I am not in the business of predicting election outcomes, but with all the usual caveats I will say this: If I were betting my own money on the 2020 election — today — I would not bet against Donald Trump.
The Mueller circus offers us one lesson and one lesson only: The Democrats still believe they can defeat the star of The Apprentice in a reality-show election.
Ain’t nobody gonna beat Donald J. Trump in a goat rodeo.
The Democrats are running a scorched-earth, high-drama spectacle campaign against President Trump, who specializes in scorched-earth, high-drama spectacles and who today has the power of the presidential bully pulpit to amplify the drama and magnify the spectacle. Put another way, the Democrats apparently are intent on fighting Trump on his own ground, challenging him to a duel in the one thing he’s actually pretty good at: putting on a show.
On Wednesday, Thomas B. Edsall published what seemed to me a very useful column in the New York Times, headlined, “The Democratic Party Is Actually Three Parties.” In it he notes that the Twitter-obsessed white progressives who set the emotional and intellectual tone of the party are well to the left of the largely black and Latino wing of the party, which takes a less radical view of the most polarizing issues, and is instead focused on old-fashioned concerns such as jobs and wages. Edwall writes:
Its most progressive wing, which is supportive of contentious policies on immigration, health care and other issues, is, in the context of the party’s electorate, disproportionately white. So is the party’s middle group of “somewhat liberal” voters. Its more moderate wing, which is pressing bread-and-butter concerns like jobs, taxes and a less totalizing vision of health care reform, is majority nonwhite, with almost half of its support coming from African-American and Hispanic voters.
Question: Does the Democratic party, just this moment, seem to you like it is listening to “its more moderate wing,” or is it advancing “contentious policies on immigration, health care, and other issues”?
The thing about the debates on those more contentious policies is that they are not policy debates at all — they are theater. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other supporters of the so-called Green New Deal, for example, have conceded as much. The purpose of that exercise, they admit, is not to work out the nuts and bolts of new policies on greenhouse-gas emissions or business taxes, but to plant a moral flag around which admirers of figures such as Representative Ocasio-Cortez and her like-minded socialist partisans might rally. There are a lot of Democrats who might beat Donald Trump in a debate; there are none well-suited to defeating him in a pageant. He’s in the pageant business.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, for example, might kick a fair amount of sand in President Trump’s face in a one-on-one debate about the finer points of entitlement reform, even though — because, really — President Trump and Senator Warren have more or less the same goals when it comes to entitlements: no reductions in benefits, no new tax burdens on the middle class. But Professor Warren does not stand a chance in a Sturm und Drang display. She is smart (perhaps not quite as smart as she thinks she is), but she is a terrible campaigner, stiff and manifestly uncomfortable in crowds. To hear Senator Warren speak is to see a picture of the future that is a trip to the vice principal’s office — forever.
In the put-on-a-show department, the Mueller hearings offered the Democrats their best shot. And to quote the political philosopher Dee Snyder: “If that’s your best, your best won’t do.”
The Democrats, this go-round, would not even give a second’s consideration to a figure such as Michael Bloomberg, an up-and-down-the-line progressive with a pretty good actual record in office who, as an added bonus, could also make jokes about how Donald Trump can’t afford to buy a pair of pants. Relatively (relatively!) sensible figures such as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are sitting this one out, while Democratic governors — you know, the guys who actually have to do things rather than tweet all day, such as John Hickenlooper, Steve Bullock, and Jay Inslee — are, at last sighting, polling around 1 percent — combined. The ding on Senator Kamala Harris among Democratic primary voters is that as a prosecutor in California she was not enough of a left-wing moonbat.
The Mueller hearings presented a sad spectacle. They were boring. You know who is good at spectacle? You know who isn’t boring?