Former Idaho Democratic congressmen Walt Minnick, Larry LaRocco and Richard Stallings are not on the front lines of this presidential campaign. But they have better thoughts about what it will take for a Democrat to win the White House than most of the candidates running.
The objective should be this: Nominate a candidate who can defeat President Trump. And, they say, democratic socialism (Medicare for all and free college education for all) and proposals such as the “Green New Deal” are not the answers.
“Democratic socialism is a prescription for defeat,” Minnick says bluntly. And he’s correct.
Here’s some other words of wisdom: Take a hike, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and take Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Kirsten Gillibrand (New York) with you. All three Idaho Democrats think Sanders, especially, would be a disaster as the party’s nominee.
“That would be the easiest way to re-elect Trump,” LaRocco said. “Sanders comes across as a cranky old guy who does not have solid proposals that can be paid for.”
Candidates may be appealing to their base with their “progressive” rhetoric, but the only way they get their agenda through is if Democrats maintain control of the House and gain more than a two-thirds majority in the Senate. The lowly Detroit Tigers have a better chance of going to the World Series than the Senate having that sort of an overhaul.
“The Democratic Party in Idaho has gone more to the left, but I’ve always been more in the middle lane and that’s where I’m going to stay, because I think that’s the winning strategy,” LaRocco says. “We should talk about the various issues, but I favor a more reasoned approach, such as extending Obamacare or expanding Medicare. But the radical ideas, such as upending the private insurance market, is just not going to fly.”
He makes a good point. Democratic voters, alone, cannot win the White House. At the moment, most of the candidates are doing nothing to sway Republicans (even those who dislike Trump) and they’re running independents off the cliff with their far-left agenda.
It doesn’t need to be this way, LaRocco says. Defeating Trump is doable.
“We have a strong economy and he can’t get out of the low 40s in polling. It shows that people are looking for a change. He’ll continue to have his rallies and play to his base, but that didn’t work so well for him in the mid-term elections,” LaRocco said. “We have to stop this Trump train because it’s not taking us in the right places nationally and internationally. I’m disgusted by this administration and its continued lies and distortions and playing to people’s fears.”
So, who’s the candidate that can win? Stallings, for now, is backing former Vice President Joe Biden.
“I know Joe well, and we worked together on a number of projects,” Stallings said. “He’s a straight shooter and an honest guy. His agenda is pure and, at this point, I’m supporting him. Does that mean I will be there in the end? I don’t know. I’d like to see somebody younger, but I’ll have to see how others perform.”
LaRocco says he has contributed to Biden, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
“I’m attracted to Mayor Pete’s style and ability to go after Trump, and define Trump,” LaRocco said.
Minnick thinks Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a former colleague in Congress, is worthy of consideration — and the kind of centrist candidate that would give Democrats a better chance to win in 2020.
“He’s focused on the big issue for our generation, climate change, and a brings a sensible, moderate and pragmatic approach,” Minnick said. “I served with him in Congress, and he is not highly partisan. I want a president who can work beyond party lines who can represent all Americans, which is the principal defect of the current president who I have very little respect for.”
Minnick acknowledges that Inslee is a longshot, but so were former Presidents Jimmy Carter (1976) and Bill Clinton (1992) at the early stages of their campaigns. “They were little-known governors of not-too-consequential southern states, and they went on to win it all,” Minnick noted.
It’s too early to guess how far Inslee will go, or even if he’ll be invited to the next debate. But Minnick has it right; a lot of developments can — and will — happen before the first primaries next year.
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Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.