Handicapping the 2020 Democratic Primary, Part Five: Updating the betting odds

The year 2016 is never going to end. While the Republican Party owns every level of government — from Congress, to the Senate, to and the White House — the Democratic Party remains in complete disarray. The same ideological battle that was fought between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Dem Primary continues on to this day, with no apparent end in sight, and will continue in 2020. 

The field of 2020 Democratic candidates is going to be enormous, potentially featuring from the jump as many as 15 or 20 warm bodies. In reality, though, the race will only involve two individuals: the establishment-backed, corporate-friendly candidate, and the Progressive candidate. No one else matters. The only questions are (1) who will be the establishment choice, and (2) who will be the Progressive choice?

Part One: Kamala Harris

Part Two: Joe Biden

Part Three: Bernie Sanders

Part Four: Beto O’Rourke

Below are the current odds to win the Democratic nomination, in order of likelihood, according to Bovada:

Kamala Harris: +300
Beto O'Rourke: +400
Joe Biden: +600
Bernie Sanders: +750
Amy Klobuchar: +900
Elizabeth Warren: +1000
Tulsi Gabbard: +1200
Kirsten Gillibrand: +1500
Cory Booker: +1600

Part Five: The Starting Gun

Welcome to horserace season! We are still over three months away from the first debate, and another 11-plus months before the New Hampshire primary, but nonetheless several candidates have announced their bid to represent the Democratic Party in the 2020 general election. Here we go.

As pure skill (or arbitrary luck) would have it, the four primer articles I wrote over the last nine months happen to showcase all of the top four favorites in the race. I began in July with California Senator Kamala Harris, the odds-on favorite (3-to-1), and ended in November with the second-favorite, Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke (4-to-1).

I know this is just a little blog on the Internet, and you already know where my political loyalties lie, but for purposes of full disclosure I’ll say that I have donated to the campaigns of both Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. 

There are nine candidates listed above, but they can be lumped into three groups. The first group are who I consider to be the moderates (Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden); the second group are who I consider to be the phony progressives (Harris, O’Rourke, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker); the final group are who I consider to be genuine progressives (Sanders, Gabbard and Elizabeth Warren).

The reason I think it’s important to put these candidates into groups is because, in spite of the fact that they are all running for the same party nomination, they don’t all represent the same policies or values. Conservative media have a habit of taking one sound bite from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — the furthest left representative at the moment in congress — and giving the impression that she is how all Democrats feel. Of course they are just lying to their audiences, time and again, successfully banking on scaring enough old people into voting against their own interests. A popular talking point — so much that in regular political conversations it’s passed over as an acceptable fact — is that the Democratic Party is moving left. In reality, though, party leadership hasn’t endorsed any of the popular social programs Bernie Sanders introduced in 2015. For supposedly being “liberal,” the Democrats ain’t too liberal.

Now, it is true that the American people are moving left. Just look at any poll regarding Medicare For All, The Green New Deal, the (lack of) support for endless wars, expanding Social Security, or raising the federal minimum wage. What you find are a couple things. The first is that the majority of Democrats in the House and Senate are not on board with some, most, or all of those things. The second is that a majority of both Democratic and Republican voters want all of those things. That’s why America isn’t really a democracy, and it can’t be so long as the will of the people gets squashed by big money interests.

The Moderates

So I’m calling Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden “moderates,” but for all intents and purposes they may as well be Republicans who are cool with abortion and same-sex marriage. At a CNN town hall, Klobuchar clearly defined her lane by saying she does not support Medicare For All or free public college, which right there ought to eliminate her from contention. Afterwards Don Lemon, who hosted the event, praised the Senator from Minnesota for having the courage to say no:

“When the young man said, ‘Hey, what about free college,’ she said ‘No, I‘m not for four-year free college.’ To have the nerve to say that on a four-year college campus really takes, you know, some gumption to be able to do that.”

Joe Biden is a bit more of a mystery, since we don’t quite know where he stands on specific policies, but I think if you follow some context clues it isn’t that difficult to imagine. A year ago while promoting his book, Biden said of the grievances of the younger generation “give me a break,” and “I have no empathy for it.” Well done, Joe! Another obvious tell with where Biden stands is that he was Vice President under Barack Obama, who did very little to help working class people.

