since he made a long, boring speech at the convention four years prior. But in the end, he won it all.

If you had said that a first term Midwest black senator would win the presidency (twice), you would have been laughed out of the room. Unlike Clinton, Obama made a magnificent speech at the convention four years prior. That got him noticed, but in line for President? Not a chance, most people said at about this time in the campaign. Come on, surely no. Funny how that worked out.

A lot of people expected there might be a second President Bush –just not the one they got. George got that nomination, not Jeb. And when Jeb’s turn came, he had recognition, a ton of money, electoral skills – and he never got to first base.

It is a Long Candidate List to Sort Through

Joe Biden looks very much in the driver’s seat for the nomination at this point. But remember, he ran two terrible campaigns for President before. Joe is a great guy in many ways but suffers from repeated bouts of foot in mouth disease. What looks like a sure thing today could be a distant memory in six months. Bernie Sanders has a base and lots of money coming in, but 2020 will be quite different from 2016 in important ways

One could well think the country is unlikely to elect another black President (male or female). That it is still not ready for a female President. That in spite of great social progress, it is not ready to elect a gay President quite yet. Why would it elect a guy whose claim to fame is that he lost to the least likable person in the Senate, Ted Cruz? Maybe. Maybe not. At this stage, I would not write off Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, or Beto O’Rourke.

There is an SUV load of candidates that are not registering with people yet. Who knows what happens if one of them hits home runs in the first debates? (They all think that is what will happen to them. One or more of them could be right). It is way too early to tell who may yet rise out of the crowd.

And lest we forget; most sane adults laughed at the idea of Donald Trump becoming President. He did that (even though he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, he still resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.).

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

So, by all means, let us make electability a main criterion. Just recognize that we may not know it when we see it initially. The right combination of character, skills, and luck may surprise us when this is all over.

       Bill Clontz

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