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Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are both terrible candidates, but they don’t have to be. Here’s what they should do to beat Donald Trump.

With Elizabeth Warren’s departure from the Democratic primary, it is officially a two-man race for the nomination. A two old, crotchety man race. Yes, Tulsi Gabbard is still in, but unless she pulls the biggest political upset in American history either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders will be the party’s nominee.

I don’t think either can defeat Donald Trump. I made the case against Joe Biden in January, and last month I wrote why Bernie Sanders is his own worst enemy. We are where we are, though, and while I don’t think either man can win in November, I don’t know they can’t. If they have any hope of doing it, though, both Biden and Sanders will need to do a few things that neither is comfortable with.

Let’s start with the morbid truth. If elected, Joe Biden will be 78 years old while Bernie Sanders will be 79 years old, meaning either will become the first octogenarian president during his first term. While I don’t think age disqualifies anyone from the presidency (assuming they’re over 35, as the Constitution requires), I do think that even beyond health it raises some problems.

It’s a truism that Democrats win with young, energetic candidates who inspire hope and promise change. While both Biden and Sanders are energetic, neither is young. Bernie promises change, but I don’t think he really inspires hope. Biden provides neither. This, coupled with their advanced age, means the choice of running mate is going to matter.

Of the two, it matters most to Biden. I have long lamented the fact that Democratic leadership doesn’t know when to let go of the reins of power. In 2017 I wrote an article for the Independent lamenting this fact in the race for DNC chair, pointing to two promising young candidates who were denied the chance to lead: activist Jehmu Greene and then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Nothing has changed since then, and Biden’s ascendency shows it isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Biden also lacks any sort of enthusiasm around his candidacy. I’ve yet to meet one excited Biden supporter. They might like his experience or trust him because of his association with Obama and decades spent in the House and Senate, but he hardly energizes the public. His policies are not bold and he himself—despite a compelling personal narrative no one can take from him—is bland in comparison to the diverse field of candidates we had.

So what can Joe Biden do to electrify his campaign? Biden needs someone to bring the “it” factor to his campaign, a “game changer” like Sarah Palin was meant to be for John McCain but who also isn’t dumb as a box of rocks. My preference is Pete Buttigieg, but there are plenty of young, progressive Democrats who are qualified to be Joe Biden’s Vice President—including plenty of women of color. Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris are the most mentioned, but there are others and Joe Biden should pick one of them.

Then, and this is the part that makes this a game changing moment, he should pledge to serve on term. Look, no matter how you cut it, Joe Biden is old. Those close to the former Vice President are already whispering that it is inconceivable an 81-year-old Biden would campaign for reelection. He’d be 87 by the end of his second term.

If Joe Biden selected a young running mate and then appointed a young, fresh cabinet, he could be viewed as a transition figure, someone from the old guard who finally ushered in a new era of Democratic leadership. He could also provide a stark alternative to Donald Trump, showing that his campaign is about the future of America, not just a return to the status quo of the pre-Trump years. Most importantly, though, he could make his candidacy exciting, which is the last thing it is right now.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, doesn’t have a problem with excitement. He promises radical changes from Medicare for All to free tuition at public colleges. Boldness has never been an issue for him. What he does have a problem with, though, is growing his share of the vote. Super Tuesday saw Sanders underperform, losing states he won in 2016 and coming second to Joe Biden in delegates won. Sanders’ supporters are true believers, and he can galvanize an audience better than any politician on the left, assuming they’re already converted to his cause.

It’s almost the inverse of the problem Biden has, really. Sanders’ problem is that he and his supporters are too fervent. They ostracize anyone who doesn’t agree with them 100%. They ridicule, demean, and insult opponents and even those who agree with their policies but just aren’t convinced Sanders can deliver them. They are, to put it bluntly, mean. They’re just mean. I can already imagine a Sanders supporter tweeting at me “’oh someone tweeted a rat emoji at you and was mean to you online so poor people should all die because of it.’” Rhetoric like that is Bernie Sanders’ biggest problem.