The Phony Progressives

I already wrote about Kamala Harris, so if you wonder how lefties feel about her then that would be a good place to start. Since she announced her run for President, she has already backtracked on cutting private insurance companies out of Medicare For All, and lied about a policy she supported in 2008 “that led to undocumented minors who were arrested for suspected felonies being turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement before they had been convicted of crimes.” Kamala Harris: for (locking up) the people.

I also already wrote about Beto O’Rourke, so if you wonder how lefties feel about him then that would be a good place to start. If you just want the straight dope, and not 1,500 words from me breaking my back to give him a chance, then I’ll just leave that here:

  • Opposes Medicare for all (HR 676)
  • Opposes college for all (HR 1880)
  • Opposes taxing Wall St. transactions (HR 1144)
  • Voted three times to increase Trump’s military budget (HR 2810, 5515 & 6157)

But hey, have you seen how good looking he is!

Even if you are one to gloss over Beto’s record of taking the second-most donations from the fossil fuel industry in 2018, and argue that “He’s from Texas! What is he supposed to do!,” it still isn’t a good look for a candidate who is supposed to be fighting for meaningful climate change policy. And further, O’Rourke said he is “supportive of the concept” of a Green New Deal, which is basically just an admission that he doesn’t support it. (The Green New Deal is backed by 80% of registered voters, including 64% of Republicans, by the way.)

I count Gillibrand and Booker in the group of “phony progressives” largely because they exist, and are breathing. At 15-to-1 and 16-to-1, respectively, neither have any fucking chance of winning. They are essentially carbon copies of Harris and O’Rourke — sans the popularity — except that one happens to be a white woman (instead of a woman of color) and the other happens to be a black man (instead of a white guy). Bill Clinton… Barack Obama… Hillary Clinton… Kamala Harris… Beto O’Rourke… Kirsten Gillibrand… Cory Booker… they are all slight variations of the same thing.

What I mean is: They all prescribe to the ideology of triangulation. As a political strategy they campaign in the primaries as lefties; they claim to stand with the working class; they claim to stand with minorities, like people of color and the LGBT community; they claim to be in favor of universal healthcare, and putting more money in the pockets of ordinary people.

When they arrive in office, however, they govern like moderate Republicans. The only meaningful legislation they pass is always in lockstep with the GOP, specifically cutting taxes on the rich, gutting welfare programs, expanding the wars, and deregulating big industry. Right now we are in campaign season, so the phony progressives are going to preach the language of populism. They are going to pretend to be on the side of Medicare For All and (to some degree) free college and The Green New Deal. But just look at who they take money from. Look at how they have voted. That’ll tell you all you need to know.

The Genuine Progressives

Listen, it isn’t a secret that I’m all-in on Bernie Sanders, and the time is imminently approaching when I put in a fairly sizable bet on him to win the whole enchilada. Some odds worth considering (per Bovada):

  • Bernie to win the Democratic Primary (7.5-to-1)
  • Democratic Party to win in 2020 (-150)
  • Bernie to win the Presidency in 2020 (10-to-1)

Basically, Sanders is the 4th-favorite in the Dem Primary (behind Harris, O’Rourke and Biden), and the Democratic Party is a solid favorite to win the White House in 2020. At -150, it means you have to lay $150 to win $100. Conversely, to bet on the Trump to win you would earn $120 for every $100 you bet.

In short, whoever wins the Democratic Primary is probably going to win the Presidency. Donald Trump is historically unpopular, so it doesn’t take rocket science to figure he will again be an underdog. As such, if you are going to put in a bet on someone to win the Dem Primary, then you might as well pick them to win the whole thing. At 10-to-1, I can’t help but think Bernie is being undervalued, not only because he is the most popular politician in the country, but also with respect to how the rest of the candidates have basically hijacked his platform.

