The Atlantic published a piece today about Harry Reid’s potential role as kingmaker within his own party. Reid is very ill with pancreatic cancer. The piece says bluntly “his pancreatic cancer was forecasted to prove fatal within weeks.” But Reid is hanging on and now there’s now some concern that he may be one of the few people in the party who could potentially make peace if the primary process doesn’t produce a clear winner.
Of course we haven’t come to that roadblock yet. For the moment, Reid is offering advice to current candidates who seek him out. He says the advice he’s given thus far has mostly been about not running so far left in the primary that you can’t pull back during the general election:
“I answer their questions, try to be as candid as I can be. I want them to know that I’m not jerking them around. If they’re headed in the wrong direction, I’ve told them that on occasion. I think that our Democratic hopefuls have to understand the difference between a primary and a general, and I try to make sure they understand the difference. It’s okay now to try to—at some event where you have other candidates there with you—to try to move a little to the left. But I just want to make sure they understand that that’s the way the game is played, and they better be careful not [to] get out [so] far, they can’t turn around.”…
Reid said he agrees with Obama’s warning two weeks ago that the electorate was not as into progressive revolution as some candidates and Democrats on Twitter want to believe—but he also assured me that the party isn’t on a self-destructive bender. “You can go back and look at presidential primaries for as long as you want to go back, and candidates are always criticized in the primary for being too far to the left. But as time moves on, you wind up being more center. It’s going to happen this time, just like it always has,” he said.
I doubt Reid would offer advice about going too far left to Bernie Sanders, though he did meet with Sanders after his recent heart attack. Reid has also met with Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg both of whom have been trying to moderate some of their policy stances recently. Warren in particular sort of admits she’s been taking Reid’s advice:
A few days later, I asked Warren why she kept calling Reid. “Because Harry is very insightful. I never call Harry that I don’t learn something,” she told me.
But what about his guidance on not getting too far out on a left-leaning-limb in a primary?
Warren laughed. “You know, I always listen to Harry’s advice.”
Has his advice changed what she’s done with the campaign—like in the past month, say, when she triangulated how she’s pitching the transition to Medicare for All? “Harry’s advice is always valuable.”
So maybe that helps to explain Warren’s recent backtrack on Medicare for All. In any case, the article points out that, at the moment, the polls allow for the possibility of a split-decision among the early states:
If defeating Donald Trump rests on the Democratic Party unifying early and strong around a nominee, then the current state of things looks ominous. Polling suggests a scenario in which four different candidates could each win each Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina—with a fifth candidate, Bloomberg, the one with the deepest pockets, only then entering the primaries. Not a recipe for rapid coalescence—and conceivably a situation in which the Democratic convention arrives next July with candidates still scrambling for delegates and no one in possession of a majority. In that case, who could play the role of party elder to mediate among the various factions?
The author concludes Obama is the natural choice to play kingmaker, but Obama doesn’t show any signs of wanting to play that role. Would he really be willing to put his legacy on the line for a candidate that the party itself struggled to select, a candidate who may loose anyway to an incumbent president bolstered by a booming economy? He’s probably hoping to stay out of it.
As the highest ranking Democrat, Nancy Pelosi is an obvious choice but she is said not to have any close relationships with candidates other than Biden. That could make it tough for her to be seen as a fair arbiter. The one person who does have relationships with everyone running is Harry Reid. And even some of the candidates, when asked, agreed he would be the man for the job:
Cory Booker didn’t agree with my premise, arguing that the race would be decided before then—but he conceded that if he’s wrong, the only person who could unify everyone might be Reid. “Who else has the authenticity in our party? I’m not sure.” I asked Warren whether anyone else had a greater range of relationships with the relevant players across the party than Reid, and her answer was one word: “No.” When I asked other candidates, I could see panic setting in. “Oh shit—Reid’s got to live,” said one aide in a representative response.
Reid refused to sign on to the idea that he’s the only person who could broker a compromise. He does hope he’s still around next year but cited a non-political reason. “I got to make it to March or April to see how the Nationals do again,” he said.