'Electability' Is a Protection Racket


Here is a poll of potential head-to-head matchups between Donald Trump and five of the top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, which shows all of them beating him soundly.

The point of highlighting this poll is not to make a statement about Trump’s chances at re-election—some polls showed Trump down to Hillary Clinton by double-digits as late as October 2016, and we’re still roughly a year-and-a-half away from the election. Nor is it a statement about who’s better positioned to take on Trump in a general election, because the truth is that I have no idea what the answer to that question is. No one does, because the concept of “electability” and what makes a candidate “electable” is mostly a fraud.

This argument should have been settled in 2016, when a former secretary of state, U.S. senator, and first lady lost a presidential election to a man with no political experience and who’d been a punchline for decades. But old habits die hard; for the Democrats, fealty to “electability” is practically part of the party’s DNA, dominating the party’s strategy in congressional recruitment and—for the most part—its presidential nominations for decades.

This belief in electability has become so internalized, in fact, that despite the plethora of polls we’ve seen showing basically all the top presidential candidates beating Trump in head-to-head matchups, other polls show that Democratic voters value nominating “the candidate most likely to beat Trump” over the candidate who most closely represents their values and positions.

This thinking doesn’t just dominate elections, but also policy. Elected Democrats and those who influence them spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how things like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free college, and impeachment poll. They don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how to move the public closer to those positions.

It seemingly doesn’t matter how many times this gets proven to be a load of bullshit, like when red state candidates who didn’t vote for Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court or whine about socialism in their campaign ads perform better than the ones who did, or when the party’s “safe” presidential candidates lose more often than they win. The myth persists anyway.

The truth is that electability is a lie sold to reinforce the conservative candidates who already have institutional support. Sure, you might not particularly like Joe Biden—who dropped out before the first primary in his first run for president, and quit the race after Iowa in his second run for president—but he’s the most electable, and so you should vote for him. You might not want every Democratic nominee in a swing district to aspire to join the Blue Dog Caucus and give anonymous quotes to the Hill about how Medicare for All will never work, but sorry—that’s the only kind of candidate who can win in that district, wherever it is. Not a fan of Joe Manchin? Too bad, because he’s the only kind of Democrat who can win in West Virginia, except when he isn’t.

Change happens when this kind of conventional wisdom is ignored, like when a black man with the middle name “Hussein” becomes the most popular president in decades, or when a self-described socialist independent gets 40 percent in a party primary against someone with immense resources, total establishment support, and universal name recognition. And as Trump proved in 2016, whoever wins a major party’s presidential nomination—especially over literal dozens of other candidates, as the eventual Democratic nominee will have to—has proven themselves to be capable of winning the whole damn thing.

So stop overthinking it. Vote for whoever the hell you want.

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