February 24th, 2020


It's already clear who the Dem presidential nominee will be in 2020

Andrew Malcolm

By Andrew Malcolm McClatchy Washington Bureau/(TNS)

Published April 8, 2019

 It's already clear who the Dem presidential nominee will be in 2020
If you read or watch political news these days, you've probably already realized the Democrats' presidential nominee next year will be Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke.

So great was the media's adulation over that campaign launch this month that his selection seems preordained. So, you have to wonder why Democrats are going through the painfully divisive and expensive process of staging primaries to determine who will actually face President Donald Trump in 84 weeks.

Coronating a nominee this early is, of course, ridiculous given the amount of time and the number of competitors seeking to inherit the Hillary Clinton Chair of Presidential Campaigning.

Trump looks weak in the gauzy eyes of wishful liberals. So, ambitious Democrats may well exceed the 17 GOP wannabes in 2016, which sets up an intriguing potential 2020 scenario designed by the political gods who've watched over Trump's brief career in electoral politics.

Even more Democrats wait in the wings, including former Vice President Joe Biden, who thinks a third shot is his charm, and Sen. Michael Bennet from Colorado. Never mind, he won't matter either in the end.

Let's be honest. With so many competitors appealing to so many sectors of that fractured party, no single candidate is likely to attract majority support anywhere. Think Republicans 2016.

This sets up perhaps a contested convention in Milwaukee and/or victory by an unexpected one who squeaks through with a slightly larger plurality. Which is why the party has kept some establishment superdelegates in reserve to rig results again the least worst way.

Already, the field has blacks and whites, a Hispanic, a child of immigrants, a Hindu, ex-mayors, ex-governors, current senators, a former professed Native American, a retired microbrewer who claims to have been bullied in childhood, a candidate opposed to circumcision and a New Yorker who calls herself "a young Mom " at 52.

There's also a democratic socialist who's OK with owning three homes and is a half-decade older than the incumbent president, who at 70 was the oldest man ever to take the presidential oath.

For now, voters can learn about them from scattered print profiles. In an elongated act of contrition for carrying so many full-length Trump rallies last time, CNN is staging a stream of town halls with Democratic candidates, even unannounced ones. And there's my favorite, C-SPAN's vaunted and unfiltered "Road to the White House" series.

How are all these similar progressives going to differentiate themselves? The quick answer: with difficulty.

That's a real opening for a celebrity candidate to compete against a celebrity president. At 46, O'Rourke has consciously avoided specific policy pronouncements beyond a desire to unite Americans.

You'd think as an empty vessel with a nice smile, he's likely to get eaten alive on a debate stage with sharks. But such an inviting void allows would-be supporters to see in him whatever their heart desires.

For now, the only data-driven means are scattered state polls of self-described Democrats, which at this point merely measure name recognition. Hence, the unannounced Biden and perennial Bernie Sanders dominate.

Ten months out from primary/caucus voting, you might also think of dollars as early ballots. Media needs something new every day. They feel a compulsion to cover these campaigns like a horse race.

So they fall for donations as a measure of enthusiasm. Such figures are totally unreliable, unaudited numbers released by campaigns if they look good and ignored if not.

Sanders claimed initial dominance there with $5.9 million after his declaration. But then O'Rourke said he got slightly more, $6.1 million.

Real first quarter numbers will emerge only in mid-April from the Federal Election Commission. That's why the dithering Biden is stalling his launch until the second quarter to avoid having a paltry sum by his name.

You'd think Democrats would out-do each other denouncing Trump. Not yet anyway. Only Sanders is going after him full-bore. For now, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose cringe-worthy launch video had the ex-Harvard prof telling viewers, "I'm gonna get me a beer," is playing the policy wonk.

"Medicare for all" has a large number of supporters as a mark of professed equality. The New Green Deal gets some support, as do racial reparations. Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand wants illegal immigrants to receive Social Security checks.

Because Clinton got spanked in the Electoral College, abolishing that institution gets a lot of attention. Lowering voting requirements to the age of acne also has adherents.

Adding Supreme Court justices to dilute conservative power is another hot one. That's actually up to Congress, which has moved it from six justices to seven to nine to 10 to seven and back to nine, where it's stood since 1869.

None of these proposals has a genuine chance of becoming reality at the earliest until Americans decide they're tired of gridlock and want a lopsided one-party government again that can ram through legislative and procedural changes (and new taxes) free of veto fears.

Remember Obamacare that Democrats railroaded to the president's desk with not one GOP vote in 2010? The next election began that party's historic decline at state and federal levels that remains to be fully repaired still.

Abolishing the Electoral College has a major problem. It requires an amendment to the Constitution. These days three-quarters of the states couldn't ratify a National Pie, let alone essentially relinquish selection of a president to the coastal elites of California, New York, Florida and Texas.

For now, virtually all of these ideas, like the campaigns themselves, exist only for the sake of arguments, fundraising and TV debate questions. Oh, look! Like longer presidential campaigns, Democrats' TV debates also start earlier this cycle.

The first one kicks off fully three months before the football season, an entire year before the fall general election campaign.


Andrew Malcolm
McClatchy Washington Bureau

Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s.