The moderates’ dilemma

Can the Democrats nominate a presidential candidate that people in the center can support?

Writing in The New York Times on June 28, David Brooks, in a column, “Dems, Please Don’t Drive Me Away,” stated, “I COULD NEVER in a million years vote for Donald Trump. So my question to Democrats is: Will there be a candidate I can vote for?”

Brooks concludes his column as follows, “The debates illustrate the dilemma for moderate Democrats. If they take on progressives, they get squashed by the passionate intensity of the left. If they don’t, the party moves so far left that it can’t win in the fall.”

He added: “Right now we’ve got two parties trying to make moderates homeless.”

The debate in question was the Democratic two-day forum of 20 candidates on June 26 and 27. After viewing that extravaganza, endured by many (including this writer) in their entirety, candidates could be categorized in several groups.

The first category includes those who have no realistic chance to be elected president and, for some reason, are running nonetheless. Since it takes about $150 million to run, it is assumed many will drop out shortly. (Indeed, I was going to include California Congressman Eric Swalwell in this group, but he beat me to it and withdrew already.) The group includes former Congressman John Delaney, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Congressman Tim Ryan, author Marianne Williamson and businessman Andrew Yang.

While they may all be fine people, their realistic chances are zero and the “debates” did nothing to change their chances.

Another group, interestingly, is made up of distinguished officeholders or former officeholders who should be taken seriously. They are substantial individuals with serious ideas but, regrettably, probably won’t make it in this field with the costs and the tendency of the party to rush to the left, noted by Brooks.

These include former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who did well enough in the debates, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also scored some points, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Bennet and Hickenlooper, especially, are individuals of stature and thoughtfulness who would be reasonable candidates for vice president or a cabinet position, but apparently will not make it in the contest for the top spot. They also suffer the stigma of being relatively reasonable moderates.

Beto O’Rourke gets a category of his own. The subject of great press speculation, in the debate he appeared totally unready for prime time, somewhat lost and, at least in this writer’s opinion, disqualified himself from future consideration.

The final category includes the remaining candidates. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker gave a reasonably solid performance. California Sen. Kamala Harris got the most press and probably did herself the most good in the two-day exercise, notwithstanding the fact that she did so with a rather cheap shot at former Vice President Joe Biden regarding busing. Nevertheless, Harris enhanced her status and, given the resulting increase in donations and the number of nominating convention delegates from California, may have set herself up to be a very serious candidate. The South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, having nowhere to go from there, seems stuck as a popular but non-electable choice.

Elizabeth Warren continued her scholarly exposition of left-wing policies and seemed to eclipse Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in that regard. Sanders’ age was highlighted when he had trouble hearing the questions. Biden, while having a relatively weak performance, remains the front-runner and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar did a solid job trying to differentiate herself from the left wing.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, along with former Maryland Congressman John Delaney get a subcategory of their own in that they interrupted and filibustered until it became uncomfortable, trying to gain attention and microphone time. Gillibrand remains mired in the single digits and appears to be going nowhere, even in New Hampshire where she has visited over 50 times.

Going into the next set of debates, the real dilemma, especially for moderates who will not vote for President Trump, regardless of their party, is whether the Democrats will be smart enough to nominate a candidate for whom Americans from the center can vote.

This is a national dilemma which may turn into a national crisis.

Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He can be reached at

Categories: Cook on Concord