I’m for Cory Booker

Cory Booker, US Senator (D-NJ) talking criminal justice reform with Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)

It’s no secret Donald Trump is a terrible human being. I bowed out of supporting a Republican in 2016 once he became the presumptive GOP nominee because it was clear even then he would be, and is, wholly unfit to sit in the Oval Office. Events over the last three and half years haven’t exactly disproven that assessment.

I’ve voted Republican most of my life. I voted 3rd party for President in 2016. I have voted for Democrats rarely, and perhaps never for a major office in a competitive race. I’ll vote for Cory Booker in 2020, and campaign for him in the Idaho primary, absent a dramatic change in what we know today about the race for President.

Trump’s gross unfitness for office (and truly terrible hair) are one thing. But his descent into madness with the Ukraine scandal and his increasingly Apocalypse Now-like response to current events affirms he is an existential threat to the health our representative democracy. To say nothing of the outrageous choice to abandon our Kurdish allies in Syria…and whatever else comes next.

Set aside the issue of potential impeachment and removal; that process is filled with uncertainty and notably complicated by the proximity to the 2020 election itself. The (now largely spineless) GOP is not going to replace Trump on the ticket absent his actual removal from office…and even then, I have no interest in Trump Toady Mike Pence.

As comforting as voting for a 3rd party can be for one’s conscience, it is invariably a throwaway vote for President.

Thus, I’m in the rare personal position of seriously assessing the Democrats to choose from to get the crazy, orange, civically illiterate, strong man-appeasing, conspiracy-curious, Boomer-meme sharing, tariff loving, nut-job out of the White House. Among the Democratic poll leaders:

  • Elizabeth Warren is a more reserved, grandmotherly version of AOC’s policy agenda. I like AOC’s youth, working background, and social media savvy. She’s good for an often aged Congress in that respect. I don’t want the 70-year old equivalent of her in the White House.
  • Joe Biden is not what he once was. He has been wrong on a host of foreign policy issues in our time. I also have a bias against the very old (and potentially out-of-touch) serving in major office, let alone President. Pass.
  • Bernie Sanders is the crazy uncle who keeps get invited to family events. His socialist agenda lacks even the remotest semblance of political practicality and, like Biden, he’s too damn old.
  • Kamala Harris is a bit of a Marco Rubio (and I like Marco). An outstanding political athlete who hasn’t put it all together on the big stage. In NFL draft terms: the immensely talented but underdeveloped star in college you’re tempted to select high in the first round…but really shouldn’t. On the trail Harris has stated no clear reason for her campaign, has no sustained message, and her recent staff shake-up is full of red flags about organizational culture that do not speak well of her as a chief executive.
  • Pete Buttigieg is too young and inexperienced. I like how he talks, but much like Obama, the smoothness of his moderate-sounding rhetoric belies a policy agenda that is more liberal than I (and much of the country) want.

There’s almost no one else with a chance. Andrew Yang is eminently likable, but has all the hallmarks of an online, niche candidacy. It ain’t happening for POTUS. And Beto is a furry, as political Twitter knows. Google it.

Cory Booker though.

I like his personal story and the mission of his campaign, especially as a healing antidote to the era of Trump. His launch video articulated it well:

A person of Cory’s compassion, love, and empathy would be a valuable presence in the Oval Office after the insane, government by deranged narcissism and rage tweet we’ve now experienced.

I’m also down with some of the biggest issues Booker has led on during his career.

He was a big city education reformer, taking on the status quo to drive change where it was desperately needed:

As mayor of Newark, Booker didn’t have direct control over city schools, but he remained a relentless advocate for choice. During his tenure, the city closed numerous failing public schools and replaced them with charters. Today, about a third of Newark’s 50,000 students are in charters, and for the first time in decades Newark schools are starting to work on behalf of children, instead of adults.

