U.S. Democratic Primaries: Your Guide to Dinner Party Conversation

by on 18 December, 2014

It is a law of nature that any gathering of two or more politically active people in Australia will invariably turn to US politics and, irrespective of where we are in the political season, Presidential Primaries, so being conversant with what is going on is essential to all politicos.

But what if you want to hold your way in conversation, but don’t want to dedicate your life to researching every single little detail? What should you do when the question comes up?

The correct answer would be to say: “It’s way too early, are you insane for asking me this question?”

However, that doesn’t really cut it. What you need to do is have opinions – and strong ones at that. Even better is to have opinions that challenge the prevailing orthodoxy.

That’s why, once again, created the following crib notes guide to the US Primaries (starting with the Democrats), so you can confidentaly express an opinion, without knowing any of the facts.

Because really, this is politics, and who needs facts when you have a strong opinion?

Senator Hillary Clinton (Odds: 1:1.44)*

The conventional wisdom is that Hillary will run for the Democratic Primary, and will win.

However, stating the conventional wisdom is hardly interesting. One track you can take is to argue that she may not run. If you do this, don’t say it is because of her age (67) or scandals (such as Benghazi) rather, note how in her recent public appearances she has seemed tired, and lacking her usual energy, and speculate she may just not have what she takes to run. This will make it seem like you have been tracking her performance carefully.

If you do wish to argue she is running, however, don’t just repeat the conventional wisdom. Prove you know something others don’t. Mention how during the mid-terms Hillary embedded staff in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, and these are all early primary states. If pressed for an example, mention how a pro-Hillary PAC spent $22,000 on an “in-kind staff” donation for the South Carolina Democratic Party – particularly curious given how the South Carolina Senate election wasn’t even competitive! Admittedly, this wasn’t technically Senator Clinton herself, but is still rather telling, is it not?

Then argue she represents a more significant threat to the Republicans than they realise in the General: given the device nature of Senator Clinton, it is more than possible that the Republicans will overstretch in any campaign against her, costing them the election.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (Odds: 1:8)

The darling of the hard-left, Elizabeth Warren has said she isn’t running for President – or has she? Note her language – she says she isn’t running (present tence) but has consistently refused to rule out running for President (future tense). That alone will win you conversational brownie points.

Speculate on how given her strong support base, and the inevitable backing of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, who are desperate for a left-alternative to Hillary, might make it seem likely that Senator Warren will run, irrespective of what Hillary chooses to do.

But then note how Senator Warren not only has disavowed publicly a campaign urging her to run, but also, signed a secret letter urging Hillary to run, and mention how she simply doesn’t have the experienced campaign staff to run a primary campaign. If you wish to throw in a curve ball, you can throw in the “Fink Conspiracy” (so named after the covert US operative who first articulated it). Specifically, her support is currently a deliberate plan by the Hilary campaign to “suck up the ecological niche of the left on the democrats” and ensure no other viable challenger from the left emerges.

If she does run, articulate and passionate, and with a mastery of rhetoric, it is easy to see her popularity. However, her radical ideological positions, considerably to the left of what any mainstream Democratic candidate has run with in decades, make it difficult to see Senator Warren winning the primary, let alone the general. George McGovern, who also excited a passionate base with a grassroots campaign, is perhaps being her historical soulmate – and he lost the 1968 convention.

Vice-President Joe Biden (Odds 16:1)

This should only ever be brought up as a joke, with references to Biden’s numerous and repeated gaffes. Yes, Vice-President Biden certainly wants to run, however outside of the fantasy land he has constructed for himself, no-one else wants him to. Nor will let him.

Governor Martin O’Malley (Odds 30:1)

Governor O’Malley has been preparing to run for President his entire life. As governor of Maryland, his recent championing of progressive causes such as same-sex marriage, gun-control and immigration reform won him significant admiration among the progressive left, while his technocratic style of government and focus on ‘data-driven government’ has made him the favourite of many in the Beltway establishment, appealing to economic centerists and Democratic powerbrokers alike.

It is highly likely that Governor O’Malley will pose the biggest threat to Senator Clinton, were she to choose to run.

However, it is difficult to see a natural constituency for Governor O’Malley: with the ‘progressive’ vote almost inevitably captured by Elizabeth Warren, and numerous other candidates vying ofr the ‘centerist’ vote, it is difficult to see how he can differentiate himself. Up until the mid-terms, his track record as a ‘winner’, may have been it – but the disastrous showing of Democrats in Maryland, and his hand-picked successor for Governor losing the the Republicans, has dented this image considerably.

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel (Odds 1:40)

The ultimate insider, the Chicago politician with all the sleaze it conveys? No. Just no.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (Odds 1:38)

Governor Cuomo is rarely mentioned as a frontrunner, but is certainly worthy of discussion in any conversation.

Argue he won’t run if Hillary does – but what if she doesn’t? Would he run as the sound manager and economic centrist who will still get support from progressives for his social views?

As Governor, his staring down the unions to implement lay offs and pay freezes as well as restricting the tax code has won him considerable support from the hard-heads in the Democratic Establishment, while his support of gun-control and same-sex marriage would ensure he keeps the progressives on side. So your strong argument should be: Governor Cuomo is not to be discounted.

Senator Jim Webb (Odds 1:50)

If you want to be controversial, argue for Jim Webb.

If anyone could bring back the Blue Dog Democrats, it would be Jim Webb, who announced his Presidential Exploratory Committee in November.

This is a candidate who could surprise people – given his anti-immigration pro-gun conservative stances, and his military record, he could put in a strong showing with the the blue collar white mid-west and southerners who have recently flocked to the GOP.

While most see these views as toxic in the Democratic party, his anti-interventionist foreign policy is in line with the progressive left, and his extraordinary populist campaign on wall street and banks, while popular with the blue-collar vote, is also the progressive left and in line with the Occupy Wall Street sentiment and the elite popular with elements of blue-collar white Americans in the mid-west and south. While his support would primarily be from the conservative wing from the party, he might just have enough from progressives to make it over the line, and would pose a serious challenge to Republicans in the General Election.

While considered by most a longshot, particularly if Hillary does run, with legislative experience as a former Senator, and Executive Experience as a former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, Jim Webb could be the dark horse to watch.

And there you have it! Sally forth with the knowledge you will not only be able to hold up any dinner party conversation on US politics, but you will be able to emerge triumphant!

Republican version coming soon…

(*all odds taken from Betfair.com.au and accurate as of 18 December)

Tim Andrews is the Executive Director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, and worked in Washington DC from 2008-2012



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