Keep Calm and Carry On
March 2, 2020
Have you heard there’s a presidential election in the United States this year? If per chance you partake in social media, maybe you’ve seen, and even been drawn into, a “discussion” among your “friends” about who the Democratic Party will nominate to take on Donald Trump in November. Will it be Quid Pro Joe? Mini Mike? Alfred E. Neuman? Crazy Bernie? Pocahontas?(1)
Before you have your “Asteroid 2020” bumper sticker printed, or have a panic attack, or rant about the pros or cons of any of the people vying for the Democratic nomination…relax. Breathe. Keep calm and read on.
Modern day presidential primaries follow a fairly predictable and general outline. The end results may not, but the process by-and-large does. Rolling Stone political columnist Matt Taibbi famously referred to the last Republican primary field as a “Clown Car.” The 2016 primaries started much like the current Democratic primary: more than 20 candidates including well-worn names, no names, and everything in between. At the beginning these folks were not at all in agreement on the direction in which their party should go. The person who ended up with the nomination, and ultimately became president, was not considered a serious candidate (at first or presently) and was ridiculed by most everyone he was running against (along with the media and much of the country). Talking heads and pundits predicted that if Donald “Grab them by the pussy” Trump was nominated it would be the “Death of the GOP”; that he couldn’t unify the party; that he’d lose in a landslide.
You know what happened. (Yes he lost the popular vote. We’ll explore that conundrum in a future essay.)
This year the Democratic field did look a little more like America (at least at the start) than 2016’s Clown Car. The first debates … remember those? … took place over two days and included 20 people. Today the media, both traditional and social, is echoing what was said four years earlier about the Republican field being “weak” and that none of the candidates are electable or can bring the party together. Really?
We interrupt this essay to bring you a little quiz:
1. Who ran against George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the 1992 primaries?
2. Which Republican ran against Clinton in the 1996 general election?
3. Who ran against George W. Bush and Al Gore in the 2000 primaries?
4. Which Democrat ran against W. in the 2004 general election?
5. Who ran against John McCain in the 2008 Republican primaries?
6. Which Republican ran against Obama in the 2012 general election? (He recently made headline news)
7. Name the Ohio governor who was the last person to fall off the 2016 Republican Clown Car.
If your answers are mostly, “I have no idea,” you’re a winner! Unless you are a serious political junkie (or live in Ohio) you probably answered none of the odd-numbered questions correctly and maybe one or two of the even-numbered. Or you looked up the answers on Wikipedia.
It is a political fact that almost nothing that happens prior to the nomination ultimately matters. This may seem bizarre but it is true. Of the 16 most prominent Republican primary candidates in 2016 who do not have their name on the front of a building, 12 ultimately endorsed Trump, and five of those endorsed a different rival candidate first. More to the point, Lindsey Graham, one of the four who did not endorse him, is today one of his most loyal lap dogs. There will never be a need to carbon date the half-life of a political comment or memory. Remember the Impeachment?
Since the ideas in this article started to percolate, Tom Steyer has ended his run. After I began writing it, Pete Buttigieg suspended his campaign. Should history be true to form, the field will narrow even more after Super Tuesday. I have no idea how it will play out, though I can make a few safe predictions. Bernie Sanders will surely stay in representing the left of the party. Elizabeth Warren will eventually drop out. Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg will vie for the center, with one throwing his support to the other when the time comes. Amy Klobuchar will most likely face reality Wednesday morning, especially if she doesn’t win her home state of Minnesota.
Regarding party unity, who ultimately gets the Democratic nomination matters far less than how it happens. This is the topic I’ll explore in my next article.
Thanks for reading.
~ Joseph Connelly
Feedback is welcome and appreciated. Contact me at: josephconnelly26.2 (at) gmail (dot) com or on Facebook.
(1) All actual nicknames the current POTUS has used.
Quiz answers: 1) I don’t remember 2) Bob Dole 3) I have no idea 4) John Kerry 5) What difference does it make? 6) Mitt Romney 7) John Kasich