Voters want change, and Sanders offers it. The problem is they don’t want bullying and they certainly don’t want revolution—especially a socialist revolution. They just want their lives to get better. Sanders’ policies are fairly milquetoast compared to proper socialism and he is right to point out that universal healthcare is not a controversial stance in most of the Western world. He should keep pointing this out, because I think it’s an effective strategy. What he needs to stop is his relentless attacks on the dreaded “establishment”—who they are Sanders has never made clear—and tone down his bluster.

Passion is good, but there’s a thin line between zeal and fervor. Sanders needs to show he’s a capable, rational, safe pair of hands in which to place the country. If I could say anything to Bernie Sanders, it would be “stop shouting.” Stop waving your arms around. Stop with the class warfare rhetoric, because even though I completely agree with you, it’s a turn off to most voters who still wrongly believe America lives in a classless society.

Instead, explain why your policies would make life better for those living in Kenosha, or in the towns of the Pennsylvania Main Line, or in Little Havana. Explain why they’re not actually that radical at all. Do it evenly and thoughtfully. Essentially, calm down, Bernie.

“But this is a class war! But we should be irate!” I can already see the tweets coming in. That’s the other problem Bernie has. His supporters are his worst enemy. He needs to get a hold on them. After four years of Donald Trump, swing voters do not want more of the same vitriol, anger, and rancor just with leftwing politics. You’re not helping your cause. Take a breath. Is it really worth tweeting that snake emoji at the heartbroken Warren supporter? Do you really need to tell the disaffected Buttigieg voter that he’s literally killing people because he’s now supporting Biden? Even if you truly feel that way, is that the best way to dialogue with people? No. You immediately turn them off. The old adage is true—you catch more flies with hunger than vinegar, and right now Sanders supporters are nothing but piss and vinegar.

For Bernie to attract more voters, he’s going to have to tone it down and lasso his self-righteous supporters who think being mean to people online is justified in the name of the class war. It’s not, but even if it was, it’s a terrible strategy for winning an election. People want positivity, not to be told they’re part of the “establishment” because they voted for the other guy.

I hope both candidates’ advisors recognize this, because right now both are incredibly weak nominees at a time when we need the strongest possible candidate. If Biden and Sanders can do these things, they might stand a chance at beating Donald Trump. That’s what matters.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

I was a Pete Buttigieg supporter. Now I’m not voting.

It still hurts. I thought if I slept on it I might feel better, but I don’t. Hell, I barely slept last night, tossing and turning until 3:00 in the morning. For those of us who supported Pete Buttigieg, who last night suspended his campaign and will no longer seek the Democratic nomination, today is just really fucking hard. It’s never easy to lose, and when you doorstep, phone bank, and throw yourself into a campaign with gusto it’s always difficult to concede defeat. It really is akin to the stages of grief.

Yet like vultures, other campaigns are already circling, trying to pick off Mayor Pete’s supporters before the body is even cold. His departure does naturally raise the question of where we on #TeamPete will end up. The conventional wisdom is we are natural Biden voters now. I think that is incredibly shortsighted and misses what it was about Pete that appealed to many of his most ardent supporters – he was young, progressive, and promised to lead us into the future, not return us to the politics of the past. Don’t count out Bernie Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren receiving a fair share of migrants from Team Pete.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, when my state (Tennessee) is scheduled to vote, meaning I and countless other supporters of Mayor Pete have a very short amount of time to decide where to go. For me, though, the answer is obvious: nowhere. I will not vote in this primary, unless it is for Pete Buttigieg.

Before I go any further, let me head off accusations that I am throwing a temper tantrum, taking my ball home because I lost, enabling Trump, yada yada yada. I have pledged to “vote blue, no matter who,” and I stand by that. I’m aware of the realities of the situation, and crucially, I am not a fascist. I won’t let my own grievances prevent me from doing what is best for the country. Anyone—my 10-year-old nephew, Snooki from Jersey Shore, a plague of locusts—would make a better president than Donald Trump. I am entirely committed to voting for whoever the Democratic nominee is in November. However, I will not have a say in who that nominee is.

