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  • Gina Grahame

2020 is the Democrats race to lose; and they’re starting down that path

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

photo courtesy of

I’ve held off writing further about the Democratic field of presidential candidates until the field was whittle down from the original 24 to a reasonable level. Last night’s debate, the 3rd of the 2020 election cycle, has shown that we are there. The Top Tier candidates going into the debate: Biden, Bernie, Warren, Harris, and Buttigieg, are still the Top Tier coming out of the debate; the rest simply are not.

The Second-Tier candidates, and the headlines they generated during last night’s debate, were just bad; for themselves and for the Democratic Party. They acted as if they believe the best way to the nomination and to beat Trump is by being a more polished, liberal version of Trump.

  • Julian Castro’s implication that Joe Biden was going senile was not only a cheap shot but was also wrong on the facts of his attack. Making things up and acting in a way that’s beneath the dignity of the Presidency – hmm, sounds like something the current President does. And you can bank on Trump and the Republican’s seizing on Julian’s attack and will say ‘even Democrats think Biden has lost it.’

  • Beto O’Rourke’s ‘hell yes, we’re coming for your AR-15 and your AK-47!’ may have lit the liberal blogosphere on fire, but his inability to describe, in the post-debate interviews, just how that would work within our Constitutional framework plainly showed he’s not ready for leadership. If Beto didn’t think through the Constitutional challenges of implementing such a promise, then he’s foolish; if he did and said it anyway, then he's just as guilty of wanting to subvert the Constitution as Trump. And let’s not forget that Beto just gave the Republicans, Trump, and the NRA the #1 gift on their perennial wish list: the ability to say “Democrats want to take away your guns” and have video evidence of a presidential candidate to back it up. Face palm, Beto. Seriously.

  • Andrew Yang’s Oprah-esque moment of giving away $1,000 a month for one year, to ten people, came off as a desperate publicity stunt; an attempt to create headlines and be a follow-up viral video to the one of him crowd surfing. Gee, sounds a lot like something the current occupant of the Oval Office would do (with someone else’s money, of course).

As qualified as the Second tier candidates may be, the fact that months of country-crossing campaigning and three national debates haven’t moved their popularity needle is an indicator that it’s time to redirect their efforts to where they can do the most good for the country and the party: into house seats, senate seats, governorships, and supporting the eventual nominee.

For months I’ve been saying that ‘Warren-Buttigieg’ is the ticket, and nothing I’ve seen has given me reason to change my mind. Joe Biden, as strong willed and determined as he is, just has the look of someone who’s missed their moment. And Bernie is even more so. The visual and auditory differences between those two and Warren, Buttigieg, and Harris are blatantly obvious.

  • Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders just look and sound like people who's moment to lead have passed. The messages they preach are still true but they are better presented by Elizabeth Warren, the progressive firebrand, and Pete Buttigieg, the heartland moderate with an armed forces background.

  • Kamala Harris is certainly qualified, but her attempts at humor were feeble. And I just can't get past a tone in her voice that too often comes across as condescending.

What worries me most about last night’s debate were the constant references to themselves: “My plan will.. My plan saves… I did this when I was… I was the one that..” The need to self-promote is one thing, but the continual references to “my plan” came across as just a more polished version of Trump's “I alone can fix it”.

The truth is that none of candidate’s plans are ‘theirs’, or at least I hope not. I would hope they speak with military leaders and ambassadors about foreign policy, and with heath care providers, patients, consumer activists, and insurance experts on health care. In 2016 we elected someone who “listens to myself” and we all know where that’s gotten us: into trade wars that have devastated farmers, without a plan or goal line for winning.

We’re now distrusted or worse yet, dismissed, by alias who look to Germany and each other for leadership on global issues. And a revolving door of presidential advisors and “Acting Chief of ___” that looks more like a Fox News Alumni party than a world-shaping think tank.

Americans are once again ready to leave the delusion of the lone cowboy who rides in and saves the day all by himself, and get back to reality that we need leaders who are capable as well as inspirational. We were ready after George Bush, and we’re even more ready after the vacuous bravado of Donald Trump.

This is now Elizabeth Warren’s race to lose; and I’m afraid she’s inching down a path to make that happen. Here are my top 3 suggestions to her:

  1. Start pivoting toward a winning general election strategy. This isn’t a full-on 90-degree turn, but rather a gradual slant away from being a liberal Santa Claus and to a results-oriented world leader.

  2. Start talking like the front runner: continue to make the case against Trump rather than other Democratic candidates and start talking of how you’re actually going to implement. You’ve shown us the dream, now give us the how:

  • How are you going to get legislation written that is diametrically opposed to desires of the most influential lobbyists?

  • How are you going to get any of your designed legislation thru a divided and partisan congress?

  • What are your priorities: what specifically are you going to do in the first 100 days (ala FDR and Gingrich’s ‘Contract with America’)?

  • How are you going to overthrow the current health care system: a system that chewed through eighteen presidents, over nearly 100 years, before President Obama was able to get the Affordable Care Act thru in 2010?

3. You’re a college professor, act like one:

  • We’ve had three years of listening to a president talk like a 13-year-old giving a report on a book he didn’t read. We’re ready for an adult to tell us that, regardless of whether we like science or not, we need to do our homework.

  • Don’t be afraid to bust out a chart that explains how Americans will end up paying less out of pocket even thought their taxes will go up. You’ve tried explaining it dozens of times and people just aren’t buying it – even MSNBC hosts are unclear on the details! Remember, most Americans now have the attention span of a goldfish and are likely to be checking our social media while you’re talking, so channel Ross Perot a bit and spell it out for us.

As for Mayor Pete: as polished as he is, there’s just something coming thru says ‘too young to be atop the ticket’. But he’s perfect for Vice-President. And four years from now, when a then 74-year-old Elizabeth Warren is mulling a second term, he’ll be 42; right where JFK was in 1960.

Gina Grahame is Communications Coach at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, defacto trainer of Executive Presence at Google, and a political junkie from Macomb County, Michigan, now living in San Francisco.

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