Who can rescue us from both the Beto-ization of the Democrats and the mercurial temperament of Donald Trump? George Will asks and answers this question with the name on everyone’s lips for the 2020 cycle — Amy Klobuchar. Er … really?
I’ll give Will this much — at least she’s not Instagramming her teeth cleanings:
When Democrats are done flirting with such insipidity, their wandering attentions can flit to a contrastingly serious candidacy, coming soon from Minnesota. The Land of 10,000 Lakes and four unsuccessful presidential candidates (Harold Stassen, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale) now has someone who could break the state’s losing streak. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is the person perhaps best equipped to send the current president packing.
To get the boring part over with, she satisfies the 2020 Chromosome Criterion: The Democratic nominating electorate is disproportionately female and eager to achieve what they came tantalizingly close to in 2016: a female president.
Actually, “the boring part” is far from over yet, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Will continues by providing the kind of electoral-map analysis that could have predicted a Tim Pawlenty nomination in 2012:
Klobuchar is from a state contiguous with Iowa, whose caucuses might, or might not, be as big a deal in 2020 as they have been since Jimmy Carter’s 1976 success in them propelled him toward the presidency. (Early voting for California’s March 3 primary, in which probably 11 percent of delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be allocated, begins the day of Iowa’s caucuses, so some candidates might slight Iowa to court California.) Minnesota also borders Wisconsin, one of the three Rust Belt states (the others are Michigan and Pennsylvania) that Donald Trump took but that had voted Democratic in at least six consecutive presidential elections. She is from the Midwest, where Democrats need help in Michigan (Trump carried it by just 0.3 percent of the vote), Iowa (Trump by nine percentage points) and Ohio (Trump by nine points).
All true, and all largely irrelevant, unless Will has some data on A-Klo excitement anywhere else but in Minnesota. Pawlenty was popular among Minnesota Republicans, but he still crashed out in the Iowa Straw Poll in 2011. In this state, there’s no doubt that Klobuchar also has a solid constituency, but … so what? Minnesota’s the most reliably Democratic state in presidential elections already. Trump came closer to winning here in 2016 than anyone since Ronald Reagan, but that’s because Democrats stayed home in droves rather than vote for Hillary Clinton, as I noted a few months ago:
In 2016, Clinton won 1.37 million Minnesota votes. Barack Obama had won 1.55 million four years earlier. Trump only added 2,000 to Mitt Romney’s 2012 total, hardly much motion at all. But that was enough for Trump to come closer than any Republican since Ronald Reagan to winning the state. However, he did it by standing still as Clinton underperformed. When Democrats show up to vote, Minnesota reverts back to its blue-state identity.
That’s already the risk Trump runs in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, where he won in large part because of Clinton fatigue in these “blue wall” states. All three bounced back into the Democratic column in 2018, and without Klobuchar’s help. There is little to suggest that Klobuchar’s appeal extends outward from Minnesota at all, let alone to key places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Florida. And if you need someone who can carry Michigan or Ohio, why not look for someone from Michigan or Ohio? Sherrod Brown’s available, after all.
Klobuchar isn’t the kind of politician who can create that kind of buzz out of thin air, either. Like Pawlenty, she’s a good fit for Minnesota, where voters don’t usually reward flair or extroverted personalities. Jesse Ventura was an exception, but even Al Franken had to transform himself into a boring technocrat to barely win his first election here (a result still disputed by many). Will notes that Klouchar is pleasant and kind in person, and that’s been my personal experience with Klobuchar as well, but she doesn’t generate the kind of personal charisma that can transform a technocrat into a star of a political movement. The best that she can claim is not to get in the way of traditional Democratic turnout and momentum, but that’s hardly a unique 2020 claim even among the Beto-ized ranks.
Will argues, though, that her placid temperament is exactly what is needed to go against Trump:
It requires an emotional equipoise, a blend of relaxation and concentration, stamina leavened by cheerfulness. Klobuchar laughs easily and often. If the nation wants an angry president, it can pick from the many seething Democratic aspirants, or it can keep the president it has. If, however, it would like someone to lead a fatigued nation in a long exhale, it can pick a Minnesotan, at last.
We’d all certainly like to believe that the time has come for a kinder, gentler politics. Klobuchar’s relatively equanimous approach to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing certainly set her apart from other 2020 hopefuls such as Kamala Harris and Cory “Spartacus” Booker.” Long experience teaches us otherwise, though. When exactly was the last time the nation rallied to “equipoise” in a presidential election, or even in a nomination? 1988, maybe? Even then, “equipoise” demolished Michael Dukakis when he answered a loaded question about the death penalty:
In presidential elections, voters want passion and charisma along with policy and experience. Bloodless bureaucrats do not go far on the national stage.
Will misses one more factor that argues against Klobuchar too, which is the populist anger and mistrust directed at Washington. Democrats already seem too focused on its Beltway denizens in this upcoming cycle; they’re almost all Senate and House members and no governors. Trump won because he successfully channeled that anti-establishment anger. That’s how he beat 16 Republicans with more experience to the nomination, and how he beat the Clinton machine too. Teeing up another insider might be what Trump needs more than what Democrats or the nation needs.
If Democrats want to beat Trump, they may need to find someone outside the Beltway to do it, with the qualities Will wisely cites in Klobuchar. They should be looking at the gubernatorial ranks rather than on Capitol Hill. Will’s correct about one point in particular, however — if they want to be taken seriously at all, stop looking at Instagrammed teeth cleanings.