The truth is I have been preparing for this eventuality for a while. I’m no political neophyte, and the writing on the wall was evident; I’ve known in my gut for weeks now that Mayor Pete would not be the nominee, at least not this time. There are lot of reasons for that, some of them entirely fair and some of them infuriatingly not fair. Still, I saw what was coming and considered my options. I didn’t like what I found.

I don’t think any of these candidates deserve my vote. Let’s look at why:

  • Joe Biden is a walking gaffe. As I wrote in January for The Independent, I think he should have dropped out long ago because this Burisma/Ukraine scandal—though undoubtedly bullshit concocted by the right to smear him—is an albatross around his neck. But it’s not just that. His treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings, his weird habit of smelling women’s hair, and his age (if elected, he’ll be our first octogenarian president) all concern me. The truth is, I think a Biden nomination is a disaster waiting to happen. This is his third bid for the nomination, and the third time might be the charm. Frankly, I don’t think he should have even run, though I accept it is not my place to tell anyone whether they should or shouldn’t run. But if I’m looking for the strongest nominee to go up against Donald Trump, Biden isn’t it.
  • Bernie Sanders is the Donald Trump of the left. There, I said it. In another article for The Independent, I lamented the fact that Bernie and his supporters seem to be hellbent on making every last mistake Jeremy Corbyn made as Labour leader. Last night, while all the other candidates were congratulating Pete on a race well ran and noting the historic nature of his candidacy, Bernie was trying to woo his supporters. Hard pass. I am not about to join a campaign whose supporters have spent the last several months harassing and attacking me, other Pete supporters, and Pete himself online. It’s not happening. Bernie Sanders and his supporters are toxifying American public discourse the same way the Red Hats are. What’s more is they think they are entirely justified in doing so in the name of class war, a bunch of middle-class kids who think they’re radical by supporting what are at best soft-left policies. Bernie isn’t going to bring the revolution even if he wins, because he isn’t a revolutionary, he’s a shouty old man who has enabled the most vile and vitriolic trolls. A Bernie Sanders nomination will be a disaster for the party, but by all means carry on with your ideological purity tests. I will have no part of it.
  • Elizabeth Warren is a liar. She lied about being Native American. She lied about Pete changing his policies to suit his donors. She made a mountain out of a wine cave. She has blasted big money in politics yet rolled over big money donations from her Senate campaign to her presidential campaign and just recently took money from a Super PAC. It’s upsetting, because before this election I really liked Elizabeth Warren, and for a long time she was my second choice. Not now. It doesn’t really matter, though, because right now this race looks like it’s going to be between Sanders and Biden, so she’s a non-entity. I do want to say, though, that in my experience her volunteers are very nice.
  • Amy Klobuchar is an abusive jerk. I never gave credence to those reports that Amy Klobuchar abused her staff until I saw her condescending, smug attitude towards Pete Buttigieg on the debate stage. “I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete.” So do I Amy, so do I. Honestly, her disdain for Pete was palpable, and it was a massive turnoff to me as a voter. It also rang as homophobic to me and many other gay men who are all-too-familiar with self-righteous people like her patronizing us. Like Warren, she’s also a non-entity if this race is how it looks right now, which is a two-way contest between Biden and Sanders.
  • Mike Bloomberg is a Republican. I mean, that’s it. He’s done a lot of good on gun violence, but I don’t trust Mike Bloomberg to govern as a progressive. I don’t like that he’s poured millions of his own money into ad buys while eschewing campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. I don’t think he would be a marked improvement on the Trump years. I don’t think he can win. That he’s still in the race when Pete Buttigieg isn’t is a damning indictment of the role money can play in American politics.
  • Tulsi Gabbard is an authoritarian sympathizer. From Narendra Modi to Bashar al-Assad in Syria to Donald Trump in America, Gabbard loves herself an authoritarian leader. Her views on foreign policy are enough to disqualify her from receiving my vote, but her record on gay rights is also questionable enough to raise red flags.

