The Slatest

Can Cory Booker Avoid Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Problem?

Cory Booker talking and pointing.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., joins what is already a crowded 2020 field. Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s official: Cory Booker is running for president.

The New Jersey senator made the never-really-in-doubt announcement Friday, the first day of Black History Month, via a short launch video on Twitter that was heavy on civil rights imagery and personal biography, including his time as mayor of Newark. “The history of our nation,” he says, “is defined by collective action—by interwoven destinies of slaves, abolitionists, of those born here and those who chose America as home, of those who took up arms to defend our country and those who linked arms to challenge and change it.”

That’s the kind of unapologetically idealistic rhetoric that Booker has made his calling card. He loves to talk about things like “civic grace” and “courageous empathy.” He spent much of the midterms on the road campaigning for Democrats in two dozen states, where he urged voters to rise to meet a “moral moment in America.” His inclusive brand of politics may remind voters of Barack Obama and will represent a stark contrast to Donald Trump. But the flip side is that his unbridled earnestness can prompt eye rolls, particularly among an online left that prefers a far more combative approach.

Politico reports that Booker “intends to appeal to the better angels of the Democratic Party” by asserting that it is possible—and beneficial—to work across party lines. As evidence he’ll point to his work writing and passing last year’s criminal justice bill that, among other key reforms, eased mandatory minimum sentences in federal prisons. It remains an open question how much appetite there will be among the Democratic base for reaching out to today’s GOP, but Booker may be better positioned to make the case than, say, Joe Biden. Booker can talk about finding common ground with current Republican senators like Tim Scott; Biden’s problem is that he tends to wax nostalgic for the halcyon days of yore when both parties came together … to pass legislation that looks downright conservative by today’s standards. Booker also boasts one of the more liberal voting records in the U.S. Senate and has embraced progressive policy proposals including Medicare for all and a federal jobs guarantee. Booker, then, may be able to avoid the trap of touting bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake.

Still, Booker won’t be immune to criticism from the left. He’s a fan of charter schools, Chris Christie, and Wall Street, none of which are popular in today’s Democratic Party. His coziness with high finance and Big Pharma is probably his biggest liability. He’s received millions in donations from the financial industry, voted against Bernie Sanders–sponsored legislation that would have allowed Americans to buy cheap prescriptions from Canada, and made the curious decision in 2012 to defend Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital and urged Democrats to “stop attacking private equity.” Elizabeth Warren and Sanders probably have something to say about that.