The Sanders-Warren Gambit: Game Over for Corporate Democrats
UPDATE JAN. 24 2019: Elizabeth Warren's proposed wealth tax makes it pretty obvious that no other candidate is as closely aligned with Bernie's views as Warren is.
No matter how much warm-cuddly progressives get from Biden, Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, and O'Roarke, none of them has the credibility or gumption to propose a wealth tax on the super-wealthy.
And no matter what the corporate media says, Warren's wealth tax won't bring down the Republic. If anything, it's far too tame:
90% of the ultra-wealthy will pay nothing.
The top 0.1 percent will pay 3.2 percent of their wealth in taxes in 2019, and the wealth tax proposal would only increase that to 4.3 percent.
The bottom 99 percent pays about 7.2 percent of their wealth in taxes, because they lack savings and rely heavily on labor income.
An annual tax on wealth already exists in several countries around the world, including Spain and Norway.
But Warren proposed it, and Sanders and Warren would fight for it.
The Democratic Party is preparing to re-ignite 2016's civil war between its Progressive and the Neoliberal-Corporatist wings, but here is a better idea:
Sanders and Warren should pledge in advance to choose each other as running mates should either win the nomination, and also pledge to direct their convention delegates to vote at the convention for whichever of the two wins the most delegates, in exchange for being selected as VP, in order to ensure that one of them wins.
This gambit will almost certainly lead to a Warren/Sanders ticket or a Sanders/Warren ticket emerging from the Democratic Convention.
I will explain why this is so, and why this is a good idea for Democrats in general and for progressives in particular, as well as for the candidates themselves -- plus, why no other candidates could survive a Warren-Sanders Gambit.
Tough Act to Beat
The key to success in 2020 will be to speak credibly against the Democratic Establishment and against the Economic Establishment, and nobody does that better than Bernie (as an Independent) and Warren (as a fierce opponent of bank fraud).
The Warren/Sanders joint campaign will be a formidable thing in the primaries. First, their combined star-power and fundraising abilities would dwarf even that of the former VP Biden. They will command the lion's share of both media attention and small donations.
And because the two will essentially be campaigning together, even while they are in different parts of the country, they will have double the ability to connect with voters and get their message across compared to any candidate going it alone.
Candidates with significantly less fundraising ability and name recognition could not begin to compete. Even candidates who could plausibly defeat either Warren or Sanders would find it nearly impossible to beat both candidates combined -- which their delegates will be when it counts.
And thus those other campaigns will mostly be about building name recognition -- which is perfectly legitimate -- and perhaps eventually bartering their support to Bernie or Elizabeth in exchange for an appointment in the administration.
Moreover, once it becomes apparent that no other candidate, or combination of candidates, is likely to beat Sanders/Warren, Democratic voters will most likely feel that their best way of making a difference is to choose who tops the inevitable ticket, rather than betting on a dark horse. That calculation by voters will in turn further build the Sanders/Warren combined delegate count.
The Most Progressive Combination Is Also The Most Powerful
Bernie is obviously the most progressive candidate in the field, and Warren is among the more progressive of the rest. So Sanders/Warren is at the high end of what progressives could reasonably hope for.
But Sanders/Warren is also the most plausible and powerful combination to win and to govern.
Both Sanders and Warren are US Senators who have won re-election. Both have had high-profile positions in public life for a long time, in multiple roles. Both are exceedingly smart. And both have shown unique courage and effectiveness in attacking the financial industry and other corporate powers that pillage our economy.
It's not enough to be able to make good speeches. Effective leaders need to be able to challenge the powerful to their faces the way we have seen both Bernie do and Elizabeth do repeatedly in contentious committee hearings.
Experience Matters -- Not Just Any Progressive Will Do
Bernie is right that judgment matters more than credentials, but it is nonetheless important to have ENOUGH experience to be able to effectively challenge the economic titans that have taken control of our government.
All the money in the world will be brought to bear against anyone who seriously tries to unrig our economy. Franklin Roosevelt faced an attempted coup.
Good intentions aren't enough -- we need a President with demonstrated strength of character and the will to bring down the mighty. Sanders and Warren both bring that to the table, and no one else comes close.
Progressives rage at Republicans for nominating Trump, who has no experience in government, but in truth many Progressives would quickly do the same thing from the left. Progressives can be equally ignorant and naive about the daunting array of skills required to manage the operations of a global superpower, They are easily enthralled by young, charismatic, state legislators with no federal experience. They even say "Oprah" with a straight face.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is likely to be one of the great politicians of her generation, but give her a few years to learn the ropes -- it's not an easy job. Tulsi is admirably courageous, and she is due for a promotion, but she is not nearly as seasoned as Bernie and Elizabeth.