Elizabeth Warren is pretty good, too, even though she has kinda been wishy-washy about Medicare For All. In a recent interview with The Young Turks, Warren said “there are many ways to get to M4A,” which is pretty disheartening only because that’s the type of language usually reserved for phony progressives. In the O’Rourke article I wrote I mentioned how the buzz terms of “universal healthcare” and “access to quality healthcare” do not in any way equal Medicare For All. From where I sit, there aren’t “many ways” to a M4A system; there is only one way, and it involves eliminating completely the for-profit private insurance industry.

But Warren is solid. I know there’s the issue of her Native American heritage, but I couldn’t give a shit since she is mostly strong in terms of policy. She backs harsher regulations on Wall Street. She backs unions and raising the minimum wage. She’s down with free college. And something I find important: she came from a working class family in Oklahoma. She isn’t a career politician who got into it for the money, or because she came from money.

Tulsi Gabbard is pretty fucking unpopular with the establishment, largely due to her anti-interventionist foreign policy. As a veteran, as she has explained, Gabbard saw firsthand the misery of war — both for her fellow American soldiers and the citizens of the countries the United States have invaded.

I didn’t donate to Tulsi Gabbard strictly for policy reasons, even though I agree with her on 95% of the issues. More so, the Party and media establishments are extremely disinterested in hearing her anti-war voice on the debate stage. The more airtime she receives, and the more Gabbard talks about the trillions of dollars the U.S. spends on war that could be spent back home (on healthcare, education, et. al), the more ordinary Americans are going to like what she’s saying. The magic number to getting her on the debate stage is 65,000 individual contributions, so I decided to throw my drop in the bucket to help get her there.

How I’d Bet It

Here’s the deal: like I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this race only involves two people. If you are confident, as I am confident, that it will be a Progressive who wins, then you should get your money in either on Bernie (10-to-1), Warren (24-to-1), or Gabbard (40-to-1) to win it all. If you are confident in one of the establishment darlings, then you should get your money in either on Kamala Harris (5.5-to-1) or Beto O’Rourke (9-to-1). Again, if you are going to bet a particular Democrat to win the primary, then you might as well go in on them to beat Donald Trump (given that the Dem Party is a -150 favorite in 2020).

I don’t take into account names like Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand or Cory Booker — not to win, anyway — because they either aren’t progressive, or aren’t progressive enough. When it comes to the moderates and phony progressives, it’s hard to pinpoint many serious differences in policy, mainly when looking at who they have endorsed in previous primaries and the donors they’ve received money from to win their congressional and senatorial campaigns. For whatever reason, the establishment has decided to push Harris and O’Rourke more strongly than Gillibrand and Booker. (I tend to think it has to do with their relative lack of experience, and lack of voting history, since Gillibrand and Booker’s records have more baggage attached.)

When it comes to genuine progressives, I would be happy if any of them won. I think the troika of Sanders, Warren, and Gabbard is an infinitely better bet to fight for working class issues than any other individual in the field. And it’s because the progressive wing is where the momentum of the party is headed that I believe a progressive is best to put a bet on.

Warren and Gabbard are, in some ways, introducing themselves to the American public. They are on the right side of most issues, but ordinary people who don’t pay as much attention to politics aren’t necessarily going to have the time to hear them out on everything. It’s for that reason that I think Bernie is the progressive who will end up in the final two — and eventually win out — because he is the name brand. When you think of lefty politics in the United States, you see Bernie as the godfather.

Since most of the contenders have (at least publicly) endorsed healthcare for all, and not taking campaign donations from Super PACs, it’s obvious that they know what the American people want to hear. The problem is only a small collection were actually on board with these issues before they became popular. So the decision voters have to make is this: Are you more confident in one of the Johnny Come Lately’s to fight for these popular policies, or are you more confident that someone who has been fighting for these issues will continue to?

It isn’t brave to shit on millennials, or to tell a college kid that you don’t support free college (even though a majority of Americans are in favor of it). It isn’t brave to endorse Hillary Clinton, the overwhelming favorite in 2016, over Bernie Sanders, and then turn around in 2020 and run on the same platform as Sanders. What takes courage is endorsing the underdog even when it means paying a political price. What takes courage is pushing a progressive agenda even before it’s popular. It’s for these reasons that I see the phony progressives for what they are, and why I think a real progressive is the smartest bet in 2020.

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