The still-overcrowded Democratic 2020 presidential field is getting larger when it should be shrinking. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has inexplicably jumped into the race, and ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has all but officially announced that he will be doing the same. While it can be argued that the late entries of two veteran Northeastern pols, who together generate the buzz of a dried-up honeybee trapped in a windowsill, have more to do with vanity than any genuine chance of winning, their candidacies also point to a more disturbing trend for Dems.
Only a couple of weeks ago we were told that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had seized control and was roaring to the top of the pile. Terms like “surge,” “increasingly popular,” and “clear path to the nomination” were freely tossed about. A few days of questioning the murky financing plans for her costly Medicare for All pledge were all it took to stall this would-be steamroller. It is a recurring pattern with this set of candidates. They have a “moment.” Remember the excitement over Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) after the first debate in July? (Neither does anybody else). Then people get to know a little more about what the hopefuls are proposing, and they promptly fade back into the woodwork.
Absence of Emergence
This primary battle has been contested full-time since April, if not earlier. This means that after seven-plus months, not one Democrat candidate has emerged as an authentic force to be reckoned with. True, it is still somewhat early in the broad view of things. Not a single vote has been cast. But it is quite late in other regards. While no aspirant has been established as a dominant personage yet, the disquieting fact is that none of these uninspiring figures betray even a hint of becoming such an entity.
Considering that the 2016 Dem nomination was rigged for the Hillary Clinton political machine from the beginning, despite the bold challenge of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the Republican race from that election may be more instructive for Dems today. From the moment Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly lobbed her loaded accusations of sexism at Donald Trump at the first Republican debate in August 2015, the political neophyte carved out a rolling thunder of momentum that steadily pushed him well ahead in the lackluster GOP field. Trump may not have had the nomination wrapped up in November 2015 (or perhaps he did), but he had clearly revealed himself as a power factor who had all the hot-button issues that held sway over his party’s nomination process working in his favor. He had decisively marked out his ascendancy.
Life In the Slow Lane
Not a single Dem has been able to achieve anything close to this. The always-dubious Warren Surge now has been replaced with the Buttigieg Boost. Mayor Pete of South Bend, IN, is suddenly staking out a strong lead in Iowa polling. Is there a reason for his out-of-nowhere acceleration? Buttigieg has had no special or defining moments on the campaign trail, and his message differs in no serious way from any of the other progressive candidates. It does come wrapped in a corny Midwestern Opie Taylor packaging, but that has hardly energized grassroots Dems on the local soapbox or the nationally televised debate podium. There is every reason to believe that, two weeks from now, we will be hearing about another Dem elbowing Buttigieg aside and having his or her electrifying nanosecond. Is Amy’s Klobuchar Craze on the horizon?
The 2020 Dem primary has all the makings of a turtle race right up to the party’s convention in July. And now, with Patrick and presumably Bloomberg, more turtles are crawling instead of fewer. Eventually one turtle will slink over the finish line, but that’s a long way down a stultifying road. What this will do for Dem voter enthusiasm in a general election brawl with the feisty Trump is the big question. Trump’s galvanizing effect as a president progressives love to hate may help some, but a turtle crawling under a firecracker is a messy and depressing scenario for a great many Dems to envision.
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