With the Iowa Caucus now just two weeks away, The New York Times' editorial board has announced its endorsement, and in a break with convention has endorsed two competing candidates. According to its endorsement, the editorial board argues that there are at present "three sharply divergent visions of the future" for voters to choose from.
On one side is President Trump's "white nativism at home and America First unilateralism abroad, brazen corruption, escalating culture wars, a judiciary stacked with ideologues and the veneration of a mythological past where the hierarchy in American society was defined and unchallenged."
On the other side, however, there are two competing opposition visions, that "differ most significantly" not in "the what but the how, in whether they believe the country's institutions and norms are up to the challenge of the moment." . Hence the Times' somewhat surprising decision to endorse one representative of each - "the most effective advocates for each approach" - Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.
The Times deems both what it calls the "radical" and the "realist" models worthy of serious consideration. "If there were ever a time to be open to new ideas, it is now. If there were ever a time to seek stability, now is it."
I think the Times gets it right that there are two different visions currently competing to repeal and replace Trump. The problem is, of course, that we know that already, and part of the Democrats' (and the country's) problem is discerning which would be more effective. By endorsing one from each, the Times probably has not helped the debate move beyond that recognition to make the necessary choice. This is the current conundrum, which one suspects Iowa caucus-goers will still be struggling with right up to the last minute.
The Times endorsements appear problematic also because of whom they chose to represent each faction. The Times recognizes the pivotal part played by Bernie Sanders in articulating the radical case and how effectively that case matches the present moment, even while expressing concerns about "rigidity and overreach." The Times rightly recognizes Sanders' uncompromising rigidity and sees "little advantage to exchanging one over-promising divisive figure in Washington for another." Almost by default, therefore, the endorsement falls to Warren, Sanders' only serious competitor in the radical lane.
Fair enough, but the case for Warren as the party's nominee and possible next president is much harder to make than the case for Warren as the more desirable "standard-bearer for the Democratic left."
Turning to the party's more moderate candidates, there have obviously been many more candidates to choose from, many of whom have failed to ignite interest on the part of this year's potential voters.. A few have, but the Times seems surprisingly dismissive, for example, of Pete Buttigieg, whose youth and performance so far warrant from the Times a condescending "look forward to him working his way up." Andrew Yang is a less plausible candidate than Mayor Pete, but he still deserves better than the "hope he decides to get involved in New York politics." The treatment of Michael Bloomberg (whom the Times twice endorsed for NY Mayor) is more even-handed, if dismissive in the end. More problematic is the dismissal of Joe Biden, who is, after all, still the closest candidate (prior to any actual voting) to an apparent front-runner. Biden's age is a legitimate concern, but like Mayor Pete's position at the other end of the age spectrum, the Times seems to make more of it than necessary. More to the point is the observation that "merely restoring the status quo will not get America where it needs to go as a society," which is, I suspect, Biden's greatest weakness - but more as a possible president, than as a candidate.
All of which leads the Times to settle on Amy Klobuchar. My impression is that she has been under-appreciated by those polled thus far and probably deserves more consideration from the real voters when they start voting. The fact remains, however, that she has so far failed to move her candidacy forward. Iowa may change that, of course. But, if not, it is hard to see her unseating Joe Biden as the spokesman for the more electable wing of the party.
The dilemma - two weeks before Iowa and perhaps continuing all the way to Milwaukee - is that a Bidenesque "return to normalcy" is too limited a response to the crisis that caused Trump to be elected in the first place, but that the those who most vocally articulate the need for something more radical than a mere "return to normalcy" may be more flawed - both as possible presidents and as candidates - than their supporters are willing to recognize. If Biden had not insisted on running, the more moderate, electable lane might have been clearer and those competing in that lane might have been able to make more of an impression. But that is not the way this contentious campaign has played out.
Again Iowa could surprise us. Iowa could really shake things up. But, if not, then the actual options for Democratic primary voters will appear all that much more limited and The Times' set of endorsements less helpful than hoped.