Three weeks ago I was a typical, undecided, progressive, democratic, angst-filled citizen with a primary goal of ousting Trump, reversing his administration’s policy train wrecks, and ultimately implementing more progressive policies across the board during what I hope to be an 8-year span for the next Democratic president.

I worried that candidates on the left (Sanders, Warren, Yang) would fail to attract the necessary moderates and lose the election, while more moderate candidates (Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar) weren’t exactly sure-bets to win and far from the best candidates to accomplish the progressive policy agenda I seek. And I admit to ignoring the rich boys (Bloomberg, Steyer) in my assessment as I really don’t know what to think of their chances or their likely policies.

I nestled snugly into the interested but undecided “whoever wins the nomination will win my vote” group of citizens living outside early primary states, waiting for those early voters to winnow the field for me.

However, we’re likely to see a large crop of candidates still competing in the March 3rd Super Tuesday, and since my home state of Washington recently advanced its primary to Mar 10, I felt a bit more urgency to decide now.

If I were caucusing in Iowa next week, I challenged myself, how would I decide? What criteria should I use?

So I watched debates.  I read website policy statements.  I reviewed endorsements, fundraising totals, and talked to liberal and conservative friends.  I narrowed down to a short-list of Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren, yet still couldn’t decide.  Moderate or Liberal?  Old or Young?  Male or Female?  So I went to Iowa for a week to see retail politics with my own eyes.

And Iowa helped me a lot.

It hurt me too, I should add, since halfway through the trip while canvassing for one of my short-list candidates, I tumbled on an icy sidewalk, broke three ribs, and curtailed my political activities.

Yet the first four days of candidate/surrogate events coupled with loads of conversations with staffers from every campaign, volunteers for each candidate, activists at Drake University’s student union debate watch parties, and regular undecided Iowa folk met at gas stations, diners, and front doors, crystallized my thinking.

I’ll support the candidate who …

  1. can beat Trump;
  2. has demonstrated sound judgement, the core Presidential trait IMHO, over the years;
  3. and can accomplish my desired “Center-Left” policy agenda.

Who can beat Trump?

Who the hell knows?

No one can answer that with any certainty, partly because no one fully understands what got him elected in the first place (racism, anti-immigration, drain the swamp, disappearing jobs, anti-feminism, Bernie Bros, bad campaign, “change” …) and no one can predict what the key factors will be this coming November. Chasing the “electability” question is a fool’s errand. There is no slam dunk candidate, particularly when you’ve reached the top tier of Democratic candidates where viability distinctions are so minor.

So I resolved as long as a candidate demonstrates reasonable electability by raising substantive money from diverse sources, collecting endorsements, and staying in the race, they’d make my short list.  So I added Klobuchar.

What about “Judgment over the Years”?

No Executive, CEO or Chairman or President,  can be an expert in each area of the role’s responsibilities. What’s important is the person’s ability to “make the right calls” often with incomplete information and competing priorities.  Do they choose the right problems and prioritize them well?

No Executive can do it on their own.  Success depends on their ability to hire the right people in the right jobs to accomplish the goals of the administration.  Do they hire well?  Do they fire when required?  Do their people go on to bigger and better things?

Discerning a candidate’s judgement requires a substantial track record.  You can’t assess a decision until its full consequences are known.  And the more examples you have to consider, the more robust your evaluation can be.

My requirement for a substantial track record disqualifies Mayor Pete.  Sorry young Buttigieg, but the track record simply isn’t there for the most difficult and consequential job in America.  I’ve hired a lot of people into stretch jobs.  Going from Mayor of a small town (with 1,000 employees, a $380M budget, and 8,000 votes for election) to the Presidency (and its 4 million employees, $3.6T budget, and ~65M votes) is a stretch too far.  Maybe VP.  Maybe Governor of Indiana.  Another 10 years of executive experience at a higher level with opportunities to network and make less consequential mistakes will serve Pete and the country well.

My short list is back to four … all with similar career experience as Senators.  hose experience is primarily in the US Senate.  Four Senators, it turns out,  which isn’t the ideal role to demonstrate executive judgment, though Biden’s Vice Presidential tenure distinguishes him significantly from the three Senators.

What about a billionaire business guy who three times was elected Mayor of New York City and served 12 years?  Clearly Bloomberg demonstrates the required length of service in a variety of roles.

My short list is back to five.  Biden, Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren.

What are “Center-Left” policies and who can accomplish them?

A full definition of “Center-Left” policies requires more posts.  For this post’s purposes, it’s easiest to say policy prescriptions that fall between the “Left” and the “Moderates” of my short-list.  In most cases, my summary is Bernie and Liz go too far too fast, and Joe, Amy, Pete and Mike don’t go far enough too slowly.

No President can accomplish their exact campaign platform once in office.  Everything goes up against the art of the political compromise and the new crises of the day.  I think the best chance of accomplishing progressive change is staking a position to the left and compromising toward the center from there.  When we start at the middle, we end up Center-Right, and that’s not good enough.  So if I want Center-Left, and that requires starting from the left, that means I should support not a moderate candidate but a progressive one, leaving Sanders and Warren on my short-list.

My final decision will be revealed in my next post.

Until then, here’s my updated matrix for all my considered candidates.