Being a registered Republican who often votes for Democrats, I’m particularly exasperated with this year’s bizarre presidential campaign spectacle. And no, it’s not because there are 25 candidates competing for the nomination, or because so many of them have moved to the farthest shores of the American left, or because the spectacle is likely to continue for many months to come.
It’s because the Democratic National Committee has chosen to model the nomination process upon Donald Trump’s campaign. Having nominated an earnest, serious and highly qualified conventional politician in 2016, only to lose to an apparently unqualified, unconventional reality show trickster, Democrats have created their own reality show. Let’s call it Survivor: Campaign 2020.
Twenty hopefuls faced off (sort of) this week in the so-called debates in Miami. That’s a misnomer, as anyone who has ever debated in high school knows. It’s a dog and pony show, an opportunity for 20 flashy egos to shimmer briefly on a national stage. And although this column was written prior to the debates because of print deadlines, I’m looking forward to the show.
Will Joe Biden flub his lines? Will Mayor Pete dazzle the dumbos? Does Elizabeth Warren have a 60-second plan to heal the republic? And will anybody curse, toss his/her briefing papers on the floor, withdraw from the race, storm out and support Trump? If so, expect a bump in the polls.
The DNC’s debate metrics (65,000 individual contributors or 1 percent support in three national polls) have managed to seed the field with outliers and charlatans. Why even have debates at this stage? And remember, whoever the eventual winner is will have to confront and conquer Mr. Reality Show himself.
It’s impossible to predict the winner of this ambitious little Democratic enterprise. If the Dems are lucky, he/she will emerge unscathed and ready to take on Mr. Big. But suppose there’s no clear frontrunner, and three or four candidates are still in the game when the Democratic National Convention opens in Milwaukee on July 13, 2020. The goat rope will devolve into a bare-knuckles brawl, with one dazed, bloodied survivor left standing to take on the president.
And will the president be prepared to take on his opponent? You betcha! He’ll have more than $1 billion in his campaign treasury, a full repertoire of unflattering nicknames, telling insults, outrageous claims and sycophantic enablers. He’ll define, shred and marginalize the last Democrat standing, and have fun doing it.
The polls seem to suggest that Trump is finished, that he trails a generic Democrat in almost every Midwestern swing state. That’s fine, but you may have noticed that the political landscape is littered with the bones of those who have underestimated Donald Trump.
So what can the Democrats do to heal their self-inflicted wounds before they bleed out? Realistically, not much. The 20 candidates participating in the debates have little incentive to drop out, other than running out of money. The field is fluid and disorganized, led at this point by flawed frontrunners.
As a seasoned political observer once told me, “Even the finest cut of beef has a sell-by date, and so do politicians.” Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are well past the sell-by date. It may be unfair to compare Elizabeth Warren to Hillary Clinton, but politics are unfair sui generis. Yet the Democratic clown bus will keep lurching down the highway, an unhappy family of ambitious strivers.
Remember the opening sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina?
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
The particular unhappiness of the Democrats is that their open, diverse, entrepreneurial and welcoming nomination process may have the saddest of results — another popular vote majority for the party, and another term for President Trump.
Who can beat Trump? My top four: Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper, Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bennet. They share a certain quiet toughness and reserve, coupled with intelligence and judgment. And here’s a winning ticket: Sen. Kamala and Mayor Pete.
And as for Sen. Bennet and Gov. Hick: Why are you both running? You both graduated from Wesleyan, you worked productively together — why didn’t you jointly consult an elder, a Wesleyan alum and former elected official in Colorado? He would have told you to flip a coin, loser stays home.
That would have been me. Even I know that there’s only room for one Colorado pol on the clown bus!