Canada’s Conservatives and the Democrats south of the border have two things in common, aside from being on the outside looking in.
First, both parties are lost, confused about their identity and unsure which way to turn find the path to power.
Second, both parties, although defeated, actually won the popular vote in their last elections – yet neither has any confidence that the leader they are about to choose will lead them to victory.
In Washington, Republican Donald Trump is the worst president in an elephant’s memory. He has been impeached and deserves to be removed from office, but he won’t be. Instead, he strengthens his grip by persuading gullible voters that those snivelling losers, the Democrats, have used the impeachment process in an unconstitutional effort to reverse the 2016 election result.
That Trump will the GOP candidate again is beyond doubt. The odds that he will be re-elected in November are probably better than 50-50.
Two dozen candidates have tried out for the Democratic ticket, but the more the field has shrunk, the weaker it looks. The top four in the opinion polls are all over the age of 70.
There’s a theory in Washington that it will take an old white man to defeat an old white man (Trump), and it seems widely assumed that a woman would be unelectable in 2020 (the Hillary Clinton nightmare being painfully fresh) and that white voters are not ready for another president of colour so soon after Barack Obama.
At any rate, the top four contenders are all white and three are males – the fourth being Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren who will be 71 by election day (making her the youngest of the big four).
The second oldest (and richest) is Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, who turns 78 next month. With a net worth of US$60.5 billion, Bloomberg thinks he can buy the White House by spending some of his pocket change on massive advertising blitzes (including a one-minute spot in yesterday’s Super Bowl telecast). It won’t work.
The oldest, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, will be 79 in September. He has a heart condition and a campaign style that fluctuates from rage to outrage. Although Sanders may be the real article – a politician who actually believes everything he says (or most of it) – too many Americans see him as a radical socialist. In Canada, he might be a moderate New Democrat; now there’s a party that would benefit from an injection of Sandersian passion.
If Warren is too female, Bloomberg too rich and Sanders too left, that leaves former vice-president Joe Biden, who will be 77 on election day. Although Biden may have lost a step or three since his days in the Obama White House, his familiarity and reassuring demeanour comes as a welcome respite from Trump’s histrionics. He is leading in most opinion polls for today’s Iowa caucuses, slightly ahead of Sanders.
Both Biden and Sanders are too old and, if Sanders is too radical for some Democrats, Biden is too conventional or unimaginative for others. There’s a quiet assumption that either would be a one-term president and that both would need a running mate who would not only balance the ticket and expand the party’s pool of accessible voters, but who would be demonstrably capable of stepping into the Oval Office at an instant’s notice.
For Vermont’s Sanders, it might be Amy Klobuchar, the moderately progressive senator from Minnesota, who has presented well in the pre-primary debates. For Biden, whose home state is Delaware, Kamala Harris, the Black junior senator from California and former state attorney general, could strengthen the ticket among liberals, women and visible minorities. She was impressive in the debates before poor poll numbers forced her out.
To return to Canada, Conservatives who are not smitten by Peter MacKay would surely welcome a leadership campaign as vigorous as the Democrats’. But it’s as though a political coronavirus is sweeping their leadership ranks. By last week, it had claimed Jean Charest, Rona Ambrose and Pierre Poilievre. Then it took out Michael Chang, the last faint hope of the endangered Red Tories.
Even a septuagenarian candidate or two would be welcome.