The Problem With O’Malley’s New-Generation Pitch: Elizabeth Warren is 65 and Bernie Sanders is 73

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley formally declared over the weekend that he will run for the Democratic presidential nomination. In his speech and a subsequent interview with ABC News, he floated several themes: He has executive experience; the presidency is not a “crown” to be passed back and forth among royal families (i.e., the Clintons and the Bushes); and unlike either Jeb or Hillary, he won’t be beholden to Wall Street.

And O’Malley, 52, is also offering a fourth argument, which seems implicitly designed to draw a contrast with the 67-year-old Clinton: It’s time for a new generation of leaders.

— Martin O’Malley tests a generational argument against Hillary Clinton, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

Marco Rubio is making the generational argument, too.  For Rubio, it’s patently ridiculous; his fiscal and regulatory policy proposals and soundbites are circa Reagan era.  O’Malley’s are decidedly 2015, which is great and is why he may (in my opinion) have an actual chance.  But Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ are even more so.  And they’re 65 and 73, respectively.

It’s clearly not accurate that Warren is unpopular among young people and that Sanders likely will be.  I don’t think anyone—young, middle-aged, old—cares about Warren’s age or which generation she’s part of.  And though Sanders’ age is noted in virtually every news report or commentary about him, and he looks his age, is it really likely that young voters would support O’Mallley over Sanders because of their age difference?  I doubt it.

O’Malley obviously is trying to target Clinton, not Sanders and certainly not Warren (whose policy positions he has adopted), with the “new generation” tack.  But if it refers to age and demographic generation, it makes as much sense as Clinton’s I’m-a-woman-and-a-grandmother pitch.  Which is to say, none.  Clinton obviously is a woman, and everyone knows that she’s now a grandmother.  Just as everyone can see that O’Malley is relatively youthful.  He doesn’t need to tell anyone that. And youth is as much a policy statement as is being a woman and a grandmother.  Which is to say, it’s not.

If O’Malley has a chance, it’s as a stand-in for Warren.  And not because he’s younger than Warren, but because he’s running and she’s not. And Warren, 65, indeed is part of a new generation of leadership, because her ideas, her arguments, her responses to Republican rote, are part of a new generation of ideas.

My advice to O’Malley would be to kill the younger-generation-of-leaders thing and replace it with a new-generation-of-policy argument.  He made a good start on that several weeks ago.  Bernie Sanders is doing exactly that, but age does matter here in that he will be 75 at the time of the next election. If progressive Democrats think O’Malley would be a true stand-in for Warren and Sanders, despite his own earlier-generation New Democrat pedigree, he could pull out a victory through some combination of his own and ultimately Sanders’ delegates.

But a prerequisite, I think, is an understanding that Sanders is blazing the trail.  And that Sanders, and Warren, aren’t spring chickens.


Edited slightly for clarity and typo-correction. 6/1 at 10:16 p.m.