George Will harshes Beto’s buzz

The skateboarding man-child.

The skateboarding man-child.

One of the more interesting things about this moment in our history is watching conservative pundits writing about Democrats who — they hope — would have the potential to beat Trump in 2020.

I’m not saying it’s remarkable that they want Trump gone. Any “conservative” who knows what the word means — and too few of those who use it constantly do — would want him out of office yesterday.

I mean it’s interesting because they bring attention to substantive potential candidates who actually might have a chance of winning a general election. Which these days is something of a novelty. Most of the writing about 2020 thus far has been about this week’s shiny new toy, rather than people someone other than a Democrat might vote for.

George Will has devoted several columns lately to elevating the profiles of people who he believes have what it takes. My mentioning Will will cause Doug and bud to bristle — a lot of what I write about does that. But as guys who appreciate numbers and hard facts more than my intuitive leaps, they should pay attention to Will. He’s just as avid a student of electoral stats as he is of the ones that apply to baseball.

His latest effort praises Sen. Amy Klobuchar. He breaks it down without sentimentality or wishful thinking:

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).

Minnesota has voted Democratic in 11 consecutive presidential elections (since it spurned George McGovern, from neighboring South Dakotain 1972). It has more electoral votes (10) than such swing states as New Hampshire (four), Iowa (six), Nevada (six) and Colorado (nine). But Minnesota’s blueness has been fading: Barack Obama defeatedMitt Romney by eight percentage points in 2012, but four years later, Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by just 1.5 points….

He also notes that she won election last year to a third term by a 24-point margin.

Of course, you know me — I prefer the pithy statement that touches on an essential truth. So my favorite line in the column was this: “In the Almanac of American Politics’ most recent (2015) vote rankings, she was the 27th-most-liberal senator, liberal enough to soothe other liberals without annoying everyone else.” Quite.

But if Will is a guilty pleasure for you, as he is for me, you might like his lede on this one, in which he dismisses one of the Democrats’ shiny new toys on the way to speaking of the more substantial Sen. Klobuchar:

Surely the silliest aspirant for the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nomination is already known: “ Beto ,” a. k.a. Robert Francis, O’Rourke is a skateboarding man-child whose fascination with himself caused him to live-stream a recent dental appointment for — open wide, please — teeth cleaning. His journal about his post-election recuperation-through-road-trip-to-nowhere-in-particular is so without wit or interesting observations that it merits Truman Capote’s description of “On the Road” author Jack Kerouac’s work: That’s not writing, that’s typing.

When Democrats are done flirting with such insipidity, their wandering attentions can flit to a contrastingly serious candidacy…

Ow. That is way harsh. But it hits home.

Anyway, after this, you should check out the respect Will lavishes upon John Delaney, Sherrod BrownCheri Bustos (not as a presidential hopeful, but as an example of what Dems should emulate if they want to win in general), and finally… drum roll… Elizabeth Warren.

Of Warren, he says “Democrats have found their Thatcher — if they dare.” You don’t get higher praise than that, coming from a conservative.

He’s been on something of a pragmatic roll lately…

38 thoughts on “George Will harshes Beto’s buzz

  1. Doug Ross

    Warren = Thatcher? Did you read the entire column? The majority of it ridiculed her and her hare brained ideas. She is big on bumper sticker statements without any semblance of how to execute on them. And she has a personality that just comes off as grating, school marmish, and shrill. It’s not going to play in most places. She’s like a grandma who constantly tells you to eat your vegetables. Plus she will never be able to drop the Indian anchor she hung around her own neck.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yeah, I read it, last week when it ran. And I know what you mean: It was different from the others I listed. But I threw it in just because it was yet another Dem he was writing about, in between the others I mentioned. And because it was interesting.

      Instead of stressing someone who would be good in the general, in this one Will was sort of daring Democrats, saying hey, if this is what you believe, this should be your girl.

      HE’S not going to agree with any of it. But he exhibits a grudging respect for her as a “conviction politician” like Thatcher, only from the opposite end of the spectrum. You get the impression that he’d like to see a debate over the things she believes in, because as he says, “serious politics should divide the polity by tugging its public arguments up from the superstitions and fetishes of identity politics, to the realm of ideas.”

