Election 2020: Unpopular Political Takes & Predictions

The 2020 Democratic presidential primary race is all but over. Sadly, my preferred candidate fell short of the nomination again (I voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020). Barring any crazy events, Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee who will run against Trump in the general election. There were so many candidates in the Democratic primary this year; it’s hard to look back on the field and not feel disappointed – really, out of everyone, we ended up with Joe Biden? On the other hand, I’d already long decided that I’d cast my vote for Biden if he ended up as the nominee. In no particular order, here are some of my opinions and predictions, some of which are pretty unpopular.

Joe Biden can win against Trump

even if he totally alienates progressive voters. The reality is, an incumbent saddled with an economic recession—and a botched pandemic response—will lose almost by default. Not to mention how distasteful Donald Trump is for an increasingly crucial voting demographic: wine-sipping suburbanites. High primary turnout has been another positive sign for Biden.

While Biden Bros and Bernie Bros hurl profanities at each other on Twitter and argue about the #BernieOrBust movement, the online bubble is in no way representative of the electorate as a whole. Biden, as a candidate and as a person, has a whole laundry list of valid criticisms against him. But, he’s not Donald Trump. And that’s good enough for a large enough portion of voters that he should be able to win handily.

While it could be argued that Joe Biden is a weaker candidate than Hillary Clinton in many regards (less intelligent, less mentally agile, less competent at campaigning, etc.), he also doesn’t have the same degree of baggage that Clinton carried into the 2016 election (then again, few people do). Biden doesn’t have a pending FBI investigation against him (yet), doesn’t have to contend with the sexism factor, and isn’t nearly as unlikable as Hillary.

Again, the failing economy alone should be enough to sink any incumbent, let alone Trump. Add in the biggest global pandemic of our lifetime, and you have a maelstrom of negative sentiment against Trump that will offset any of Joe Biden’s embarrassing failings. Frankly, anything short of a landslide win for Biden would be an absolutely damning testament to his weakness as a candidate.

The mainstream media will turn on Joe Biden

after helping him in the primary with oodles of positive coverage while sweeping his goofs and gaffes under the proverbial rug. The MSM like a close race, so it wouldn’t surprise me if many news outlets tried to repeat 2012 and weave a narrative that it could be a close race when everyone could see from a mile away that Obama would crush Romney. Somehow the mainstream media will find a way to backpedal from early polls that show Biden winning against Trump by big margins.

This is a prediction I made weeks ago, prior to the first caucus in Iowa. Admittedly, it seems a lot more far-fetched now. With how badly the Trump administration has bungled the handling of the coronavirus outbreak, I’m a bit skeptical that the MSM could do enough to ding Biden’s chances, even if they tried.

The 2020 Democratic primary was far less contentious than 2016

which in turn was far less contentious than 2008. People tend to forget this, but 2008 was by far the most vicious Democratic primary in modern history. Even though I couldn’t vote in 2008, I vividly remember the nasty attacks and vitriol between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The same could be said for their supporters, although the social media platforms that facilitate this vitriol weren’t as popular or visible as they are now. To be honest, I actually hold more resentment for Hillary Clinton as a result of 2008 than I do from 2016. By contrast, Bernie Sanders has gone easy on his rivals in 2016 and 2020—not that it will stop people from vilifying him anyway.

Joe Biden fits the mold of a George W. Bush type “compassionate conservative”

Or at least, Joe Biden probably has more in common with Dubya than he does with Bernie Sanders. We could make the facile argument that Biden’s stances and voting records align with Sanders’ at a far higher percentage than it aligns with Dubya’s. But I would argue that we should consider the criticality of their divergent stances over the quantity of their agreed-upon stances. Particularly on the important issues of war, trade, immigration, healthcare, and Social Security, Biden is arguably closer to Bush than Sanders: Biden voted in favor of the Iraq War; backed NAFTA, PNTR with China, and TPP; deported millions of undocumented immigrants; claimed he would veto Medicare for All; and has on many occasions been open to cutting Social Security. These are issues where Biden and Sanders are almost diametrically opposed, yet it’s not hard to imagine an alternate timeline where a Compassionate Conservative 2.0 could run on these positions in the year 2020.

