From the jumble of candidates we needed to consider in the summer’s Democratic Presidential Candidate debates, it seems that from a handicapping standpoint, the party has winnowed down to meaningful contenders surprisingly quickly. Before we get to the middle of the stage:
Absent will be a number of candidates that are more qualified for the presidency than several that will appear, including a couple who also would have made more formidable opponents for President Trump. That said, the Democratic National Committee’s rules were well known, and each candidate needed to devise a strategy to gain the party’s backing to run against Mr. Trump. It appears that the absentees aren’t getting that done. At the same time, several may be attractive Vice Presidential nominee alternatives depending upon which candidate the party ultimately anoints.
Three second tier candidates may still entertain dreams that they can capture the nomination. U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar may believe that if she turns in a bravura debate performance and former Vice President Joe Biden seriously falters, moderates will coalesce around her candidacy. South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg may believe that he can reenergize his candidacy if he can create a debate “moment” in which he displays empathy about the plight of African Americans in this country sufficient to soften that community’s (in my view, misplaced) reservations about him. U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris may believe that with a few well-timed salvos such as she launched in the first debate, she can catapult herself back into the top tier of candidates.
If required to bet on the possibility of any of these happening or that Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers will at some point this season throw a “Hail Mary” pass to win a game in its last seconds … my money would be on Mr. Rodgers.
One might muse that if they are being realistic, U.S. NJ Sen. Cory Booker and former HUD Director Julian Castro have recognized that their best prospects appear to be a Vice Presidential nomination (or in Mr. Castro’s case, a substantial role in a future Democratic administration that will provide a springboard for future Texas or national campaigns). We’ll be able to determine from their performances whether they are.
Former U.S. TX Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Businessman Andrew Yang are presumably appearing Thursday night because, like Richard Gere’s Zack Mayo in An Officer and a Gentleman … they’ve got nowhere else to go.
As someone who fervently hopes for the defeat of Mr. Trump because of his disregard for truth, his assaults on the freedom of speech, his enemies, and our institutions, his misogyny, racism, and xenophobia, his erraticism, his self-aggrandizement, and his greed much more than due to his substantive policies (although I strongly disagree with virtually all of them, policies can always be modified; tarnished principles are rarely retrieved), I am becoming ever more deeply concerned that Democrats are taking their eyes off the ball. Although I will be warily assessing how Mr. Biden responds to jibes and how much vitality he exhibits, and will appreciate U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders as a loveable, predictable, curmudgeonly Lion in Winter, my primary focus on Thursday night will be on the approach and attitude taken by U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Sen. Warren’s summer advance has been impressive. That said, in New Hampshire this past weekend, to an apparently enthusiastic response from NH Democratic Party activists, Ms. Warren declared, in part, as follows: “There is a lot at stake. And people are scared [presumably, that someone too far left will cause moderates to vote for Mr. Trump in 2020]. But we can’t choose a candidate we don’t believe in because we’re scared. And we can’t ask other people to vote for someone we don’t believe in.” Dangerous words – words the sound more like someone intent on winning the nomination than in Democrats capturing the White House. Words that Republicans will use to attempt to depress progressive turnout if Mr. Biden wins the nomination. Ms. Warren obviously truly believes that the progressive agenda is the best way forward for this country and – of extreme concern, whether it is or not – that enough of our voters spread across enough of our pivotal Electoral College states agree with her. I fear that Ms. Warren may be developing a misimpression similar to that to which Mr. Trump fell subject during the 2018 campaign: projecting the enthusiasm she sees among zealots at her rallies upon the public as a whole. Although I admire Ms. Warren’s ability and zeal, the pictures of two former Democratic presidential nominees appear in my mind when I watch her: Adlai Stevenson and George McGovern.
One of the ironies of the campaign is that in a culture that celebrates the young, the iPhone, tattoos, 5G, Snapchat, purple hair, streaming, and WhatsApp, we seem most likely at this point to be placing our future from 2021 to 2025 in the hands of one of four quarrelling septuagenarians. (Clearly, I remain in mourning over Ms. Klobuchar’s and Mr. Buttigieg’s declines despite being close to 70 myself.) At the same time, I am hoping that because of their relatively advanced ages, all three Democratic frontrunners will keep in mind that any Democratic candidate’s victory over Mr. Trump is more important than winning the Democratic nomination. Will they strike the tone that all three want what’s best for this country, but that their approaches are different – i.e., frame their exchanges as good faith policy disagreements? Or do they attack each other and provide fodder for the Republicans to use in the fall against the eventual nominee?