With American democracy firmly under assault, Democrats need to stop their infighting and start thinking about putting together a winning ticket in 2020.
Current presidents have the not-insignificant power of incumbency, so Democrats closely watching every tick in the poll numbers and just assuming Trump will go down automatically are engaging in wishful thinking. Americans vote for people who inspire them – think Obama over McCain – or for people they hate less – think many men voting for Trump over Clinton. The Democrats will need to find the ticket of the moment: candidates who inspire, who reflect the party’s values and authentically articulate its beliefs, and who people don’t hate.
That’s why Franken-Harris would be the perfect ticket for 2020.
Why? First, for these purposes, we need to straight up IGNORE Russia, fake news, trolling, suspect exit poll data correlation to actual vote records, reports of bad voting machines, and anything else that takes away from the core question of: what did 2016 teach us about which ticket would win the most votes?
In 2016, again ignoring all of the above, Trump won in two key ways: midwestern white, suburban and mid-size town ‘independents’ broke strongly for him in three key states (and nearly a fourth, Minnesota, which Clinton won by an astonishingly low three points) and ultra-left, often minority voters turned out at very low levels in 2016 compared to 2012.
Importantly, this isn’t about blame. It’s just as much a fact that over 50 percent of white people voted Trump – electing him President – as it is that African American turnout was down 7-10 percent in the key states that decided the election from 2012 to 2016. Either difference would have been enough to change the result – Russia or no Russia.
So, this is all to say that the 2016 ticket needs to BOTH win back a significant cluster of midwestern white men, particularly those ages 40-70, in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota (just in case), AND get higher turnout from its most ardent demographic groups in order to pad their margins in the cities of crucial swing states.
Franken is the perfect choice for the first goal. Harris is the perfect goal for the second.
Al Franken – despite decades in New York – oozes a general Midwestern-ness that folks from that region – myself included – instantly recognize. He isn’t flashy, and he is funny in a self-deprecating, non-bombastic way that evokes That 70s Show far more than The Apprentice. He is the type of person millions of Midwesterners instantly like.
Equally important, he’s clean, and he evokes clean in a very midwestern way. He has been married to his wife, Franni, for decades, and freely admits they had challenging years, but a very happy marriage overall. He is wealthy, but hardly showy about it. He hasn’t had any scandals despite a decade as a senator and decades as a writer and comedian. He is famous – but in an almost unpretentious way that makes you forget he is famous.
He is also a midwestern liberal in the Minnesota mold. Midwestern progressives tend to be less vocal about it – less tweet prone you might say – but Franken absolutely has the bona fides. He’s been a progressive – on air and on record – for decades, dating back to SNL beginning in 1975 and his radio shows in the early 1990s. He was one of the first famous figures to really call out the radical right. He has the closest level of true progressive credibility to Bernie Sanders – but without the baggage.
Perhaps most importantly, almost nobody hates Al Franken. In American politics, this is crucial. Great American politicians that win multiple elections – Clinton, Reagan, Kennedy, FDR – have an affable, inherent likeability that they are born with and helps them in the voting booth. Failing politicians – Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, John Kerry, Al Gore, Walter Mondale – are often the opposite; they give off a distance, a statuesque iciness, that inspires many to dislike them at a visceral level and vote against them, even when they are the more qualified and better option. Whereas millions of Americans – rightly or not it can’t be denied – hated Hillary Clinton for decades dating back to 1992, and probably wouldn’t have voted her in office if hell froze over, almost no one will look at the themselves in the ballot box and think of Al Franken, “I hate that guy and won’t let him be president.” Rush Limbaugh, maybe, but not too many others.
Harris fulfils the crucial second function. The Democratic Party rightly represents an America moving forward, an America that values diversity and inclusion, and an America that wants to look after all of its demographic participants. The ticket should be multicultural and diverse. She is an incredible speaker – having heard her multiple times myself in person I can attest – and an inspiring, articulate figure who also has an inherent likeability, but with more of a steely polish than Franken. That too, in its way, is an asset.
I believe, based on her track record, background, oratorical gifts, and progressive integrity, that Harris can bring back Democratic turnout much closer to 2012 than 2016 levels. That will be needed to win in 2020.
Finally, why Franken at the top of the ticket instead of Harris? Simply put: because he’s central, she’s coastal. Democratic coastal candidates – Clinton (New York), Kerry (Massachusetts), Dukakis (Massachusetts) – are often easiest to paint as out of touch with the country and have been losers more often than not because it’s tough to turn suburban and rural Midwesterners on to people from – and reflective of – big cities. Obama, hailing from the Midwest, and Bill Clinton, from the South, both managed to escape this cariacature and win multiple elections. Plus, Harris is more than young enough to serve as a vibrant and energetic successor to the Presidency in 2028.
Franken is the steady, funny, midwestern progressive who can win back key swing votes in states lost in 2016. Harris is the rising star who will bring diversity, forward thinking, and activist energy and votes to the campaign. They are the right ticket for 2020.