The way the Democratic primary season is unfolding, it looks more and more likely that unless his juggernaut is derailed, Sen. Bernie Sanders may snatch the nomination and doom the party to electoral defeat.
Maybe Democrats have forgotten that the last time they nominated a far-left candidate — George McGovern, in 1972 — he lost 49 states and got only a little more than one-third of the popular vote. It was one of the largest presidential landslides of all time.
No less a Democratic authority than James Carville — who helped engineer Bill Clinton’s dramatic win over George H.W. Bush in 1992 — has pointed out that Sanders isn’t a Democrat, but rather a socialist who doesn’t represent the Democratic party’s more moderate majority.
If the 2020 nominee isn’t from this more moderate wing of the party, which produced the Carter, Clinton and Obama presidencies, the party may again suffer a historic defeat. It may not be as bad as 1972, but it could be bad enough to cost Democrats the House of Representatives, where moderates who helped swing control of the House their way in 2018 could lose and tip it back to a Republican majority.
So who can come to the rescue? Mike Bloomberg. If his opponents can stop hyperventilating about him, they might see that Bloomberg could offer the party the most plausible path to unseating President Trump.
Yes, the former New York City mayor carries the scars of running one of America’s most challenging cities. But while stop-and-frisk and similar crime-fighting measures may be anathema to today’s left fringe, they undeniably helped dramatically reduce violent crime in the high-crime communities where they were in place. That helped save black lives, which matters.
With the benefit of hindsight, Bloomberg has offered mea culpas for the excesses of stop-and-frisk, but on balance, he made New York safer and more secure during his tenure as mayor, and that is a plus, not a minus, to most Americans. If Democrats today run away from a primary function of government — to provide public safety — they may lose a broad swath of the American electorate, for whom fear of crime isn’t an abstraction, but rather a harsh reality.
Let’s also remember that given the fact that America today is blessed with peace and prosperity — the economy is booming, jobs are plentiful, wages are growing and public confidence in the future is high — the 2020 election should be a slam-dunk for Trump. That it probably won’t be is a sad tribute to the president’s penchant for too often turning his guns on himself.
I dare say that if Trump had never posted a tweet or held any of his stream-of-consciousness news conferences, and had simply stuck firmly to the business at hand, given all that he’s accomplished — cutting taxes and regulations, securing our borders, strengthening our military while avoiding war — he’d be 10 points higher in the polls and well on his way to a second term if he’d just held his tongue while doing all these good things.
President Lyndon B. Johnson once said that sometimes a president “just has to hunker down like a jackrabbit in a hailstorm.” That’s sage advice for anyone holding the office, and often for those seeking it. But because Trump will always be Trump, he’ll probably make sure that the 2020 race runs close and fast right till the end.
And on the Democratic side, Bernie will always be Bernie, pushing ideas like Medicare for All even if most Americans don’t want it; a Green New Deal, even if most Americans can’t afford it; a take-from-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor platform even if most Americans don’t buy it.
Will someone emerge on the Democratic side to save the party from defeat, or will it be 1972 all over again? Democrats would be well advised to take a deeper look back at the millionaires like Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy who managed to bridge worthy ideas of social and economic justice with practical policies. Today that man may very well be Mike Bloomberg.
So I will venture a prediction: If Democrats give him the chance to carry their banner, we will see a truly historic race for the White House — not a lost cause, in which political purists get to take the party down to glorious defeat, but a race in which two tough fighters, Trump and Bloomberg, battle it out for America’s future.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.