Opinion | Mike Littwin: Tom Steyer can’t win Democratic race even as we admit we have no idea who can
Fair and Unbalanced
Note to Tom Steyer: This apparently comes a little late, but you should know there is absolutely no chance that Democrats will nominate a billionaire to run against President Donald Trump — who claims to be one himself; of course, he also claims to be a stable genius — in the 2020 election.
I say this as confidently as I said back in 2016 that there was no chance, zero chance, that Trump could ever be elected president.
The truth is that no one knows anything right now, which is why there are 25 Democrats, many of them with legitimate resumes and at least one with new age crystals, in the race. You would think that the number of Democrats running would reflect fatal weakness on the part of the incumbent.
But the real reason everyone is running is that everyone is scared to death that the obvious and glaring weaknesses on the part of the incumbent somehow, inexplicably, won’t matter a whit. It’s true that his approval ratings are so far under water the Secret Service should probably bring along a lifeguard. But, let’s face it, if Access Hollywood didn’t beat him last time, what does?
There actually is one certainty in my thinking — that the last thing Democrats want, or think they need, is more candidates. The culling is coming soon. Many among the many 1 percenters, which include more than half the field, who don’t get a boost in the second debate will have to give it up. (See: Hickenlooper, John.) The money will run out. And the qualifications for getting into the third round of debates seem daunting for much of the field. (See: Bennet, Michael.)
You require a particularly large ego — you can put a check by Steyer’s name here — to think that 24 candidates aren’t quite enough, particularly when many of the the issues you’re fighting for already have front-running champions (See: Warren, Elizabeth.)
And another thing I’m still sure of — if Steyer spends anything like the $100 million he vows to spend, and which he can afford to spend, he will make himself a factor. He’s already made a $1 million TV buy in four early states. I’ve interviewed Steyer. Spent a very enjoyable hour with him. He is extremely smart, obviously ambitious and eager to be in the center of things. Wasn’t it just a few months ago he promised he wouldn’t run for president and was still working, instead, on spending millions of dollars toward Trump’s impeachment?
But the news about Steyer — who was immediately hit by both Bernie Sanders and Warren as the billionaire come lately who shouldn’t be allowed to buy an election — obscures the real news about the Democratic race. If you believe, as most Democrats do, that the single most important factor in the nomination is to find the person most likely to defeat Trump in 2020, the questions remain: Who is that person? And what kind of candidate should that person be?
No one knows. No one. And the real worry for Democrats is that no one will know with any confidence before the election.
I was just reading a New Yorker piece by the reliably great Amy Davidson Sorkin on the now-ex-British ambassador and his embarrassing — to Trump and apparently to the UK — leaked cables. She cited a cable from Kim Darroch saying Trump had “a credible path” to reelection thanks to his huge, unswayable base. And despite the dysfunction that defines the Trump years, Darroch wrote it’s possible he’ll “emerge from the flames, battered but intact, like Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of ‘The Terminator.’”
It depended in large part, he wrote, “on who the Democrats choose.”
If that seems obvious, note that Darroch didn’t say, with his trained professional eye, who that person should be because, to repeat myself, no one actually knows.
We know who the front-runners are because we are inundated with polls — meaningless national polls, semi-meaningless match-up-with-Trump polls, slightly-more-meaningful early-state polls. But taken together — as you can see on, say, Real Clear Politics — the top tier is clearly Joe Biden, Sanders, Warren and Kamala Harris. The second tier seems to be (on some days more than others) some combination of Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Julián Castro, Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke. And then everyone else.
All the so-called front-runners are running ahead of Trump or are basically even in head-to-head polling, which should give no one comfort. Forget the electability issue, which usually goes something like this: How could a woman win when Hillary lost? I mean, how many men have lost? But there is this: Trump isn’t running against any of them yet. With the big field, the right-wing noise machine hasn’t settled on anyone. The Russian bots haven’t geared up. The deepfakes are still in the planning stages. And ask yourself, is the fact that Biden’s lead has been shrinking due to Biden’s poor debate showing and his somewhat problematic Senate past or is that Trump has reserved most of his Twitter invective, to this point, for him?
The Dems, meanwhile, are divided, which is natural, and not simply because they’re Democrats, although you can’t discount it. Again, a lot of it is about electability. Would impeaching Trump help or hurt in 2020? Can you afford to call for impeachment — as Nancy Pelosi warns — if you think it will hurt Democrats in the long run, with Trump getting to claim vindication if the Senate, as it would, fails to convict him? Or, how could you credibly say that Trump’s tenure is a long assault on our democracy without impeaching him?
But here’s where the argument gets weird. Nearly every Democrat running for president is calling for Treasury Secretary Alex Acosta to resign with news of his role in the sweetheart deal given Jeffrey Epstein, the serial abuser of underage girls, back in 2007. But Pelosi, who strongly calls for Acosta’s resignation, also says it’s up to the president to deal with him. Because — and here’s the catch — how can she impeach Acosta for what she called an “unconscionable” deal if she refuses to impeach Trump for his unconscionable conduct?
And that’s where we are. And here’s a prediction: It won’t get any easier from here.
Mike Littwin writes the biweekly column “Fair and Unbalanced” for The Colorado Independent. He previously worked at The Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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