At its most basic level, the 2020 Democratic primary process is about which one candidate distinguishes herself (or himself) as the person voters most trust to take on and beat President Donald Trump in November.
The one candidate. Because, obviously, you can’t nominate two people. That’s not the way it works.
Which brings me to the much-ballyhooed endorsement decision of The New York Times editorial board – announced at the end of “The Weekly,” a TV show that brings viewers behind the scenes of the paper.
On Sunday night, the Times announced it was endorsing Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts …
… and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
“The radical and the realist models warrant serious consideration,” wrote the Times by way of explanation. “If there were ever a time to be open to new ideas, it is now. If there were ever a time to seek stability, now is it. That’s why we’re endorsing the most effective advocates for each approach. They are Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.”
You can see the logic. Klobuchar represents pragmatic centrism, Warren liberal idealism. One represents the Democratic Party’s head, the other its beating heart. And the Times is right that there are major questions within the Democratic Party which of those two approaches is the right one to beat Trump and to turn the country around.
But an endorsement isn’t about effectively laying out the arguments within a party. It’s about choosing an argument – and a candidate who embodies that argument – and then explaining to readers why that argument is superior.
Which is unfortunate, because there’s lots to praise the Times for in all of this. They took what is usually a totally secret process and made it remarkably transparent – releasing not only videos of their conversations with each of the candidates but also the deliberations of the editorial board after the interviews.
And it was great! Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ candid admission that he is “not good at pleasantries” was a genuine moment of self-reflection in a candidate for national office. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s answer to the question of who has broken his heart – he said the deaths of young black men in his hometown of Newark – was hugely powerful and important (despite the fact that Booker dropped out of the race earlier this month.)
But the decision not to endorse a single candidate is what will be remembered here. Because when faced with the two competing visions within the Democratic Party to both beat Trump and lead the country, the Times decided not to choose. Which is, of course, a choice – and not a good one.