Editor’s Note: Drew Westen is a professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University, and founder of Westen Strategies, a strategic messaging firm. He is author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation,” and is working on his next book, “What’s Left?” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
Like many Democrats, I viewed the possibility of Michael Bloomberg’s entry into the 2020 presidential race with deep skepticism.
But that changed. After weeks of impeachment hearings, voters learned that, as Russians were shooting at Ukrainians in a war that has killed up to 13,000 of their people, a quarter of them civilians, Trump was withholding military aid to the latter. They also learned he made its release contingent on the Ukrainian President publicly announcing an inquiry into potential “corruption” by Joe Biden and his son, as well as a probe into an unsubstantiated theory that Ukraine, rather than Russia, interfered in the US elections in 2016.
Despite the damning testimony of multiple witnesses, a CNN poll shows that the percentage of Americans who believe the President should be impeached and removed from office has not changed since mid-October.
Given the near-certainty that Senate Republicans will acquit Trump of any article of impeachment, no matter how well-substantiated, the only question many are asking now is which candidate can beat the President in 2020. And the Democratic presidential candidates are having problems of their own.
While two of the frontrunners have offered solutions to America’s healthcare problems that are realistic and would likely maintain the momentum that propelled the Democrats’ resounding victory in the 2018 midterm elections, the other two frontrunners have shot themselves in the foot on the issue, turning a strength into a serious liability in 2020.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden are offering “Medicare for all who want it,” a version of the “public option” that should have been included a decade ago in the Affordable Care Act in the first place. It would provide essential competition to private health insurance plans to keep their premiums and copays in check, and is politically popular.
In contrast, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposed what might be called “Medicare, take it or leave it,” which is unpopular, unrealistic and would never make it through Congress.
At the same time, as Democrats could be focusing on a core value that distinguishes them all from Trump – the expansion of freedom to all Americans, regardless of their color, gender or sexual orientation – Buttigieg now finds himself embroiled in similar charges of covert racism lodged earlier against Biden (although with Biden, those ultimately did not “stick”).
Trump will survive until November 2020. The question now is whether the Democrats will field a strong enough candidate to unseat him before 2024.
Personally, I am well to Bloomberg’s left. But if one of the candidates we’ve seen thus far does not emerge as a strong favorite to beat President Donald Trump by Super Tuesday, New York’s former mayor presents some formidable strengths.
Most importantly, when Americans consider them side by side, what becomes abundantly clear is that Bloomberg is everything Trump is not. And that would likely be apparent to those all-important suburban voters who used to vote reliably Republican but value competence and stability in a leader, whether a CEO or a President.
Trump is a failed businessman, born with a silver spoon, who has fought tooth and nail to hide whatever tarnish he imagines might be revealed in his finances.
Bloomberg, on the other hand, is a successful businessman and philanthropist, who built his fortune from the ground up.
Trump is an unsteady, unstable, erratic executive, who promised to run the government the way he runs his businesses, and has done as promised.
He is a bully, who likes to make people “deals” they can’t refuse. He shows no loyalty to those who work for him and has had trouble retaining senior management. He also can’t keep separate his personal business from the people’s, as demonstrated by his inability to understand why holding an international summit at his own resort would be a problem.
Bloomberg is a professional with a steady hand, who also governs as he runs his businesses. In his case, as mayor of the nation’s largest city, that meant efficiently, although the policies he pursued ranged from right to left.
And unlike Trump, he recognized the conflict of interest inherent in a businessman leading a polity and stepped down as CEO of his media companies when he became mayor, not resuming until he left office. How Bloomberg News covers politics when its founder is a presidential candidate remains to be seen, but the corporation understands the problem and is already setting policies to address the conflict of interest in light of his rather sudden announcement.
Would I prefer a more progressive president than Bloomberg? Absolutely. As with most Democrats outside New York, I have only fleeting impressions of him, and we all know how the last “America’s Mayor” worked out.
Bloomberg is clearly a centrist in an era of populism, in which the average American lives with insecurity while the few live with immense wealth and power. I would much prefer a matchup of a populist on the left against the faux populist president on the right.
But, no one questions Bloomberg’s progressive positions on gun violence, climate change and the freedom to decide when to start a family, or his willingness to put his personal money where his mouth is.
I share serious concerns about some of the policies Bloomberg instituted in New York, like “stop and frisk,” which disproportionately targeted people of color. And like many Americans, I know little about how he would address wealth inequality in the US, and whether, as one of its beneficiaries, he would use his independence from campaign donors to address the stranglehold of money on our political system.
But do I think our democracy can survive four more years of Trump?
The Constitution is a powerful document, but it can’t do anything from the shredder. At this point, if anyone can hold it together, I’d welcome a strong hand from the center if one does not emerge from the left.