Finally, Messina concludes, the Democratic candidate must suit the political zeitgeist after four years of Trump. In the modern era, our presidents have tended to embody a reaction to the previous president: Bill Clinton after George H.W. Bush; George W. Bush after Clinton, Obama after Bush —and, especially, the self-proclaimed quasi-populist superman, Donald Trump, after the cerebral, technocratic Barack Obama.
Trump has left us weary and fretful, a nation of people ceaselessly on edge. Sanders’ “political revolution”—his heated language, sweeping proposals, and pledges of relentless confrontation in pursuit of his societal utopia, however heartfelt, are wrong for such a febrile moment. In 2020, Messina believes, Democrats need an antidote to Trump’s shrillness, divisiveness, disloyalty, cruelty, vulgarity, volatility, and lawlessness. Most of all, they need a permanent escape from Trump’s inexhaustible, exhausting, and deeply destabilizing need for our attention.
All of which argues for a calm and collected unifier who promises his or her best efforts to transcend divisions, seek consensus, and tackle our most pressing issues—like healthcare, climate change, an infrastructure overhaul which creates jobs in the present, and retraining workers for the jobs of the future—in a practical way that people can actually believe will make their lives better. In shorthand, a candidate who can win.
Success in 2020 is not about waging an ideological crusade for which support is deep but narrow. It is about the gritty and pragmatic work of squeezing out an Electoral College victory in three or four states by appealing to the temper of those most likely to vote.