Monday, April 29, 2019

20 Questions

The Democratic presidential primary field finally reached the magic number 20 with the entry of presumed front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden. The number 20 is the maximum set by the DNC for participation i nthe debates in Florida in June and Michigan in July. We may well ask why the world needs debates so soon, but asking won't alter the regrettable reality.. I am old enough to remember when candidates didn't announce until the calendar year of the actual election - and old-fashioned enough to wish voters got to narrow the field first, a role now reserved for these debates and the accompanying media "spin." 

For now, however, the field spans the spectrum - from candidates who have run before and enjoy great name recognition (e.g., Biden, Sanders), to younger established national politicians (e.g., Booker, Castro, Gillibrand, Harris, Klobichar, Warren), to the really young and possibly exciting (e.g., Buttigieg), to the youngish and pseudo-exciting (e.g.,O'Rouke), to the little-known (e.g.,Hickenlooper, Inslee, Moulton, Ryan, Swalwell), to the virtually unknown (e.g.,Delaney, Gabbard, Messam, Williamson, Yang). 

What is one to make of all this? It is, of course, edifying that in American anyone can run for president. (Or, more likely, any type of person with adequate resources and a large ego can run.) In the end, however, one of the 20 - anyone's guess at this early stage - will emerge as the one nominated to challenge Trump. and of those two only one will be elected. In America, not everyone gets to be president, even if its seems as if everyone is running!

The Democrats' problem is not so much that they have too many candidates. Time and the campaign trail will sift them out and narrow the field soon enough. The problem is whether the process of narrowing the field will produce the best possible candidate and president.Presumably most primary voters, caucus participants, and donors want is someone best positioned to win - to defeat Trump. But, for now at least, there is no consensus - not among the chattering classes and not among the still unheard from voters. 

Will the winner be someone who will focus on getting out the vote of the Democratic "base"? Or someone who will focus on broadening the party's appeal to win back former Democrats in Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (the former "Blue Wall" the collapse of which made Trump president)? Or maybe even someone who can do both?

My guess is that either there will somehow emerge a genuine consensus or, much more likely, that somehow someone will emerge as the early "winner" in the debates and fundraising and pre-primary polls, and his or her specific strengths will become the de facto answer to that question. Whether that will produce the right answer - in terms of the Democrats long-term goal of winning the White House - we just won't know for another year and a half.

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