Democrats are beginning to believe that the history of the 2020 election is likely to end with the election of Joe Biden as president.
That does not mean that Biden is a safe bet. Early leaders have a good chance of becoming a party presidential candidate, as Hillary Clinton did four years ago. But the Democrats can look in their own past for a legendary example of a front runner who emerged as consensus candidate, as a "moderate" candidate and in flames.
This happened in the turbulent elections of 1972, when Richard Nixon stood for re-election. He was defeated by a weakening economy, allegations of corruption (though the Watergate scandal was still unmanageable), and continued unrest. On the other hand, Nixon had substantial foreign policy successes: he ended the Vietnam War and opened diplomacy with China, which would lead to his famous handshake with Mao Zedong.
In the year before the elections, Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine ̵
According to electoral traditions, everyone headed south quickly after Muskie was seen as crying on a snowy day in New Hampshire while talking to reporters. One could unpack this incident as an artifact of that time or heteronormative expectations or the hunger of the media for sensation, but none of these things tells the whole story. The bigger thing that happened, as the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Theodore H. White emphasized in his masterly "Making of the President – 1972," was the appearance of George McGovern.
A WWII bomber pilot became a prairie The populist South Dakota senator, McGovern, firmly opposed the Vietnam War, inspiring a large, passionate left-wing grassroots movement that took Muskie's nomination and took control of the Democratic Party , It was not that Muskie had lost; McGovern won. He urged an ambitious platform of domestic social justice and military de-escalation abroad that was more compelling to Democratic primary voters than Muskie's argument that he was the safer bet to beat Nixon.
Much of the democratic establishment despised McGovern, including leaders of large unions and big-city political machines. Humphrey jumped into the election late to stop him, and when that did not work, party leaders tried to persuade congress delegates to choose someone else. McGovern won the nomination after a series of protracted battles – and delivered his acceptance speech at 3 in the morning when most television viewers slept. The end of the story is well-known: Nixon won 61 percent of the votes and 49 states in one of the biggest landslides in the election of all time.
There is a lesson here, and not the superficially obvious – namely, that Democrats should have I chose Muskie because McGovern was too far away to win a parliamentary election. In fact, neither Muskie nor McGovern understood their own political strengths and weaknesses or what the Democratic Party needed in this election year.
Muskie did not know that the Democrats, although they wanted to win, also desperately wanted a candidate they could believe McGovern was no match for Nixon's "dirty tricks" campaign, allowing his opponent to co-design the electoral narrative. McGovern was a dangerous radical one could not trust. He made much of his poorly tested runner, Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, who had a history of severe mental illness. Eagleton was removed from the map a few weeks after the Democratic Convention, a catastrophic gaffe likely to seal McGovern's fate. In the end, Nixon wiped him off the map, not because McGovern's political ideas were bad, but because he had lost control of his own story.
This is the true lesson of 1972 that Democrats must learn in 2020, regardless of whether they were or not. Select the modern version of Muskie (that would be Biden) or one of the two McGovern-style progressives in the race, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. (Or indeed someone else.)
If Biden wants to use this lesson, he should look for a recent column of a conservative Republican, believe it or not. John Podhoretz, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who recently observed in the New York Post that the press has "gone crazy," after a single poll showed Biden statistically even with Sanders and Warren after months of polls clearly showed Biden ahead.
Podhoretz continued to ridicule fans of Sanders, Warren and other less likely alternatives, but then made his point of view clear: "Joe Biden leads nationally with around 10 points in the survey average, lying in the four early states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – at the top. "Biden has kept these leads uninterrupted since at least April, concluded Podhoretz, and that's not the kind of drama reporters and editors they crave. "It's boring, but it's the story, the other stories are not stories, they're acts of desperate wish fulfillment."
I do not share Podhoretz's policy or his dismissive attitude towards the non-Biden candidates, but he's right About Two Important Things: If the status quo lasts until 2020, Biden is nominated, because in his story goes it is currently a candidate who is ready to win – not just the nomination, but also the defeat of Donald Trump next year. Most polls show that Biden trumps with substantial profit margins, usually with larger profit margins than any other big Democrat. It's the Ed Muskie strategy that could have ended in 1973 with a few minor historical changes with Muskie at the White House. That's what he has been able to do, and if he goes on like that he'll probably be our next president.
But the Muskie strategy has obvious pitfalls, and it's quite possible that Warren or Sanders will play the role of McGovern in this campaign. If one of them actually defeats Biden, the next task is to control the narrative and define her ambitious reform agenda as optimistic and urgently needed – as there is no doubt that Trump is using her as a "dangerous" experiment with "socialism". will represent. They will also have to attack Trump as corrupt, destructive and incompetent – exactly what the Democrats had to say about Nixon in 1972. After all, they must avoid the kind of stupid mistakes that can easily leave an insurgent candidate in the lurch. The Eagleton fiasco sank McGovern.
According to polls, the likelihood of Warren and Sanders trumping is lower than Biden's, but that's certainly not proof that they could not make it. Whoever becomes a Democratic candidate must learn the lessons of history. Joe Biden may be our next president as he learns from Ed Muskie's defeat. Warren or Sanders may be our next president as they learn from the defeat of George McGovern. Those who do not learn the lessons of history … well, you know how to do that.