      Something I don’t agree with, by the way. I prefer candidates who reject both Warren’s and Will’s ideology, and pull us together rather than pushing us apart. But of course I agree with him on the identity politics part.

      Anyway, I didn’t mean to confuse anyone by including that one; I just thought it was interesting. I think Will got up one morning thinking, “Damn, I’d like to see a good argument about these things.” But on other days recently he’s thinking more in terms of “Damn, I wish the Dems would nominate somebody who can beat Trump!”

      And as you suggest, those are not the same things…

  2. bud

    Not sure Democrats should listen to an arch conservative like George Will but nevertheless I like Amy Klobuchar very much. She comes across as smart, articulate and very much in command of both the facts and the room. She was great in the Kavanaugh hearings. She would be someone I could vote for rather than merely voting against Trump.

  3. Mr. Smith

    Will may have some interesting observations. But I’d caution that there are a number of potential blinders at work here that could mislead more than they reveal. These include the “stats blinder” – since all the conventional stats showed Hillary Clinton to be the best bet in 2016. Then there’s the “conservative blinder” – the assumption that the best Democratic candidates are the ones given the highest marks by conservatives like George Will. This is connected to the “SC blinder” – which has a view of the American political landscape that’s disproportionately skewed to the right. Barring any outrageously dramatic revelations or events, SC is in the Trump bag for 2020. So in handicapping the Democratic field, what appeals to voters here doesn’t reflect what appeals in many other parts of the country.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Re the “S.C. blinder”… I don’t expect the Dems to come up with someone who can win S.C., but oh, how wonderful if they could! That would definitely be the end of Trump.

      Let me propose a corollary to the New York axiom:

      Democrats, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

      In any case, I’m not looking for a Democrat who can win over the Republicans, and I don’t think Will is, either. The goal would be someone who could win back the folks who voted for Obama, then voted for Trump. That would get the job done…

        1. bud

          One thing is for sure …

          Here you go again. That’s an assertion, not a fact. I could just as easily assert that any Democrat who attempts to appeal to the old guard moderate wing of the party will for sure lose to Trump. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. I don’t think a Democrat can beat Trump without calling for some type of universal health care. But let’s not go for a 100% abolishen of ICE either.

      1. Mr. Smith

        “someone who could win back the folks who voted for Obama, then voted for Trump.”

        Thing is, many of them may have voted on the basis of the novelty of both candidates, as in:
        “Things has gotta change. He’s different. So I’ll give him a try.”

        In any case, it sounds like you’re looking for a candidate who’s inspiringly vanilla, a contradiction in terms.

  4. Karen Pearson

    I haven’t looked at the folks who are claiming to run yet, and won’t until we get close to the primary. Then I’ll see what they say about their plans on line. If they have something solid there, namely how they justify their ideas, and solid plans on how to implement them, I’ll consider voting for them. There is no point in pushing ideas that haven’t a prayer of being implemented, and I’m tired of campaign promises “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  5. Harry Harris

    I am still a Biden and Booker guy because I prefer experience and solid grounding over celebrity and recent splash.
    Warren does well, in my view, when she uses her expertise and nasty streak to call out the financial industry and work to rein-in their abuses. Beyond that, she loses me.
    O’rourke campaigns well and certainly calls on Americans to abandon their nastiness in favor of broad sharing of power, but he seems far too much of a newbie to handle the breadth of the presidency.
    Harris has a lot of seasoning to do both as a policy-maker or campaigner, though she has some skills.
    Sanders has courage, legislative savvy, administrative/leadership experience, and personal skills with legislators outside the public view, but his visions and priorities don’t match up well with what can be saleable or doable in a highly polarized atmosphere.
    Castro matches legislative and administrative experience with some good policy sense and the ability to explain his positions well in public without giving up nuance.
    I like the experience, policy knowledge, and personal skills of Biden coupled with the energy, experience, persistence, and downright personal grace Booker has shown for a long time Either or both would bring talented, experienced, and dedicated professionals back into an administration that they could lead in making change where needed without throwing a lot of babies out with the washwater. Both have the personal attributes needed to call Americans to a sense of community and sacrifice needed to bend our country away from the balkanized island of greed we’ve become. Too many of us are wanting “those people” to change or be quashed without any inkling of the self-examination needed to bring about our own adoption into the task of working for the betterment of us all. Maybe we need to transfer the proclamation of Amos to Israel to ourselves – but to read past those curses on the enemies on to the woes and prescriptions aimed at us who should know better.

