Is Clintonism still the way forward, or is the next Democratic president going to be something this country has not seen since Lyndon Johnson, a genuine fighting progressive in the White House? For the powers that be in the Democratic Party, the answer is obvious. There is no reason to believe that the DNC led by Tom Perez will be any less in the tank for the party’s neoliberal establishment than it was under Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who more or less openly colluded with Hillary Clinton against Sanders. The only way Gillibrand will make herself acceptable to leadership is by abandoning her (already malleable) principles. If she decides that single-payer health care is aspirational rather than imperative and that the war in Afghanistan worth fighting after all, she might be a goer. If she looks like the genuine article, she will be stonewalled in favor of, say, Terry McAuliffe, who will raise more money than any candidate in history and lose by at least 100 electoral votes. The same goes for Elizabeth Warren, whom the party finds useful so long as she is in opposition, like Sanders. Kamala Harris has a better chance of being the nominee than either of these women for precisely the same reason that she would fare worse in a general election, namely her gruesome obsession with punishing opponents of abortion. She would be acceptable to the NARAL wine-and-cheese crowd in a way that is not quite imaginable for Warren, who considers pocket-book issues more important than anything else.
A contest between a generic neoliberal and Trump would be a battle of airs and grievances, a duel for feigned moral superiority utterly divorced from practical moral and economic questions. It would be phantasmal, like the rest of our political life. Only a progressive candidate who could articulate the ways in which the Trump administration is a continuation of all the ills — the shocking accumulation of unimaginable power and wealth by a handful of large tech companies, the relentless financialization of the economy, the absence of meaningful and well-remunerated full-time work, the crippling debt, the social breakdown that has made family life a privilege for the upper-middle class — of his last three predecessors would meaningfully alter the terms of the engagement.