'Electability' Is a Terrible Reason to Pick a Candidate

The best option for Democratic primary voters is to research the candidates' positions and records, and pick the one they think is best. (Photo: Illustrated | Scott Olson/Getty Images, slavadubrovin/iStock, jessicahyde/iStock)

'Electability' Is a Terrible Reason to Pick a Candidate

Being timid and going with the "safe" choice backfired horribly in 2016

Many Democrats and liberals are fixated on one question regarding the 2020 primary: Who can beat Donald Trump? Dave Weigel reports that even some Democratic women are leaning towards Joe Biden because the 2016 election apparently proved a female candidate can't win. "[T]he likelihood of defeating Donald Trump is to me overwhelmingly the most important factor in choosing a candidate - factors one through three, really one through 300. The key is just figuring out who that person is," writes Josh Marshall.

But this is an impossible task, and therefore a bad thing to prioritize. Rather than trying to guess who might appeal to people who are not loyal Democrats, better to simply pick a candidate you actually like.

The election of Donald Trump ought to have put paid to the idea that anybody knows anything about who can win. The man was a reality TV show host, credibly accused of multiple instances of sexual assault, patently corrupt to his back teeth, and had no political experience whatsoever. Surely this guy can't win, right? For the whole campaign, political commentators were openly contemptuous of the idea that he could win either the primary or the general election. All the election data shops predicted that Clinton would win easily. But nope!

The political details of any country are far too complicated and uncertain to be able to predict with any kind of consistent confidence. You've got to consider whether a candidate will be able to organize an effective national campaign, how he or she will perform in speeches and debates, whether some hidden dirty laundry might come up, what might happen to the economy, whether there will be some disaster and how that might play, and about 50 other factors.

To be sure, sometimes it is possible, like the second round of the recent French presidential election where Emmanuel Macron had a consistent 30-point polling lead and went on to crush the far-right Marine Le Pen. But that kind of gigantic difference is fairly rare -- in the first round of the French election, a swap of just 1 percentage point could have meant Macron facing Jean-Luc Melenchon or Francois Fillion, which would have turned out very differently.

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