    1. bud

      Harry that was very well written. My only quibble is with Biden. Yes he has much to offer with his experience and ability to connect with blue collar types. I’ve dealt with my concerns about Joe previously but one area that seems forgotten is his mishandling of the Clarence Thomas hearings. Not a good look in the Metoo era. One name you didn’t mention but to me seems very solid is Amy Klobuchar. She’s at a good age, 58 so that should not be a factor. She has 12 years in the senate and a solid career in a nonpartisan office, county attorney, before that so she won’t come across as either inexperienced or a career politician. Right now I’m leaning toward supporting her if she runs.

      1. Harry Harris

        I’d like a perfect candidate, also, but since I’ve decided not to run, I think I’ll have to settle for one with some flaws. I’m assuming by the reference to the MeToo era, you mean that looking backward it could be a bad optic since we were far from MeToo sentiment during the Thomas hearings. I’m sure Biden wanted to sink the Thomas nomination, but on judicial and policy merits instead of on personal behavior. I thought that way on Kavanaugh as well, but was put off by the choir boy persona that seemed at odds with his attestable boorish youngster past. I’m inclined to favor leaders who would give reasonable Republicans (when you can find one) a break, and Biden has that tendency – unite and debate, not namecall and divide. Yes, he gives super-rich people credit for having a soul and a conscience, but still asks them to pay-up. He admits that racially bigoted people have human concerns and feelings, but demands that they move beyond their damaging insensitivity for the betterment of us all.

        1. bud

          Harry I can’t really disagree with what you’re writing. Let’s just say I give more weight to Biden’s flaws than you do.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          I like the “since I’ve decided not to run” part.

          That’s why I assume no candidate is going to completely measure up to my standards, and DEFINITELY no candidate is going to agree with me on everything. My complete acceptance of that is related to the problem I have with parties: I just don’t see how a thinking person can by into a phenomenon that encourages them to act like they agree about everything with everyone on this or that team.

          As we all know, the perfect form of government is enlightened despotism, as long as I’m the despot…

          1. Harry Harris

            And since it’s widely known that Donald Trump is the MOST ENLIGHTENED President of all time, we have a pretty terrific – no, “beautiful” government now.
            The sicknesses of this President are so often displayed that I worry deeply about the good sense of our electorate. Shame on us collectively. As Bob Woodward said in an interview this morning, many of us (he was speaking of himself) didn’t do our job. Unfortunately too many are so dug-in that we are stuck with a political no-man’s-land between us that could yield gut-wrenching carnage.

            1. Doug Ross

              I’m not convinced the media didn’t do its job unless that job was to get outside their own bubble and realize Hillary was not the lock they all presumed she was. The amount of ridicule and scorn that was heaped upon Trump throughout the campaign surely would have crushed any other candidate in any other year against any other opponent. But they took the lazy route and wanted to be on the Hillary train when she won. Then she lost due mainly to her being an unattractive candidate, a lazy candidate, and because the electoral map favored someone like Trump.

              Now we’ve had two years of non-stop “This time he’s going down for sure” claims… and deflection of Hillary’s loss to sensationalized trivialities like Russian hacking or Twitter tweets of Facebook posts. Meanwhile, Trump, the supposed Manchurian Candidate and pawn of Putin has done nothing that has helped Putin… and Mueller has spent two years trying to prove SOMETHING happened. And if Trump had done even the smallest thing related to Putin and the country was at risk, surely Mueller would have come out by now to protect the country, wouldn’t he? Yeah, Trump surrounded himself with some shady characters during the campaign… on the shadiness scale, they are probably no worse than John Podesta or any other high level Democratic Party operative– just not as good as covering their tracks.