Pete Buttigieg is the only candidate who articulated a message of hope, of unity, and of moving the country forward. He’s the only candidate in this field I could enthusiastically vote for, and he is the only candidate I think could beat Donald Trump. I am utterly unimpressed with my remaining options and cannot in good faith say any of these people deserve to be the Democratic nominee. Therefore, for the first time in my life, I will not be voting in the Democratic primary. May the biggest asshole win.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Skylar’s First Impressions of the 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates

Watching the Sunday shows this morning, it occurred to me that I haven’t really commented on the 2020 election. That’s mostly because I think it’s stupid to talk about something that won’t happen until January 2020 in June 2019. I hate America’s perpetual election cycle.

But as I get back into political writing, it behoves me to get up-to-date with the coming election. So, in alphabetical order, here is my first impression of each candidate for the Democratic nomination:

  • Mike Bennett, Senator from Colorado – No name recognition. Who is he going to appeal to that someone better-known won’t? I can’t imagine him getting a lot of traction. Imagine he’ll drop out early
  • Joe Biden, former Vice President from Delaware – Seems to be the frontrunner right now, running as the “beat Trump” candidate. Name recognition, veep to a beloved president, blue collar appeal and a helluva politician. Plus, he really wants this. Like, you don’t know. Joe Biden has wanted to be president since he was an embryo. The one to beat.
  • Cory Booker, Senator from New Jersey – he once saved a person from a fire. Turned Newark around. Pretty cool backstory. But he’s not the most progressive, and in a field where Biden is going to run as the moderate, how does he really distinguish himself? Could win big in South Carolina if Black voters turn on Kamala Harris for her record of incarcerations or don’t warm to Biden – but that last one is a big if
  • Steve Bullock, Governor of Montana – Running as a Washington outsider, which is a pretty smart strategy considering how many of these candidates are senators, congresspeople, or former members of the executive branch (or all three, in the case of Joe Biden). Could bring that salt-of-the-earth heartland vibe that resonates with voters in Iowa, and could do well as a fellow westerner in Nevada. But I don’t know much about his record. Still a longshot – though worth noting that governors historically do better winning the presidency than vice presidents or senators
  • Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana – I’ve been a fan of Mayor Pete for years, and endorsed him from DNC chair in 2017. But is he ready to be president? Yes, he did wonders for unemployment in South Bend and helped save a dying city. He’s young (if elected, he’d be the first Millennial president, and the youngest full stop). He’s good looking. His husband—yes, husband—has a cracking social media game. Would be the first openly gay president (second gay president; RIP President Buchanan). Refreshingly, that could be a benefit and not a hindrance in a primary. In a general election, is America ready to vote for a gay president? I don’t know. And more pressingly, is being the mayor of a small city qualification enough for the Oval Office? And will Democrats go for a moderate like Pete when Biden’s in the race? He’s probably seen his moment in the sun already this cycle, but could be a dark horse worth watching
  • Julian Castro, former Secretary of HUD from Texas – the less exciting of the Castro brothers. I don’t have much to say here. Could surprise people in Nevada, but I don’t see him as a top-tier candidate
  • Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, New York – from what I understand, New York City hates him. Why wouldn’t America? He’s a progressive who I probably agree with more than anyone else as far as policy goes, but I just don’t see him as a serious contender
  • John Delaney, Congressman from Maryland – seriously, who? I know nothing about this man
  • Tulsi Gabbard, Congresswoman from Hawaii – Thank u, next
  • Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator from New York – I once said that if Kirsten Gillibrand ran for president I would quit my job and work on her campaign. I haven’t done that, and her campaign has failed to take off the way many thought it would. I’m not saying there’s a correlation here, but… in all seriousness, though, don’t underestimate Kirsten Gillibrand. She’s probably the fiercest proponent of women’s rights and really shined when #MeToo took off, especially in condemning Bill Clinton’s behaviour in the 1990s and before. That took guts. With abortion becoming the issue of the summer, expect her profile—and prospects—to rise
  • Mike Gravel, former Senator from Alaska – perineal candidate. Has about as much a chance as an Alaskan snowball’s chance in hell
