BY SUSAN ESTRICH
Doesn’t have a chance?
When the public says they’re looking for that so-called generic Democrat whom they would overwhelmingly favor over President Donald Trump, they mean Michael Bennet. They just don’t know it yet.
In 2013, he was one of the “Gang of Eight” – four Democrats and four Republicans – who crafted a comprehensive immigration reform bill [including a path to citizenship] that won support in the Senate but couldn’t get a vote in the House.
He was the superintendent Denver’s public schools, credited with increasing enrollment, decreasing dropout rates, more kids’ going to college, engaging with the community and, in the words of The Denver Post, acting as “a force – pushing reforms and steering [the school system] to a culture of success.”
In any other year, he would be considered a progressive Democrat able to win in the states that don’t have first-in-the-nation caucuses.
He is pro-gay marriage. He supported ObamaCare and supports a public option – not the abolition of all private options. He co-sponsored the Dream Act, opposes open borders. Last January, he took on Ted Cruz on the Senate floor, in an impromptu speech that revealed Cruz’s hypocrisy. In his last election, Bennet received more votes than any other Democrat ever has in Colorado – over 30,000 more votes than Hillary and with more votes in rural counties than any other Democrat in statewide history.
His father is Christian. His mother is a Jewish survivor.
Can he win? Against Donald Trump? Yes.
Can he beat a crowd of socialists, spiritualists, serious academics, political newbies and oldies in a process dominated by people disappointed by Barack Obama? Imagine Trump twisting those words against them.
Only in processes dominated by minorities of minorities in multicandidate fields in which “blocs” the size of my neighborhood command the attention of the international press corps could it possibly make political sense to claim that Obama was too conservative.
The smoke-filled rooms were about picking winners. The cigar guys lost control in 1972. The guys who displaced them – guys like Gary Hart, Harold Ickes and Bill Clinton – weren’t in the business of picking winners – at least, not back then. I learned from the masters, all those years of battles to make sure insurgents would have a low enough threshold and a long enough window for activists to take fire – or set the party on course to go up in flames. Take your pick.
So the southern governors all move up their primaries, and who wins? Jesse Jackson. Who wins all those states in the fall? Ronald Reagan. The party creates superdelegates, spends two decades debating how many and who and then gives up on the whole thing. No one can really justify the outsize influence of Iowa and New Hampshire, but so long as the press comes, the candidates come, and vice versa. And no one cares whether the delegates get seated.
So what does a great candidate like Bennet do when he could beat Trump but is polling zip in Iowa? He does what insurgents have always done. Today, he is the insurgent, and Iowa is for insurgents. The liberal litany must be getting tiresome. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is too young, still. Iowa wants a grown-up, a man who has done things.
Move to Iowa, Mike. Go from town to town, dawn to dusk. Sign people up. Create an organization. When you’re not there, head to New Hampshire – back and forth. Send the family. Send people who know you. The rest of the candidates are locked up by the teachers unions. You get to speak for the kids and their parents. People there listen. They ask questions, take this business seriously. That’s why everyone pays attention.
So, be the insurgent. Take on the conventional fringe wisdom about what the party must be for and against. Have the courage to stand up for what still is the heart and soul of the Democratic Party: equality and justice, not open borders and the end of private insurance.
The thought of Trump defending Obama against the Democrat contenders’ attacks leaves me shaking my head. Someday, they will understand just how amazing a president Obama was – amazing enough that they actually thought it was easy. It isn’t. But it’s not impossible.
Michael Bennet for president. He could win, and for all the right reasons.