              Trump might lose in 2020. But the only way that will happen is if Democrats can find a candidate who is better than Hillary.

              1. bud

                I don’t buy this total acceptance than Hillary was so awful. Nothing in her political or personal resume supports that. This is merely a function of the incredibly effective far right smear machine that trashed her constantly for 20 years. ANY Democrat will be given the same treatment. But this is nothing new. Remember that bs that Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet nonesence? Or the filthy swift boat smear against John Kerry. Before that we had Willie Horton and Gary Hart’s Monkey Business (recently proven to be a Lee Atwater setup). All Republican BS. Yet somehow Ronald Reagan trades arms for hostages, inexplicably gets hundreds of marines killed in Lebanon, runs up gigantic budget deficits and to conservatives he’s some sort of god. What’s at work is simple. Politics is dirty business. And Republicans are just better and slinging mud and poop.

              2. Harry Harris

                There are several topics on which journalists didn’t dig deep enough, including Trump’s tax returns, some of his business dealings, and his shallow pronouncements and outright lies on issues (like taxation).
                I lay the loss squarely on Hillary, not on the campaign against her by the Russians, the NRA, or any other group. The bulk of her campaign focused on Trump’s failings – on which his core voters were giving him a pass already. She tried to out-slug him in a mud fight – a common mistake Democrats make. She didn’t make much of a positive case for where she would lead, and it cost us all. If I’d lost an election to Donald Trump, I would probably post-mortem try to find something to blame other than my own incompetence as a campaigner and my personal hubris and moral sloppiness. I’m not interested in re-running the election debate at all, but Trump’s ongoing behavior falls in line with the suspicions that the press lazied-out on during the campaign – likely because they didn’t think he could win anyway.
                Your attempts to equivalize Democratic failings with Trump’s and his campaign’s misdeeds are beneath your obvious brain power and likely belie your loyalty to your political wishes – even though you have pointed out several of Trump’s failings in the past.

                1. Doug Ross

                  The beauty of my political wishes is that they are not related to politics. They are about issues and ethics. That’s it. I wouldn’t vote for Trump any more than I would vote for Obama or Bush or Clinton.

                  I am putting my money and interest into Tulsi Gabbard for now. But if she doesn’t do well I could see myself voting for Sanders. I’ll take socialism if it means reducing our military presence around the world drastically. I will not vote for any of the others who have declared. No chance. I could even see myself voting for Trump over Warren because at least I know what Trump is at this point. Warren is worse than Hillary.

                2. bud

                  Warren is worse than Hillary.

                  Since Hillary was not at all bad that statement really is empty. I rate Warren among my top 3 at this point. We really need someone tough looking out for regular folks rather than the plutocrats.

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Man, I’ve got so many problems with the working press — problems of long standing (which is why I moved from news to editorial in 1994) — that I hate to be a reflexive defender.

                  But I have to ask, how did you expect reporters to “dig deep” on Trump’s tax returns, when there was nothing publicly available to dig into? Hack the IRS? People fail to realize that in the private sector, journalists’ ability to obtain information is EXTREMELY limited. They don’t have subpoena power or anything like that. All journalists know is what happens right in front of them, or what the government is required to disclose, or what they can persuade private individuals to tell or give them willingly.

                  This is WHY the media have been so successful in exposing problems in the public sector, which persuades far too many people today that the public sector is inherently corrupt and the private sector is wonderful. It’s because it’s extremely unusual for the private sector’s sins to come to light. It tends to take court proceedings to do that, and even then the outcomes are often shielded from public view…

                4. Brad Warthen Post author

                  “She didn’t make much of a positive case for where she would lead…”

                  The case for Hillary was this: She was a competent, qualified candidate, and after the conventions, the only person on the planet standing between us and Trump. That was it, and it was more than enough.

                  The case for Bush in 1988 was pretty much the same, without the Trump factor — he was a person who was eminently qualified to be president — possibly the best qualified, based on resume alone, since John Quincy Adams. Period.

                  And when the other candidate LACKS such qualifications, it’s more than enough.

