The Corner

Elections

Cory Booker, the Rocket That Failed to Launch

Sen. Cory Booker responds to a question during a forum held by gun safety organizations in Las Vegas, Nev., October 2, 2019. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

The departure of Cory Booker from the presidential race will not generate a lot of exhaustive analysis, as it has already been digested by the body politic. Booker failed to launch and bounced along the bottom of the polling charts for a year. You’ll see some cringing about the all-white Democratic debate coming this week, but few expected Booker to meet the recent thresholds; he simply wasn’t competitive in any of the early states. In the RealClearPolitics averages, he’s at 2.7 percent in Iowa, 1.8 percent in New Hampshire, 2 percent in Nevada, and South Carolina — once considered one of his best chances to win — at 3 percent. Even in the Palmetto State, Booker never hit more than 6 percent.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to say about Booker’s campaign is that he’s a vivid illustration of how the traits that make a politician interesting for media profiles don’t always translate into actual support on the trail. Booker was the multiracial, vegan, former standout Stanford tight end who had been the subject of Oscar-nominated documentaries, generated tales of heroics as mayor of Newark, described vivid tales of perhaps-imaginary friends from the hood, was once an outspoken school choice and voucher advocate, created his own Internet start-up and hobnobbed with Silicon Valley titans, was the first mayor of Newark in 45 years not to leave office indicted or under the threat of indictment on criminal charges, and who dated actress Rosario Dawson. That’s a resume fit for Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World.” On paper, Booker should have been the heir apparent to Barack Obama’s celebrity politics.

Despite all that, Booker could often come across as boring. His debate one-liners and applause lines were so perfectly rehearsed that they came across as cloying. His signature move in the debate was to wait until an argument between two other candidates had started to get interesting and impassioned, and then interject with a disapproving: “this kind of infighting is just what the Republicans want to see.” But “this kind of infighting” was also a serious disagreement about which policy direction was right for the Democratic party, which is precisely the sort of thing a presidential primary is supposed to sort out. Perhaps Democratic primary voters interpreted Booker’s perpetual “tsk-tsk” response to these arguments as a reticence for getting into a nasty fight — which was not a trait you wanted to advertise if you were asking the party to make you their nominee up against Donald Trump.

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