Wall Street Journal: The Democrats’ Capitalist Dark Horses

John’s blue collar background, experience starting and running businesses and his pro-growth, pro-capitalism platform was featured in today’s Wall Street Journal

The piece concluded: 

Mr. Delaney’s theory is that, in the end, primary voters will view a hard left turn as too politically precarious. “I do really believe that, come fall, the central question the Democrats will be asking themselves is: How do we beat the president?” he says. “I think Democrats will realize that if we actually make this election about an entirely new model for the country, that feels pretty risky.”

You can read the whole op-ed below:

The Democrats’ Capitalist Dark Horses
John Delaney and John Hickenlooper are polling near 1% as their rivals race left, but each insists he’s the party’s best hope to defeat Trump

By Kyle Peterson
Wall Street Journal
July 26, 2019

A dark horse can triumph in politics, John Hickenlooper believes, but it helps if he can get a little push. “Sometimes, without the support of the media, the long shot doesn’t have a chance to become the legend, as they used to say about Seabiscuit, if you ever saw that movie,” he says. “My wife compares me to Seabiscuit from time to time. I’m not saying this has been an easy campaign!”

Mr. Hickenlooper, 67, is a two-term ex-governor of Colorado, and he’s running for president on a thoroughly liberal platform. He wants a $15 minimum wage, a public option in health insurance, mandatory firearm licensing and taxpayer subsidies for long-acting contraceptives. A decade or so ago, these ideas might have made him more than salable on the Democratic left. 

As things stand, he’s stuck at around 1% in the polls. That’s not Seabiscuit; it’s glue.

Also trotting along at 1% is John Delaney, 56, a three-term ex-congressman from Maryland. His presidential wish list includes a $2 trillion infrastructure spree, a $4 trillion climate plan, free community college and higher taxes on capital gains and corporate profits. “Many of the things I’m working towards line up very well with the progressive movement,” Mr. Delaney says. “But my way of getting there, I think, is much more practical. I consider myself, in many respects, a pragmatic idealist.”

This hints at the defining feature these two Johns share, other than their past lives as successful entrepreneurs. Of the 25 Democrats galloping toward the political crown, Mr. Hickenlooper and Mr. Delaney have been, by far, the most outspoken in opposing their party’s recent leftward tilt.

In San Francisco last month at the California state Democratic convention, each drew lusty boos from party activists. Mr. Delaney’s provocation was to say that Medicare for All, which would abolish private health insurance, is “actually not good policy, nor is it good politics.” Mr. Hickenlooper’s faux pas was to argue that if the goal is to defeat Donald Trump, “socialism is not the answer.” 

Next Tuesday, standing at adjacent debate lecterns in Detroit, they’ll have a chance to make these points to CNN’s audience. But they’ll need to gain steam to qualify for future debates, since the polling cutoff rises to 2% in September. In separate visits to the Journal—Mr. Delaney in April, Mr. Hickenlooper last week—they laid out the case for their candidacies.

“The way I view this country is we’re a free-market country,” Mr. Delaney says. “We’ve allowed capitalism, which is the greatest job-creation and innovation machine ever created, to work its magic. But we moderated it across time with strong social programs and by building what I would consider to be great societal infrastructure, like public schools.”

The son of an electrician, Mr. Delaney went to college with scholarships from his father’s union. After law school he launched a finance company that went public, then a second one. “I was the youngest CEO in the history of the New York Stock Exchange,” he says. “I started those companies from scratch.” It made him wealthy enough that he can float his campaign with $15 million.

In Mr. Delaney’s view, America’s trouble isn’t capitalism but a dysfunctional federal government that has “stopped updating that basic social compact.” He adds: “We don’t have to throw out the model. We just have to get back to our basic job, which is to constantly do things to ensure that capitalism is just and inclusive.”

Hence his approach to universal medical coverage. “We can clearly afford to give everyone health care,” Mr. Delaney says. “So the question is, how do we do it?” To start, he’d shore up ObamaCare with a public option, built atop Medicare. Then he’d create new guaranteed coverage for all Americans under 65. “Everyone gets it as a right, but you don’t have to take it,” he says. “If you didn’t want it, you could opt out, get a tax credit, and go buy your own health care.” For most people, he thinks his plan would be a basic backstop, which employers would offer supplemental insurance to enhance.

Why not Medicare for All? “If the government was the only payer in health care, it would never pay enough, and that would lead to a reduction in quality and access in the health-care system,” Mr. Delaney says. “I go to rural hospitals all over this country, and I ask them one question: If last year you were reimbursed from commercial insurers at a rate equal to the Medicare rate, what would that mean for you? And I always get the same answer: ‘We would close.’ ”

Mr. Delaney’s climate agenda, likewise, fuses progressive ends with not-quite-so-onerous means. He wants to tax carbon, while giving the money back to the public as a dividend. His goal is net zero emissions by 2050. “The problem is, you have farming and you have transportation,” he says. “And there’s really no way to get the carbon out of those sources. So if we actually want to get to net zero as a nation, we have to suck 20% to 30% of the carbon out of the atmosphere.” President Delaney would spend $5 billion a year to support a market for machines that scrub CO2 from the air. Today such devices are “very expensive and not of scale,” he says. “That strikes me as a problem the private sector can solve perfectly.”

