Here's the Other Ticket: Kasich and Rubio

Elephant statue painted red, white and blue
Elephant statue painted red, white and blue

Last week, I posted an argument that the best ticket for the Democrats would be Biden-Warren. It is certainly not my role as a Democrat to suggest a ticket to the Republicans. However, given the strong, skeptical reaction to my suggestion for the Democrats, particularly from those progressives supporting Bernie Sanders, I thought it might be useful to point out just how difficult this campaign is going to be for the Democrats.

The Republicans tend to field a big team in their primaries. This makes for a lot of humor and a lot of banter of the "Who are these guys?" sort. But we know two things about the Republican circus that passes for a primary campaign. First, candidates rise and fall as they grab public attention for one or two news cycles. Two, the likely outcome is that the Republicans will go with their strength. Their strength is a Kasich-Rubio ticket.

This is pretty much as good a ticket as any party could hope for. First, they represent Ohio and Florida: perhaps the two most important states in the presidential election. Losing either would be a tremendous blow to the Democrats. Second, they combine age and youth. Kasich is a very popular governor who has been in and out of Ohioan and national politics for more than thirty years. He is identified with the more "moderate" conservatives in the party. Rubio brings the promise of youth and a more radical vision of the future. Third, and equally important, Rubio puts a Latino on the ticket -- a first for either party. On the ticket, he could reverse at least some of the damage the other Republican primary candidates have been doing to the party's standing among Latinos. Needless to say, this is a critical group for a winning Democratic coalition.

One of the deep questions for the Democrats to address after the election is why the Republican field is so strong and the Democratic one so weak. This has to do with a well-funded and well-organized party structure. If the Republicans are the party of vested interests, then those interests know how to protect their long-term interests. They do politics 24-7 every year; they do it at the local, state, and national levels. Democrats too often seem to think that politics is something to do every four years, when a candidate will appear to "take on the establishment." That's romantic, and sometimes it works. But even when it works, it is hard to institutionalize.

If you really think that there is not much difference between the establishment figures of the two parties, then it may be easy to believe that politics is about picking your favorite candidate and giving him or her as much support as possible. But if you think that there is a substantial difference between the two parties, then the first question is not who would I like, but who can win. The downside risks are just too great to think otherwise.

Those risks begin with the Supreme Court, but they include military debacle abroad, financial deregulation at home, a less progressive tax code, and undermining social security and affordable health care. We can also expect no action on climate change but lots of action dismantling the right to choose. A Republican winner will probably have substantial coattails, continuing Republican control of the House and perhaps gaining a filibuster-proof Senate. Democrats should lay in bed at night worrying about these possibilities.

In short, this is not a time for Democrats to indulge romanticism in favor of high-risk candidates. Sanders and Clinton are both seriously risky candidates, wide open to the Republican onslaught. No one should confuse Sanders' doing well in New England and the Northwest with national success. It is true that there are a lot of angry voters out there, but what we know from electoral experience here and abroad is that successful angry populists tend to be from the right, not the left. Trump is mobilizing that group on the right; Sanders on the left. The Republicans know better than to go with Trump, but it is not clear what the Democrats know about Sanders.

As for Clinton, the stories and allegations feed into the perception that she sees herself as above the rules. The accusations are probably not fair, but there will not be much that is fair in this election. After all, central to the Republican strategy is disenfranchising as many minority voters as possible, and both parties will be relying upon dark money. Clinton already polls poorly on the issue of "trust." Republicans will relentlessly seek to make her seem even more untrustworthy. For that, one does not need facts, just a consistent story line.

In short, the Democrats are in trouble, while the Republican are doing very well. One would not know this if one pays attention only to the Republican circus and the Sanders crowds. But the structure of this electoral campaign is already pretty clear and the Democrats need to think tactically not about who would be best, but about who can win. I do not see a better alternative than Biden-Warren.