                  I’m not a big believer in the “vision” thing. It’s nice if a candidate is inspiring as well as qualified. But neither Hillary nor Bush are/were inspiring people. But they were competent…

                5. Doug Ross

                  “Who are you and what have you done with my libertarian friend Doug?”

                  Libertarians are anti-war… I will never support a candidate who supports our current military policies.
                  I am for single payer medicine. And by the time a socialist becomes President, I will be retiring and no longer worried about them stealing 40% of my paycheck. I’m going to sit back and let other people’s money flow into my pockets for once after 45 years or working for others. That’s how socialism works, right?

                6. Brad Warthen Post author

                  You’re catching on.

                  Don’t let me forget to write about what it’s like to be on Medicare, which I have been since Oct. 1.

                  When that happened, I wanted to write a post headlined, “Never mind Medicare for all; I’ve got Medicare for ME!”

                  But I was too busy. Also, being flippant about healthcare might not have reflected well on the campaign.

                  The short version of what I’ll write is, there’s good and there’s bad to Medicare. The good is that when my wife had a ministroke and had to have multiple tests and a night in the hospital, the cost to us was pretty minimal. The bad? The first time I got my steroid asthma inhaler filled this year, I was told at the counter that that would be $398.53. Normally, it’s $47, which still makes it my most expensive medication.

                  After that, I needed some anti-conniption medicine…

                7. Doug Ross

                  Well, shouldn’t insurance be for the expensive medical events and not the ones that cost under $500?

                  Big Pharma has its hooks into enough Congressmen to ensure you will continue paying higher amounts for drugs. The things that COULD drive down prices like reducing patent duration, allowing prescriptions to be bought from foreign countries, and banning all print and media advertising for prescription drugs won’t happen. Can you imagine the big media companies giving up the advertising dollars for Viagra and any other drug? That would be the right thing to do.

              3. Brad Warthen Post author

                Who are these journalists who believed Hillary was “a lock?”

                I certainly didn’t, nor did anyone else with any sense. Hence my arguments with Bud and others about how grossly irresponsible it was to wish that Trump would get the GOP nomination.

                Once you’ve got a major-party nomination in a national election, you are very close to having a 50-50 chance of winning, no matter how big an idiot you are. All you need is for one or two things to break your way, and you’re in.

                I’m pretty sure I typed that a number of times in 2016…

                1. Doug Ross

                  Every talking head on MSNBC and CNN thought Trump had no chance.. As did every major political writer not named Anne Coulter. Even Nate Silver thinks he is a genius for saying Trump had a 30% chance.

                  They were wrong and can’t accept just how wrong they were.

                2. bud

                  You were wrong then and are still wrong. Trump gave the good guys the best chance to win the White House. Would we really be better off wit a President Cruz?

                3. bud

                  Doug, 30% is far different from “no chance”. Besides, let’s not ever forget who got the most votes.

                4. Doug Ross

                  She got the most votes that don’t matter in states with the highest concentration of people dependent on high taxes to redistribute money so they remain dependent on the government. Check out what’s happening with the state budget in New York. Overtaxed people are fleeing in droves.

  6. Burl Burlingame

    I like Amy Klobuchar very much too. In fact my ideal ticket would be Klobuchar and Sherrod Brown, in either seat.

  7. Phillip

    I’m not generally a George Will fan, but his takedown of Lindsay Graham a few weeks ago was delectable.

    There’s a lot of assumption that whoever the Democrats nominate will be running against Trump, but that may not be the case. Here’s my going-out-on-a-slight-limb prediction for 2020: the Mueller report comes out, somehow Trump tax info comes out, clear indications of indictable activity are there. However, Trump evades indictment as long as he is in office, GOP will not impeach, but polls understandably indicate that Trump’s chances of reelection getting dicier. Trump doesn’t want to be criminally charged after becoming private citizen, so he makes deal: Resigns presidency sometime 2020, either Pence or somebody else is GOP candidate in November, in any case between Nov 2020 and Jan 2021 Pence pardons Trump ahead of (and to cover) any possible criminal indictment.

    1. Phillip

      Or he could run and wait to see if he wins, if so, do this scenario sometime in second term, or if he loses, resign sometime between November and January so that Pence can pardon him.


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