Mr. Delaney’s most novel suggestion is an idea to reorient politics toward serious arguments. “Once every three months,” he says, “the president of the United States should go to the floor of the House of Representatives and have a debate with the Congress on national television.” He envisions a three-hour drama, with the first 90 minutes covering a scheduled topic, followed by “open question time, like they do in Great Britain.”

Mr. Hickenlooper, with his meandering and quirky answers, would be fascinating to watch tangle with Congress for a few hours. He earned a master’s degree in geology in 1980 and moved to Colorado to work in the oil business. After a layoff, he built brewpubs in Denver and other cites. “I think I’m the first geologist to be elected governor—ever,” he says. “I do know that I’m the first brewer to get elected governor since Sam Adams” in 1794.

Mr. Hickenlooper has declared he’s running to “save capitalism.” Yet he struggles with that word. “I think of myself as an entrepreneur,” he says. “When I grew up, to call yourself a capitalist was like Daddy Warbucks in ‘Little Orphan Annie.’ It was a cold, soulless person who moved capital from one company, one investment, to another, without any care about what happened to their community.”

He believes capitalism worked well in the postwar era—until roughly 1975 or 1980: “Every man, woman and child in this country doubled, inflation adjusted, doubled their income, doubled their wealth,” he says. “I mean, it’s hard for us to even imagine what an amazing transformation that was.” It proves, in his mind, that the vital question isn’t the size of government but whether it’s trusted and well-managed. “Look at the investments they made and the taxes they paid,” he says, citing the GI Bill, the Marshall Plan and the interstate highway system. “They were building for the future.”

Mr. Hickenlooper also doesn’t want to kill private medical insurance. “Government should not be coming to you and saying you’ve got to get rid of this,” he says. Instead it should offer a public option as a new alternative: “If people choose to go into that system, and they find it less expensive and a higher quality, shouldn’t that be their choice?” He calls it “an evolution rather than a revolution.” 

As for climate change, Mr. Hickenlooper says it’s a matter of “fierce urgency.” He wants to rejoin the Paris Agreement, but he rejects the Green New Deal because it contains “distractions” like a federal pledge to guarantee everyone a job: “We don’t have the luxury of debating political accessory issues.”

He used to oppose nuclear energy, since “we had no clear solution to what to do with the waste.” Now he says the climate threat has convinced him nuclear must be on the table. He won’t rule out natural gas either, especially if shipped to China to replace coal: “The big thing that we did in this country, and fracking is part of this, but we were able to show that coal plants were inefficient and costly compared to the alternatives.” 

He even has suggestions for how to deal with flatulent cows. “We have enzymes now,” he says, “that will change the way livestock digest feed corn and other nutrient-rich products, just the way—have you ever heard of Beano? Beano’s a thing you take if you’re going to have food in a Mexican restaurant.” He pushes past his interviewers’ laughter: “It’s funny, but a number of our ag schools—Colorado State University, Iowa State University—they have developed enzymes that address this problem.” 

Does either Mr. Delaney or Mr. Hickenlooper stand a chance in a Democratic Party that seems to be racing leftward? “Almost half the voters are moderates,” Mr. Hickenlooper insists. It’s early, too: Iowa’s caucus isn’t until Feb. 3. “Bill Clinton at this point was 1.5%,” he says. “So people are not—they’re still distracted. And I think this is where, again—luckily I’m unemployed, so I’m spending a lot of time in Iowa.” He admits, though, it has been challenging to make himself heard above the din. “We’re going to have to adjust the pitch,” he says. “I think we’re just going to turn it up a little bit.”

Mr. Delaney’s theory is that, in the end, primary voters will view a hard left turn as too politically precarious. “I do really believe that, come fall, the central question the Democrats will be asking themselves is: How do we beat the president?” he says. “I think Democrats will realize that if we actually make this election about an entirely new model for the country, that feels pretty risky.”

In a follow-up phone interview from Des Moines this week, he reiterates the point: “Right now we’re having a social-media primary,” he says. There are 25 contenders, including one bigfoot, Joe Biden. “He’s squatting on a lot of moderate votes right now—and for good reason,” Mr. Delaney says. “Most Americans, including myself, like the vice president, and he has 100% name ID.”

But as Iowans meet John Delaney, he hopes they’ll see 2020 in the same terms he does: as a choice between progressive daydreams and a solid Democratic win. “It’s actually pretty obvious how we beat Trump, because the road map for it is the 2018 midterms,” he says. “We flipped 40 Republican seats with what I call common-sense Democrats.” His voice turns to mild exasperation, or maybe disbelief: “They didn’t run on impeachment. They didn’t run on decriminalizing the border. They didn’t run on single-payer health care.”

Mr. Peterson is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.