See if any of this sounds familiar:
He’s a biracial community organizer, working for civil rights and social justice. Check.
He spent his boyhood in a place with an African-American population of 0.55 percent and more famous for golf courses and whale watching than urban unrest. Check.
He’s a graduate of Columbia University, where his consciousness was raised inside and outside the classroom. Check.
He builds diverse coalitions to hold government officials accountable and bring about change. Check.
Who is this Obamaesque activist who sounds like every progressive’s idea of the perfect political candidate?
He’s Ben Jealous, former contentious CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, now the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor of Maryland.
And he’s about to get his ass kicked.
What makes us so sure?
Because the same thing happened in the 2014 Maryland governor’s race. That’s when current Republican Governor Larry Hogan defeated another Obamaesque Democrat, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.
But there’s more to it than that. Hogan’s upset victory then and his all-but-certain reelection this November can both be seen as precursors of back-to-back White House wins for Donald Trump.
Now, there’s no telling who Trump’s Democratic opponent will be two years from now—although it’s a safe bet it will not be a white male. In fact, the Democratic Party, as currently constituted, will probably never again nominate another white male to run for the presidency.
According to the experts, Maryland in 2014 was supposed to elect its first black governor. A Harvard graduate and retired Army colonel, Brown, who is biracial, had momentum and money, and he was running in a state where Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans. One-third of Maryland’s population is African-American, while Baltimore and the state’s second most populous county (Prince George’s bordering Washington, D.C) have substantial black majorities.
So how did Brown lose to a political nobody by 65,000 votes when all the polls predicted an easy win?
He lost the same way Hillary Clinton did in her 2016 bid to advance the idea that the sex and/or race of a candidate is more important to voters than the things for which the candidate stands.
Larry Hogan and Donald Trump proved just the opposite is true.
They campaigned on reducing taxes, increasing jobs, and bringing back businesses. Hogan wanted them back from Delaware and Virginia; Trump focused on Mexico and China.
At the same time, Trump stayed away from over-emphasis on cultural issues, and Hogan disavowed any Republican positions that might scare off crossover Democrats.
Today, the popular Maryland governor is not anti-Trump so much as risk averse when it comes to agreeing with him. You don’t have to subscribe to any particular view of Trump to see how that’s smart politics in a deep-blue state like Maryland.
Neither Trump nor Hogan in their campaigns depended on TV advertising. Hogan didn’t have the money, and Trump wasn’t going to waste his on ads people may not see. They used social media to get out their messages; Trump tweeted, Hogan took to Facebook. That freed them from fundraising, leaving more time for the campaign trail, where they outworked their opponents.
Finally, Hogan and Trump had been around politics before, but never won an election. Yet with backgrounds in real estate both know how to sell.
They ran smart, aggressive campaigns with effective slogans—“Change Maryland” and “Make America Great Again”—that were about big ideas, not so much about them. Also, it helped that they ran against lackluster candidates who were supposed to win because of their sexual or racial identity.
It’s obvious that Maryland Democrats have learned nothing since Barack Obama set out fundamentally to transform the United States.
After losing the presidency, the House and Senate, not to mention over a thousand state races that gave the GOP 33 governorships and outright control of 24 state legislatures, Democrats have staked their hopes for a comeback on hating opponents they can’t beat at the polls.
Which brings us to Ben Jealous pushing a Bernie Sanders-style agenda of “democratic socialism,” the latest progressive buzz term for free college, free healthcare, and a $15 per-hour minimum wage.
Jealous, sounding like a guy who failed anger management, is trying to hide his leftist roots, but they’re hard to conceal when the subject is free stuff.
Then there’s his tendency to go ballistic. At a recent press conference, noting that Larry Hogan in a New York Times article had referred to Jealous as a “socialist,” a reporter asked if he “identifies with the term.”
Jealous replied, “Are you f—ing kidding me?”
After calming down, he apologized for dropping the F-bomb, explaining, “Far right-wing conservatives like to call black leaders ‘socialists’ to discredit us.”
Later, Jealous, a partner in a firm that invests in companies “working to create progressive social change,” said he wants to make it clear that he identifies “as a venture capitalist.”
Some Maryland Democratic officials, sensing disaster in the making, have refused to endorse Jealous. Former Lt. Gov. Mickey Steinberg said, his “radical and irresponsible proposals would destroy our economy.”
Now picture Donald Trump in 2020, running for president against a similar kind of identity politician. It’s not difficult to imagine hearing the same concern from Democrats in states and congressional districts benefiting from Trump Administration economic policies. That’s how electoral landslides begin.
True, a lot can happen at home or abroad between now and then. But the 2020 match-up could be the contest between fiction and reality millions of American voters have been waiting for: a democratic socialist versus Donald Trump.
If Maryland is any indication, the result is almost a foregone conclusion.
There’s one school of political thought that holds the era of successful socialist candidates ended with Obama’s reelection in 2012. But Democrats won’t believe it until they lose again to Trump.
After they lose again to Hogan.
Photo Credit: Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images