Trump can run as more “anti-war” than Biden

A lot of this post is subjective opinion. But the following two points are factual:

  • In the 2016 Republican primary, Donald Trump defended his opposition to the Iraq War and vehemently criticized the war as a “big, fat mistake.” I distinctly remember the loud boos of the Greenville, South Carolina debate audience when Trump and Jeb Bush sparred on the issue of the Iraq War.
  • In the 2020 Democratic primary, Joe Biden defended his support for the Iraq War. Whenever Sanders criticized him on the Iraq War, Biden made the excuse that the Bush administration had fooled him into voting for it.

It’s actually kind of absurd to think about, but the case could easily be made that Biden is more of a war hawk than Trump, even with the latter’s antics in Syria and recent Iran debacle. To put it more bluntly: it’s entirely possible that Biden will bomb more brown kids than Trump. In fact, one could argue that he already has. As empirical evidence, we could compare the yearly civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa) during the Obama-Biden years and the Trump years. This is not nearly enough to deter many people from voting for Biden, because 1) it’s speculative and 2) we as Americans tend not to care so much about how our actions affect people in other countries.

The main reason Obama chose Biden as his running mate in 2008

was to allay the concerns of racist boomers who had reservations about voting for a young black man. I don’t even consider this a controversial opinion; blunt and cynical, sure, but in my view it’s naive—bordering on delusional, really—to think otherwise. Like it or not, identity politics is a thing; it is what it is. At the time, when media speculated about Obama’s VP pick, more heavily circulated names included Evan Bayh (for a dynamic young duo) and even Hillary Clinton (for unity, PUMAs be damned). But Obama astutely chose Joe Biden for his unique appeal to voters who needed just a dash of that old-timey familiarity to get them over the hump of voting for Barack Obama. While Biden functioned more as an ornament than anything else in the Obama administration, it certainly didn’t harm his favorability with voters. This worked heavily to Biden’s advantage in 2020, when he successfully invoked Obamastalgia while taking credit for many of President Obama’s achievements.

I still like President Obama a lot

and so do most other liberals. While there is a vocal contingent of progressives online who love to criticize and complain about Obama, the reality is that most Democrats and left-leaning Independents hold favorable opinions of Barack Obama. While imperfect and sometimtes outright disappointing, he was a very competent president and not nearly as bad as some far-left voices make him out to be. In 2008, Barack Obama ran on an extremely progressive platform (especially for that time) and an inspiring message of hope and change. This led some people to set unrealistically high expectations for him, so the subsequent disappointment was inevitable. The Obama administration made mistakes, but ultimately the positives outweigh the negatives. I would argue that Barack Obama was easily the best president of the last 50 years. Biden’s shoddy record could not possibly measure up to Obama’s, in terms of progressive bona fides.

The Democratic establishment bears far more blame than Obama

The young President Obama had good intentions but ran into the political reality that is the Democratic Party Machine. This was evident when planks of his progressive platform were (at best) bastardized in the course of turning them into legislation, even when Democrats held a strong majority in both the House and the Senate. It showed that Democrats are not exempt from the sphere of special interests and lobbyist influence. A classic example of this is the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The public option (not even as extreme as Sanders’ proposal of single payer) was effectively killed by Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, but it’s probable they were merely the most public faces of lobbyist-driven opposition that extended to many other senators. Another oft-overlooked aspect of the ACA is that while it did help millions of people, it was also a massive subsidy for the insurance industry. This is because the individual mandate not only covered the cost of customers with pre-existing conditions, but covered it many times over by allowing insurance companies to charge expensive premiums to millions of new customers, many of whom were healthy individuals.