First, Do No Harm
A crowded, energetic primary will be a good thing for Democrats, but progressives need a way to unify their efforts and avoid:
(1) personal attacks that improperly sow doubts about the integrity of progressive candidates, and
(2) policy attacks that deceptively overstate the differences between similar candidates.
But in addition to preventing a damaging primary, we also need to prepare for the progressive pandering we have seen in the past when corporatists claim to be "progressives who like to get things done" during the primary season, but who will heel to their corporate donors and betray labor, the environment, and consumer protection once they have secured the nomination.
Biden, Beto, Booker lack real progressive credentials, and arguably so do Gillibrand, Harris, and Klobuchar. But the same is true of really anyone closely tied to the Democratic Establishment.
Progressives rightly condemn Warren for not endorsing Sanders early, but she also distinguished herself by not endorsing Clinton early. Warren is on our side.
Campaigning together, Warren and Sanders can highlight their legitimate policy differences without attacking their respective running mates, and they can both embrace a popular platform that distinguishes them from the candidates who are compromised by corporate entanglements.
All Bernie had to do in 2016 to reveal the strings held by Hillary Clinton's corporate puppeteers was to propose a $15 minimum wage. Clinton's arbitrary commitment to $12 revealed that her true agenda was to put the brakes on progressive change, not to drive it. The same will become apparent in 2020 when corporate Democrats react to a platform embraced by both Sanders and Warren.
So Who Gets To Be President?
I can't guess whether Bernie or Elizabeth would end up on top. Obviously Bernie has already gathered a large and loyal following among young voters, independents, and progressive activists. But Warren has her own star power, and for many democrats having a woman President will be an overriding consideration. Plus, as much as the financial industry fears Elizabeth, they probably fear Bernie even more.
But whichever way it ends up will be a win for both Sanders and Warren.
If Sanders is President, Warren gets a big promotion to VP, and will be next in line to be President.
If Warren is President, Sanders gets to be at the big table for all the major decisions, has a bigger platform than ever, and still gets to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate.
The Empire Strikes Back
The corporate wing would likely react to a Sanders/Warren candidacy by building its own coalition.
Although people talk about Biden/Beto, an all-white-male ticket is probably DOA in the Democratic primaries. Moreover, although Beto's relatively conservative voting record works great in Texas, it's not right for a Democratic Presidential Primary, which has consistently favored more progressive candidates, like Mondale, Dukakis, and John Kerry -- and Obama, to the extent that Obama was understood (perhaps incorrectly) to be a more progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton. Also, Beto can't deliver Texas, so he doesn't help in the electoral college, either.
Biden/Harris would make more sense than Biden/Beto, but Harris isn't yet playing in the same league as Warren or Sanders, so the combination would not be enough to win. Same with Biden/Klobuchar and Biden/Gillibrand.
My guess is that Bernie will wait to declare his candidacy until after Joe Biden declares, which will mute age-related attacks (Pelosi, Bernie, and Biden are 78, 77, and 76 years old respectively).
Then hopefully Warren and Sanders will join forces early to dominate the debates in 2019-2020 just as Clinton and Sanders dominated the debates in 2015-2016, even though there were other Democrats on the stage (Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chaffee, and Jim Webb).
Why Should Berniecrats Help Warren?
Bernie-or-Bust progressives and Democratic Socialists are right to be suspicious of Warren's expressed affection for markets and capitalism. Warren's progressive credentials are shallow compared to Bernie's, and they don't necessarily reach far outside the financial industry.
Those are good reasons to favor Bernie at the top of the ticket.
And Bernie has demonstrated strength among Republicans and Trump-Independents, which Warren has not, which is another reason to favor Bernie at the top of the ticket.
But governance is about shared power, and there is no ready army of independent Democratic Socialists with national stature who are going to transform government in America in 2020. Instead, even if Bernie were President, he would still be surrounded by Democrats and working through the Democratic Party.
That's why I suspect that the actual political outcomes of a Sanders/Warren administration wouldn't be that different from a Warren/Sanders administration, especially if both candidates are responsible about planning for power-sharing, which they would be.
Therefore, progressives should embrace a joint campaign as the best way to achieve the most wins in the least time.
And if primary voters put Warren at the top instead of Sanders, it won't be the worst thing for die-hard Bernie fans.
And it will be a much better thing than if Sanders remains in the Senate while Democratic centrists continue the long tradition of appeasing the Financial Services industry in particular and corporate power generally in the executive branch.
If Sanders and Warren join forces, they will be have the most energetic and well-funded presidential campaign in history. They will be unassailable in the primaries, and they will powerfully depose the corrupt Republicans on election day with unprecedented turnout.
And then on inauguration day, they will be uniquely qualified to begin the even more difficult work of rebuilding our country and reversing the effects of the Trump/Republican fiasco.