Only yesterday, the Democrats thought they had the House of Representatives signed and sealed, ready for the second coming of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate was probably in play, too. But second thoughts can ruin the fun.
A malady called "midterm migraine" struck the House Democrat retreat at Mount Vernon in suburban Washington early this month after a focus group was called in to describe the lay of the land to the assembled nabobs. Democrats looking for feel-good news should have called in the pundits who have confidently predicted not only that Republicans are sure to lose the House but also that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer could probably regain control of the Senate if Democrats were to just rant about President Donald Trump a little harsher and a lot louder.
To their astonishment, what they heard from the focus group followed a consistent theme: "Republicans have the wrong agenda; Democrats have no agenda at all."
One Democratic Senate aide says party leaders are "acutely aware" of the problem and hope the immigration issue will "fill their agenda gap." Others warn that it might not work because it would confirm Republican snark about Democrats being unwilling to compromise on relief for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program due to the issue being more important than relieving the pain of DACA immigrants.
Other Democrats feeling their midterm migraines say the Party has other issues to ventilate, including pensions, opioids, child care and college student loans. These are all worthy of attention, but they're not issues likely to make anyone throw his hat in the air.
No wonder, then, that some Democrats with a migraine want to leave 2018 behind now and concentrate on electing a new president two years hence. And, apparently, it's not just Democrats. President Trump, ever eager to change the subject, whatever that might be, has challenged Oprah Winfrey to run against him two years hence.
Winfrey has indeed been "mentioned" as a 2020 prospect by "that mysterious source who plucks politicians from obscurity and mentions them to political journalists as contenders for higher office." Russell Baker, a columnist for The New York Times of yesteryear, identified the source as "the Great Mentioner."
Winfrey hardly needs plucking from obscurity, but she obviously needled the president with a much-remarked rouser in support of the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes dinner in Hollywood. The press, ever in pursuit of the new thing, consulted with the Great Mentioner, and a new political star was born. She told "60 Minutes" that she has no desire to run and was "stunned" that someone thought she was qualified to run for the highest office in the land. "But it's just not my spirit," she said. "It's not in my DNA."
That's not exactly a Sherman ("If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve," Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman told a group of politicians who tried to draft him in 1884). But it's close. Winfrey is a thoughtful, sensitive interviewer, as I can attest having been on her program twice, so why should she want to invite misery?
Nevertheless, if the presidency is a misery, it's a "splendid misery," former President Thomas Jefferson called it. Some feminists, still dreaming of shattering the well-cracked glass ceiling, think 2020 could be another year of the woman, and this time for real.
The party has several unusual Democrats eager to be cajoled or pushed into the race. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, 35, is a combat veteran of the war in Iraq, and so is Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, 49, who lost both legs when her U.S. Army helicopter was shot down over Iraq. Rep. Val Demings of Florida, 60, was the first female police chief of Orlando, and black besides, and once boasted, "I carry a 9-milimeter gun in my Dooney & Bourke that was a gift when I retired from the police department."
If the Party wants an unexpected practicing capitalist, there's Sheryl Sandberg, 48, the chief operating officer of Facebook. She helped build Google and worked in the Treasury Department with Lawrence Summers. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, 51, is almost as close to the party establishment as Hillary Clinton was, and to show her current toughness on harassment, she said in retrospect that former President Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency after the Monica Lewinsky affair. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, 53, is both black and female, a twofer like the pistol-packing Demings. And there's Pocahontas, 68-year-old Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a veteran of the Twitter wars with Donald Trump. But she probably missed her chance in 2016.
Chickens that never hatched never made Sunday dinner, and you don't have to be a hen, or even Hollywood comic, to lay an egg. There are miles to go before 2020, and there will be migraines enough in the midterms this year. But half the fun of politics is the speculation.