Hickenlooper booed at California Dem convention for saying socialism isn't the answer

Three months ago he launched his campaign on national television by refusing to admit that he was a capitalist. Yesterday he went to San Francisco for his party’s state convention and denounced socialism.

This dude seems to have chronic trouble tailoring his message to the audience that’s in front of him.

No, I kid. He knew what he was doing. I think this was a shrewd gamble by an ultra-longshot candidate, actually.

Jonathan Tasini, a labor activist who endorsed Sanders in 2016 and published a book about the senator’s ideas, said that Hickenlooper had effectively talked his way out of the 2020 race. Hickenlooper had also been booed for saying that Democrats should not “[remove] private insurance from over a hundred million Americans,” a reference to Medicare-for-all legislation…

Hickenlooper’s allies saw it differently, speculating that the cold reception at a convention dominated by liberal activists would help distinguish the governor to moderate Democratic voters. Asked how the booing might play on Fox News, which has devoted hours of coverage to the rise of socialists inside the party, Hickenlooper said it would help.

“I think what it says is that we are having that discussion as Democrats, and my hope is that we will clearly say, a result of those broadcasts, that Democrats are not socialists,” he said.

When Hickenlooper jumped into the race in early March, Joe Biden was still many weeks away from deciding whether he’d run. Even if he did end up running, it was an open question how well he’d be received by a party that’s moving left and which had nearly nominated Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton three years ago. Hickenlooper may have believed at the time that the primary would be fought on Sanders’s turf, requiring the eventual nominee to at least make some flattering noises about socialism. Three months later, not only is Biden in the race but he leads Sanders by 20 points. Only once in state and national polls published in the month of May did Bernie top 20 percent himself. He’s crawling along in the teens in most.

So Hickenlooper’s calculation changed. Democratic voters’ appetite for socialism is less than it seemed, so now he’s going to reposition himself as the guy he actually is — a moderate Democrat who got rich as an entrepreneur. If Biden falters — a not unlikely prospect — Hickenlooper wants to be there to vacuum up some of Uncle Joe’s centrist support. Hence his gamble yesterday before party activists at the California Democratic convention, one of the most leftist mainstream political gatherings in the country. He knew his anti-socialist message would antagonize the crowd but he also knew that the response would be likely to go viral, placing him on the radar of anti-Bernie moderate Dem voters. His biggest political problem right now is getting noticed in a very crowded primary, overshadowed in his own “lane” of the race by a former VP. Yesterday was a clever way to address that problem. He wanted centrist Dems to see him daring to speak centrism to a hostile audience.

The punchline is that I think he’s misdiagnosed Biden’s strength. It’s true, per Bernie’s tepid support, that there are fewer socialist ideologues in the Democratic base than we fear, but I doubt that Biden’s out to a lead because he’s conspicuously centrist. Polls show that Democrats are quite sanguine about socialism, remember. Biden’s leading because he’s widely viewed as the most “electable” candidate in the race, the man most capable of achieving what Dem voters crave more than any policy proposal — purely and simply, defeating Trump. Biden’s (relative) centrism is part of the reason why some voters view him as the most “electable” candidate, but by and large I suspect it’s driven by name recognition and personal likability. That being so, Hickenlooper’s play for moderate votes won’t make him a fallback option for Biden voters if Uncle Joe implodes. But it might get him out of asterisk territory in polling.