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The Obvious Folly of a White Knight Convention Candidate

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I’d like to expand a bit on Paul’s bottom line conclusion with respect to this:

In recent weeks, Democrats have placed a steady stream of calls to Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who opted against running for president nearly a year ago, suggesting that he can emerge as a white knight nominee at a brokered convention — in part on the theory that he may carry his home state in a general election.

There are other white knights being floated as well.

Let’s start with Paul’s scenario of Sanders coming in with a solid plurality, something over 40% of pledged delegates and the runner-up not terribly close. It should be obvious that installing an alternative, whether another of the candidates or a white knight, would be extremely dumb:

  • Let’s say for the sake of argument that Sherrod Brown would, all things being equal, be a stronger general election candidate than Bernie Sanders. (We have no idea if that’s actually true, but it’s plausible.) It’s moot, because all things would not be equal! The idea that Brown, or any other candidate, installed by party elites to replace the strong plurality winner would be a stronger general election candidate is absolutely deranged. Whatever marginal gains that came from Brown’s midwestern appeal and his not calling his left-liberalism “socialism” would be drowned by many and perhaps most members of the party’s single largest faction seeing him as an illegitimate usurper. (And if you think Brown’s record as a strong pro-labor progressive would insulate him from the wrath of Sanders supporters, I invite you to google “Elizabeth Warren snake emoji.”) The same would be true of Michelle Obama or Kamala Harris or Zombie Bobby Kennedy or whoever.
  • Making Brown the white knight would actually be a compound stupidity, because it would also mean sacrificing a Senate seat for the foreseeable future if Brown won. This remains the dumbest idea ever on its face, and would be even worse in the context of party elites handing him the nomination as a poisoned chalice. It’s bad enough when hack op-ed columnists ignore the importance of the Senate; it’s even worse when party elites seem to think that a Democratic president not being able to get any judges confirmed or good legislation passed is no big deal.
  • And denying Bernie the nomination despite a strong plurality would have ramifications that extend far beyond 2020. After the white knight almost inevitably faceplants in November, the Democratic coalition as we know if would be basically over.

Don’t do this, is what I’m saying. Fortunately, people like Brown are not as dumb as panicky DNC insiders, and if Sanders comes in with a strong plurality I’m very confident he’ll get the nomination with very little trouble.

As for the scenario where two or three candidates are really close and none approaches 40%, well, there’s no such thing as a good outcome. It’s frankly grossly irresponsible that party elites have left the possibility of a primary process that doesn’t produce anything like a clear winner lying around like a loaded weapon. Whatever one thinks of the merits of voter or party control of the process in the abstract, to have a process that implicitly promises a democratic choice and then makes a bait-and-switch to an elite choice has a roughly o% chance of producing a nominee who is considered broadly legitimate throughout the party. I think this is unlikely, but it’s not impossible, and it would be the disastrous product of a badly designed process.

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