  • Kamala Harris, Senator from California – Kamala, more than anyone, deserves to debate Donald Trump. It would be amazing. She’d show him for the moron he is. But she hasn’t taken off the way I thought she would. That might be because voters are turned off by her record as Attorney General of California, where she was known for locking up low-level drug offenders. In the era of Black Lives Matter and prison abolitionism, that’s not a good look. Still, don’t count her out
  • John Hickenlooper, former Governor of Colorado – If Joe Biden wasn’t in the race, I’d say John Hickenlooper would be the one to watch. A plain-talking white man from middle America is usually a shoo-in for presidential nominations, but Hickenlooper is stuck in the shadow of Biden, and so similar to Bullock that they could split the same voters
  • Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington – Running on the climate, Inslee could capture Millennial and Gen-Z voters, the oldest of whom will be able to vote for the first time in 2020. But is it enough? If he gets a high-profile endorsement (say, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), he could see some wind in his sails. But that’s a big “if,” I think. Another western governor means he’s competing with Hickenlooper and Bullock
  • Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota – her announcement speech was the stuff of legend, given during a snowstorm in a brutal Minnesota winter, but it was overshadowed with accusations she bullies her staff. Leaving aside the sexist notion that women asserting authority are bullies (and not at all commenting on the accusations, as I’ve not researched them enough to know if that’s what’s at play here), Klobuchar just hasn’t distinguished herself in this field. It’s early days, but again, if voters want a moderate, Joe Biden seems to be their choice. Klobuchar could find herself running for veep.
  • Wayne Messam, Mayor of Miramar, Florida – lol who?
  • Seth Moulton, Congressman from Massachusetts – a decorated war hero (he’s an Iraq veteran), Seth Moulton is a young, telegenic candidate who could surprise us all. His service to his country and dashing good looks stand in stark contrast to Donald Trump, who risks looking like Nixon debating Kennedy, except without the Nixonian brain (if the Nixonian instincts for corruption). But does anyone know who Seth Moulton is? No, not outside political junkies and his constituents – and the latter is iffy given American apathy. Might not be his time, but watch his star rise
  • Beto O’Rourke, former Congressman from Texas – Oh Beto. We barely knew thee. Could surprise us, but I think he’s more likely to go back and fight a statewide Texas race sometime in the near future. I don’t think his political career is over, but I don’t think he’s going to win the nomination. Not this time.
  • Tim Ryan, Congressman from Ohio – Good Democrat, but I can’t think of anything that distinguishes him from the others in the field
  • Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont – Wish he’d go away. HE’S NOT EVEN A DEMOCRAT. But he could win, and to my mind is the biggest threat to Biden. I’m closer to Sanders’ politics than Bidens’, but something about him irks me. I think it’s that HE’S NOT EVEN A DEMOCRAT and won’t join the party unless we let him lead it. Still, voters like him and he has the wind in his sails from 2016 which could propel him to the nomination. (Watching a debate between him and Trump would be like nails on a chalkboard, though, both of them so gruff and brash)
  • Eric Swalwell, Congressman from California – Staple on MSNBC, but beyond that, not much of a national profile. One of the fiercest critics of Trump in the House, Swalwell could benefit if the House impeaches Trump, but considering Biden’s running on the “gotta-beat-Trump” platform, I don’t think that’ll be enough
  • Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts – Elizabeth Warren could beat Joe Biden. She’s got the background and expertise and record to take him on when it comes to financial regulation, consumer rights, and all the things progressives don’t like about Joe Biden. She’s extremely popular in the Democratic Party and has every chance of winning this nomination. Can she beat Trump? No idea. But she would certainly be a stark contrast – an intelligent, educated Harvard professor who campaigns for the little people against a dumb, ignorant con artist who didn’t pay his workers
  • Marianne Williamson, activist from California – Umm, do I know you?
  • Andrew Yang, entrepreneur from New York – Not really familiar with him. Know some of my friends are really excited about him. Concerningly, they’re kind of conservative or libertarian leaning, which leads me to think he’s not my ideal candidate. Cute though

 

What do you think of the 2020 field? Can anybody beat Biden? Will there be a dark horse who emerges in the debates? Or in the early primaries and caucuses? Is it too early to talk about any of this? Leave your comments below!