Question for Dem 2020 candidate John Hickenlooper: Are you now, or have you ever been, a capitalist?

Three times he’s asked this question and the closest he comes to saying yes is noting that capitalism in the United States ain’t what it used to be. This guy is an entrepreneur who founded his own microbrewery, made millions, and parlayed that into becoming mayor of Denver and eventually governor of Colorado.

Can’t muster a simple, “Of course I’m a capitalist but I’m not a libertarian, I believe in regulation,” yadda yadda.

There’s no mystery as to why a 2020 Democratic would be nervous about blasphemy against socialism. There is a mystery about what “lane” of the primary Hickenlooper thinks he’s running in. Who is he hoping to impress by pretending that he’s not a capitalist? He’s not in contention for progressive votes so long as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are in the race; whether he wants to or not, he’s going to have to run as a centrist liberal, hope that Biden and Klobuchar derail somehow so that that moderates are forced to give him a look, and then trust that there are more Dems towards the center than there are on the left-wing fringe. The only thing he achieves by denying that he’s a capitalist is giving the Bernie voters a reason not to stay home next November in the verrrrrrrrrrrrrry unlikely event that Hickenlooper becomes the nominee. This is his wilted olive branch to the left: He’ll at least pretend, sort of, that he’s skeptical of capitalism when he’s on camera. Just to make them happy.

But the punchline is, I don’t think it will make them happy. They know a pretender when they see one. One of the reasons so many Bernie fans among the commentariat resented the buzz around Beto O’Rourke after the Texas Senate race was over and Beto started eyeing the presidency is that they know Sanders is a genuine progressive whereas O’Rourke’s history in Congress is more … complicated. They disdain poseurs, as all ideologues do. One reason that Warren deliberately chose to start describing herself as a “capitalist” in interviews, I think, is that she knew Berniebros would treat her as a pretender if she tried to position herself as every bit Bernie’s equal in her commitment to socialism. They’d respect her more, she calculated, if she ceded that to him and distinguished herself by embracing an identity less ideologically austere than Sanders. (It won’t hurt her chances with more centrist Dems either, of course.) Now here’s Hickenlooper fooling no one in pretending that he has some problem calling himself the thing he’s been his entire adult life. Leftists will respect him less on balance after this dodge, I’d bet, than they would have if he’d answered Scarborough’s question forthrightly.