Biden’s public option is doomed to fail

Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All is appealing for a number of reasons: save money, save lives, stick it to the insurance companies, etc. It appeals to me because it’s economically sound; the current healthcare market is grossly inefficient and a single payer healthcare system would eliminate a ton of deadweight loss. It’s also harder for lobbyists to sabotage. In contrast, a public option (or “Medicare for all who want it” as Pete Buttigieg ridiculously calls it) could easily be made to fail, and will be made to fail by lobbyists. We already know exactly how it’ll play out. The public option will act as a segmented market that self-selects for individuals with more health problems and pre-existing conditions. These people’s premiums will then skyrocket and cause the public option to collapse. Republicans, lobbyists, and even some Democrats will point to it and say “see, government involvement in healthcare is such a bad idea!” Before you know it, we’ll be right back to the dismal situation of today, just with even worse odds of universal healthcare legislation passing in the future.

MSM bias is real, influential, and not talked about enough

At least, it’s not talked about enough anymore. There is a dearth of serious and nuanced discussion around bias in mainstream media. Even the term “MSM” seems like it belongs solely in the lexicon of tin foil hat donning conspiracy theorists. This is in part due to the Boy Who Cried Fake News act, whereby Donald Trump shouts “fake news” every time he encounters any criticism from the media. This has largely crowded out legitimate criticism of and serious discussion about media bias. Instead, public discourse now has to contend with the false dichotomy of “MSM are fake news” versus “NYT and WaPo are totally trustworthy journalists.” This removal of nuance is a dangerous result of Trump’s polarizing rhetoric. We see the same behavior in online discussions where people are quick to yell “Russian bot” when others disagree with them on some point.

Party Worship™ is dumb as hell

I’m specifically referring to people who obsess over who is a “real Democrat.” Many people have posited that Bernie Sanders is not a real Democrat, partly due to the fact that he’s served Vermont as an Independent for most of his political career (despite caucusing with Democrats during that same time). It forces a line of logic which concludes that Joe Manchin is more of a “real Democrat” than Bernie Sanders, which renders the Democrat label utterly meaningless. Or at least, meaningless to voters as a metric of what a candidate stands for; what the Real Democrat™ label really measures in this case is how obsequious this Democrat is to party leadership.

I’ve always held no party affiliation on my voter registration, but have voted for Democrats in every election at every position on the ballot, because the Democratic candidates happen to be better (or rather not as bad, in the sense that AT&T is not as bad as Comcast). It wouldn’t upset or offend me to be called a Democrat. But I have say this, as someone who was born in a one-party authoritarian country: Party Worship is stupid as hell. In a two-party country, Party Worship is still stupid as hell. Political parties are a logistical and practical necessity in a FPTP system, but the Democratic Party does not carry inherent virtue or value. The party is simply a vehicle for the will of the people, something that Bob La Follette articulated clearly a century ago but which many lemmings still seem to struggle with. Consistently being the lesser of two evils does not give the Democratic Party a pass on all of their failings.

Final Predictions

Just like nuanced public discourse, standards are another casualty of the Trump Era. It is entirely probable that Biden will be at least marginally better than Trump for the trajectory of the United States (hence my willingness to vote for Biden over Trump). However, I think we should call a spade a spade: Biden isn’t some benign progressive who’s about to bless us with real positive change. In his own words, Biden promised that “nothing would fundamentally change.” Many people like that Biden represents a “return to normalcy.” Personally, I think going from Trump to Biden is going from a dysfunctional racist plutocratic dystopia to a functional racist plutocratic dystopia. Hooray?

Biden, while not as malicious as Trump (at least with regards to domestic affairs), will likely preside over a weak economy and have a mediocre presidency. This will lead to the GOP successfully rebranding itself as a “hey we’re sane again” party and beating Biden with a dynamic young candidate in 2024. Bernie will likely become something of a martyr for the progressive movement (if he isn’t already). Perhaps he will have a successor (e.g. AOC) who will successfully build up populist appeal and take up the progressive banner, culminating in a presidential run in 2028 or later (this is more of a hope than a prediction).

In any case, I think predicting anything more than a few months out tends to be kind of silly, so who knows what will happen in the coming years. There’s even the possibility that Biden might need to be replaced as the nominee (I don’t wish this, just saying he’s hella old—it’d be the same case with Sanders), which would be chaos. Still, here is my prediction of the electoral map in 2020 presidential election: Biden 312, Trump 226.

electoral map prediction 2020