Sadly, that record doesn’t sell well in a crowded Democratic primary for President so it falls down the list of campaign priorities:

…the ingredients of Newark’s education turnaround—the closing of bad schools, renegotiating teacher contracts to include merit pay, and expanding high-performing charter networks—are anathema to the Democratic primary voting base.

I’ve worked on education reform for a Republican in the U.S. Senate and for George W. Bush’s Department of Education. I still believe strongly in that mission, including to address systemic societal issues like generational income inequality as well as to support opportunities for more Americans as our global economy continues to evolve and demand new skills at a rapid pace.

Related: I’ve also seen some of the work done in a situation with similarities to Newark. In New Orleans, the head of the Recovery School District, John White, helped transform one of the worst urban school districts in the country into a successful one. Now White is driving similar reform at the state level in Louisiana. That’s real and meaningful work to make America better. Leadership on education matters. White would be a good choice for Secretary of Education for a future President, of either party, including a President Booker.

The second major issue I like Cory on is criminal justice reform. He has been a passionate advocate on the topic for years and been successful in driving bipartisan change. I’m down with a huge portion of his criminal justice agenda and firmly believe the First Step Act was just that, a first step. It’s where our country needs to go in the long, painful journey to have our society live up to the ideals expressed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

At the same time I like Booker’s take on those issues, I have deep objections to others. For example: his activist position on abortion is not my cup of tea. His platform on gun control is Constitutionally problematic and politically imprudent outside a Democratic primary. I expect I wouldn’t like many judges a President Booker would appoint.

Yet, such policy trade-offs are the political reality in the Age of Trump; to accept a candidate one disagrees with strongly on some issues in return for having human decency, sanity, and competence back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Booker is a man of character and grit. The documentary of his first (failed) run for Mayor of Newark, Street Fight, is an outstanding, Oscar-nominated political documentary and reveals much about him. He’s willing to stare down a tough political machine and fight for what he believes.

Another clincher for me in mulling this choice has been seeing the banter and bonhomie of Booker’s campaign team on Twitter. From campaign manager, Addisu Demissie (@asdem), on down, the staff give off the clear sense of happy warriors who are in politics for all the right reasons: a commitment to public service and a belief in making America better. It’s something I’ve learned from over 20+ years working in and around politics with people across the political spectrum; not only is being in politics for all the right reasons to be respected, it stands it stark contrast with the charlatans, clowns, and creepers, surrounding the odious Trump.

Count me in, Cory.

Footnote for the political geeks:

If you’re wondering how Booker can win given current polling putting him around ~3%, follow along.

To oversimplify Democratic primaries for President, you can break voters down into three groups: non-white, working class white (beer track), and upper class white (wine track). Winning candidates typically have to put together strong backing in at least 2 of the 3 to win. Al Gore beat Bill Bradley with the non-white and beer track vote. Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton by combining the non-white and wine tracks. Clinton in turn beat Sanders with the non-white and beer tracks.

In the current field, Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg are largely wine track candidates with respective weaknesses appealing outside that base. Biden is a coalitional candidate, pairing (more moderate) working class whites with the non-white vote for much of his time and strength as a front runner thus far. Harris is a coalitional candidate as well, but she gives off all indications of under-performing. Booker too is a coalitional candidate and has built a strong campaign infrastructure (similar to Warren). He’s poised to pop if he can get some real media attention and Biden fades.

There’s a real scenario where Warren wins or does well in both Iowa and New Hampshire, but then struggles in the minority-heavy voting states of Nevada and South Carolina. After that is Super Tuesday. A wine track candidate and a candidate earning strong non-white support, with both competing for the beer track for the ultimate win, is a highly plausible long-term Democratic primary scenario.

Warren is the most likely wine track candidate to emerge. If Biden falls (and his electability argument will collapse if he loses in Iowa and New Hampshire), Booker is a likely candidate to be in position to capitalize based on current race dynamics. Sanders and Buttigieg will hang around for quite a while because they have great fundraising bases, but betting on a final two between Warren and Booker is a perhaps surprisingly good wager.

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