While Hillary Clinton’s unsustainably inflated presidential campaign continues to implode at an appropriately cosmic pace, Democrats are beginning to compel themselves to contemplate the eternal black abyss that would result from the collapse of her political prospects.
Telling Terry McAuliffe joke at Gridiron: 'If Hillary decides not to run…I decided not to finish that joke.' Nervousness over no options.
— Byron York (@ByronYork) March 16, 2015
Perhaps Clinton loyalist and Virginia Gov. McAuliffe refused to finish that joke because, from a Democratic perspective, the punchline is so dark and cheerless that only a Republican could love it.
If we awoke tomorrow to a Clinton-less world, two prominent Democratic names spring to mind as her most likely successors in the race for the presidential nomination in 2016: Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Biden and Warren both consistently poll in the low teens to Clinton’s 50 to 60 percent plus of the Democratic vote. A squad of also-rans, comprised of former Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), barely register in surveys of prospective Democratic primary voters.
But there is another name that has not been tested in 2016 polls that might prove the liberal redeemer. A figure of such influence and esteem on the left – not to mention astronomical name identification – that he would almost certainly rocket into the top tier of 2016 candidates if he were to explore a presidential bid: Former Vice President Al Gore.
Two weeks ago, I used the opportunity of Gore’s prescheduled trip to Iowa to indulge in some baseless speculation. It seems clear that, due to the Democratic Party’s leftward shift over the last 15 years, Gore would find that he appeals more to today’s liberal coalition of Democratic voters than he did in 2000. What’s more, Gore’s singular devotion to the issue of climate change has proven politically prescient. Today, the subject of global warming is so resonant on the left that liberal partisans appeal to it in order to mask the party’s softness on national security. Gore’s apocalyptic vision and fanatical policy prescriptions for addressing climate change produce the illusion for liberals that the party is tough and resolute on the matters that relate to geopolitical instability.
But it is easy for the Democratic Party to dismiss conservative speculation about Gore and his political prospects. It is slightly harder for partisan Democrats to reject one of their own. On Monday, Vox.com founder Ezra Klein insisted that Democrats need a competitive primary race in 2016, and he determined that Al Gore is the politician best positioned to give Clinton a run for her money.
“To many Democrats, the fight the party needs is clear: Hillary Clinton vs. Elizabeth Warren,” Klein wrote. “But the differences between Warren and Clinton are less profound than they appear.”
“Gore offers a genuinely different view of what the Democratic Party — and, by extension, American politics — should be about,” he glowed.
Klein went on to exemplify the phenomenon, routinely exposed in polls, which indicates Democratic partisans are so blinkered by the prospect of catastrophic climate change that they would forfeit their party’s advantages on issues like middle-class economics and discrimination in order to promote its relevance.
Climate change is a real and growing threat to the world’s future. In 2009, nearly every country in the world agreed that global warming must be held to less than two degrees Celsius. We’re on pace to blow through that — warming the planet four degrees or more is horrifyingly plausible. No one really knows what that kind of temperature change — a swing that approaches the difference between most of human history and the Ice Age — would mean for humankind. The World Bank says that there is “no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.”
Income inequality is a serious problem. But climate change is an existential threat.
Klein makes the case that Gore is closer in line with the Democratic party on other issues, too. From the Iraq War, to single-payer health care, to a reinvigorated public sector, Gore is a progressive’s progressive. Klein does, however, concede that the former vice president is not a natural campaigner. Moreover, his complicated finances, failed cable news network, and tabloid divorce would complicate his candidacy. Nevertheless, Klein suggests strongly that it is Gore’s duty as a man of conscience to run for the presidency.
“Gore cares enough about what comes next that he literally titled his last book The Future,” the Vox.com founder concluded. “But if he is really so obsessed with the future, then running in 2016 is his best chance to change it.”
That’s the opening salvos of a draft movement if I’ve ever heard one.
But this argument inadvertently cedes the point that the Democratic Party is utterly bereft of nationally viable talent. Climate change is an issue that animates Democrats like nothing else, but it does not light a fire under independent voters in the same way.
In recent polls, the Pew Research Center found that 54 percent of surveyed Democrats view the issue of global warming as a “top priority” for Americas elected officials. Democrats are 31 points more likely than Republicans and 15 points more likely than independents to see climatological issues as matters of pressing concern. Of the 23 major issues facing the United States that Pew tested in a subsequent survey, global warming ranked second to last. The top issue for most voters, ranking higher than even the economy, was the threat of international terrorism.
It is no coincidence that it was in an interview with Vox.com that the President of the United States ignited a controversy when he claimed that terrorism was an overhyped matter manufactured by the media. Barack Obama added that climate change was unduly overlooked, despite its seriousness, because of the complexity of the issue. It was a pander for the ages, and the progressives in Vox’s core audience ate it up.
Similarly, Gore’s one-note candidacy would have no stronger cheering section than in the pews at the Church of Vox. Gore would enter the 2016 race with a built-in constituency that could propel him to the nomination in the event that Democratic voters do decide to abandon Hillary Clinton. But the Democratic Party would be no better off in the general election than they would be with a progressive icon like Elizabeth Warren serving as their standard-bearer. What a Gore candidacy would achieve, however, is to put into perspective the extent of the left’s marginalization. In the wake of a Gore candidacy, the base of the Democratic Party’s attachment to peripheral issues that have almost no constituency outside activist liberal circles would become inescapably clear.