The Corner

Elections

Why Is It Forbidden to Acknowledge That the Single-Digit Candidates Won’t Win?

Sen. Michael Bennet speaks on the second night of the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, Mich., July 31, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Over in Politico’s Playbook newsletter, Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman write:

WHAT ELECTED DEMOCRATS THINK, BUT WON’T SAY OUT LOUD: If you are in single digits in the polls after this many debates, this many months in the public view and this many cable hits, you are not going to be the nominee and you should get out of the presidential race. Don’t complain about the process, but rather acknowledge the reality that people — the ones who are polled — don’t really think you should be the nominee.

Why? Why is that considered an unspeakable truth? Why is that considered too mean to express publicly? This has been the most extensively and exhaustively covered Democratic presidential primary in history. Even with the inherent flaws of ten-person debates, more candidates got to speak in a prime-time debate than any previous cycle by a wide margin. Lots of candidates got prime-time “town halls” on CNN and other venues. One of the reasons the no-hope long-shot candidates felt like they didn’t get enough attention was because there were so many other no-hope long-shot candidates!

This is a presidential primary. There are no participation trophies here.

What, saying this out loud will hurt the feelings of Deval Patrick or Michael Bennet? Tulsi Gabbard put forth her ideas and her agenda and worldview. Democrats chose otherwise. Tom Steyer clearly is enjoying spending his own money. Andrew Yang, Amy Klobuchar, you showed you could beat expectations. But you’re not running against expectations. You’re running against Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders and all of those candidates with double-digit support.

Yes, some candidates run not to win but to influence the process. Maybe we need some sort of separate campaign process for the “I want to influence the discussion” candidates. In fact, maybe we need three separate primaries. One for those who actually have a realistic plan to win the nomination, another for those who just want to have an impact on the party’s direction, and a third for those who want to be celebrities or have a television gig afterwards.

A lot of talented political figures and big names never won their party’s nomination — Ted Kennedy, Scoop Jackson, Howard Baker, Jack Kemp, Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown, Newt Gingrich, Phil Gramm, Bill Bradley. Every cycle, every presidential campaign ends in disappointment or heartbreaking defeat except one. If you’re the kind of candidate who has been on the trail for months and people still periodically forget you’re running, it’s time to accept reality and move on.

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