The Winnowing of the Democratic Candidates

Beto O’Rourke speaks at a rally in Los Angeles, Calif., April 27, 2019. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
Markets are information-generating mechanisms, and the political market is working.

Washington — “We’re cutting out some of this ear hair that you get when you get older,” said the 46-year-old man-child who is auditioning to be Skateboarder-in-Chief. Live-streaming his visit to an El Paso barbershop, Beto O’Rourke continued: “It grows out of your ears, and if you don’t get it cut, it can be nasty.”

You might respond to this, as you perhaps did to O’Rourke’s prior live-streaming of his dental-cleaning appointment, by thinking: TMI. This is, however, not too much information. It is exactly the sort of information we need about the Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination. Markets are information-generating mechanisms, and the political market is working.

Before she is winnowed out, perhaps before Iowa’s first frost, note New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign slogan: “Brave Wins.” It pats her on the back for unspecified acts of bravery, but this strange conjunction of words is the most vacuous advertising noise this side of Miller Lite’s current slogan: “Hold True.”

The first substantive sentence — this counts as substance nowadays — in New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s video announcing his candidacy is: “There’s plenty of money in this world, there’s plenty of money in this country, it’s just in the wrong hands.” He is a socialist who means it: Redistribution and nothing but, because wealth creation is so 20th century, now that there is “plenty” of money sloshing around. His solutions to our national problems include banning Manhattan: “the glass and steel skyscrapers that have contributed so much to global warming” have “no place in our city or on our Earth anymore.” A thought experiment: If O’Rourke, de Blasio, and some other presidential candidates were Republican moles insinuated into the Democratic scramble in order to make that party look absurd and the current president look thoughtful, how would they behave differently?

Pete Buttigieg, 37, is supposed to be one of the adults in the room, but he, like de Blasio, envisions national enlargement through subtraction. He has joined the progressive pile-on against the Founders who, say their current despisers, are inferior to our enlightened selves. Radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Buttigieg whether the Democratic party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners should be renamed. Jackson’s seriously disagreeable behaviors have already caused him to be tossed down the memory hole (see George Orwell’s 1984 on erasing the past). But Buttigieg said “Jefferson is more problematic” because, although there is much to admire in Jefferson’s thinking, “he knew slavery was wrong” and did not act accordingly. So, scrubbing Jefferson’s name from things is “the right thing to do.” Well, then, what does Buttigieg propose for the Jefferson Memorial’s prime real estate on Washington’s Tidal Basin? Perhaps an annex for the expanded Supreme Court that he, the supposed moderate who is less than half as old as The Venerable Moderate, proposes to pack?

Speaking of Joe Biden, at a campaign rally in Philadelphia last Saturday, he said, “I believe Democrats want to unify this nation. That’s what our party’s always been about.” This is an interesting interpretation of the 1850s, but a significant portion of the nation does not turn its lonely eyes to Biden for history tutorials. Rather, it is looking for political insurance that it will have a 2020 choice that does not make them wince. A choice that will shuffle sufficient electoral votes to strike the tent of today’s White House circus.

In 2004, just three states gave their electoral votes to a different party than in 2000. In 2008, nine states changed from 2004. In 2012, two changed from 2008. In 2016, six changed from 2012. Are Democrats asking the sort of question Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D., N.Y.) asked after Ronald Reagan trounced Jimmy Carter in 1980: “Even Herbert Hoover got more electoral votes [in 1932] than President Carter. We have to ask what happened and why.”

What happened in 2016 was that the Democratic party’s nominating process produced a candidate whom Donald Trump defeated by 17 points among the 18 percent of voters who had negative views of both him and her. And he won by 51 points among the 15 percent of the electorate who thought neither he nor she was qualified to be president.

By the time Mitt Romney had run the Republicans nominating gantlet in 2012, he had the lowest positive rating and highest negative rating of any recent major party nominee. Biden’s Democratic rivals should ponder this as they sharpen their knives.

© 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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