Monday, July 15, 2019

BTRTN: Swalwell Ends Well. Others Should Follow.

It wasn’t a major headline when Eric Swalwell dropped his Presidential bid last week. But Steve thinks we should pause to applaud his wise move, and to send a message to the other weak candidates.

Why are all the young candidates showing the supposedly experienced elders how it’s done?

Pete Buttigieg is the youngest candidate in the field, and he consistently comes across as more measured, thoughtful, and wise than either of those grumpy grandpas ahead of him in the polls.

Kamala Harris is a first term Senator and, at 54, a relative youngster compared Biden, Bernie, and Warren.  Yet in the debate, she showed 76-year-old Joe Biden how to efficiently fillet the main course in front of the guests.

And now Eric Swalwell, all of 38 years old, is the first Democratic Presidential candidate to demonstrate a genuine tether to reality.  He decided to withdraw from the race.

Didn’t know there was an “Eric Swalwell” in the Democratic field? Fair enough: he was one of those “refrigerator candidates” (that’s how we refer to candidates whose polling numbers are “Sub Zero”), and was so on the periphery that he stood at the very last podium stage right. For context, the candidate in the corresponding last podium stage left, Marianne Williamson, appeared to be representing the rings of Saturn. Badly, we might add.

Still and all, Swalwell did well... well enough in the debates to outperform some of the better known candidates. For one thing, he did not spontaneously combust into Spanish to elude a tough question about tax policy.  

But last week the young Congressman from California was somehow able to acknowledge what neither John Hickenlooper nor that loopy hick from Maryland, John Delaney, can bring themselves to admit. He accepted that he had no chance of winning, and decided that his energies were best expended elsewhere.

In Swalwell’s case, the logic is clear: why put his Congressional seat at risk on a longer shot than Knicks breaking .500? Swalwell sits on two vitally important and highly visible committees, and gets more air time on MSNBC than some of their weekend anchors. He appears to have concluded that he can do more for himself, his party, and his country by not running for President.

Who knows? Maybe Eric Swalwell decided that defeating Donald Trump is so important to the future of this nation that he wanted to get out of the way and let the party focus on the truly serious candidates. Maybe he did not want to contribute to the carnival atmosphere and reality tv trappings of two dozen candidates screeching for attention, many of whom appear to be engaged in vanity exercises.

Maybe he was actually putting his nation and his party ahead of his own ambitions. Wouldn't that be something?

Well, there are about a dozen other people in this race who should be thinking about making a hard turn onto Swalwell’s exit ramp. Some should just clear the stage so that the voting population gets to hear more from the legitimate candidates. And pundits are pointing out that some of the candidates should be serving a higher purpose than pursuing a slim-to-none chance at the presidency.

Let’s start with four candidates who could be doing their party and their country a great service by opting out of the Presidential race and aiming for the U.S. Senate. There’s both Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke in Texas, John Hickenlooper in Colorado, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock – and all are in a position to seriously challenge a vulnerable Republican for a Senate seat in 2020.

As James Carville might have put it, it’s the Senate, stupid. If the Democrats are fortunate enough to win the White House back in 2020, they would still be frustratingly hamstrung if they did not also secure control of the Senate. Sure, a Dem President would put forward a name for any potential Supreme Court opening, but do we really think the Republican majority living under the warped spell of Mitch McConnell would approve any progressive nominee?

The fight for the Senate is not getting the focus it needs. Donald Trump consumes so much media oxygen that he obscures the fact that two of his Republican cronies are taking a wrecking ball to the Constitution. William Barr, Trump’s Attorney General, seems to believe that “separation of powers” means separating the other two branches of government from power. And Mitch McConnell, as Senate Majority Leader, has done more to inflame the polarization that is destroying our democracy than anyone. 
McConnell, you see, actually knows how to intentionally subvert the Constitution. With Trump, you get the feeling that he has absolutely no understanding of democracy, government, the Constitution, separation of powers, the designated hitter, arithmetic, gravity, or syntax. He is merely an ignorant infant who seeks to destroy any obstacle in his path using whatever means are most lethal. When Trump careens toward a Constitutional Crisis, it is because he has no idea what he is doing, and wouldn't care if he did.
But McConnell does. He knows the Senate rules and the Constitution, so he knows when he can maneuver around its intent even as he appears to abide by its literal language. If Newt Gingrich created the politics of polarization, Mitch McConnell gave them their nuclear warhead. It was McConnell who famously declared in 2009 that his purpose as Senator Majority Leader was to ensure that Barack Obama was a one-term President. Yes, he announced out loud that the central focus of his public service was to cause the president to fail. That's McConnell's idea of patriotism.

Then, in 2016, McConnell parked his butt on top of Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. It was McConnell who torpedoed the clear intent of the Founding Fathers by trumping up a bogus rationale for refusing to allow the Senate to consider Garland’s nomination. It’s that simple: no Mitch McConnell, no Neil Gorsuch. Roe v. Wade would not be imperiled. Gerrymandering would be unconstitutional. McConnell cheated progressives out of the Supreme Court Justice that was rightly Barack Obama’s to appoint.

Mitch’s problem, however, is that he only gets to wield his wizard’s wand of wickedness when the Republican Party has the majority of seats in the Senate. That is when he is the Senate Majority Leader, one of the most powerful positions in our Government. When the Democrats control the Senate, he is the Senate Minority Leader, essentially a meaningless, ineffectual nothing job. He is just McConnell from Kentucky, the hyper-jowled, pinched-nosed nerd with the resting Mitch face.  A Democratic majority is pure, unalloyed kryptonite to McConnell’s power.
Three seats in the Senate could easily be the difference between a progressive Supreme Court Justice and yet another Brett Kavanaugh. Three seats in the Senate save Roe v. Wade. Three seats in the Senate can help solve healthcare. 

It is time to get focused on the big picture. The 2020 election is not just about defeating Donald Trump. It is regaining control of government. Trump is just one particularly ugly piece of the picture. 

The United States Senate is currently controlled by the Republicans, with 53 seats, to only 47 for Democrats. This means that if the Democrats win the White House in 2020, they must flip at least three seats to control the chamber… as a Democratic VP would be able to vote to break 50/50 ties. But it’s quite likely that the Dems will have to win four, as it is questionable whether Doug Jones will be able to retain his seat in overwhelmingly Republican Alabama. 

Four Senate seats to be flipped. That is a very tall order. 

Which is why we have to make sure that the Democratic Party is not simply selecting the Presidential candidate with the best chance of beating Trump, it must also make sure it has the Senate candidates with the best chance of beating their Republican rivals… most acutely in States where a Republican is the incumbent running for re-election. Particularly where those Republican Senators are known to be vulnerable.

Colorado is one of those states. A reliably Republican state just a decade ago, it is morphing blue, and Senator Cory Gardner is now the only Republican holding statewide office. Gardner eked out his Senate win in 2016 by a mere 40,000 votes, and was once viewed as a man willing to buck his party. Now he is now shackled to Donald Trump. 

A number of well-respected Colorado Democrats have declared their intent to challenge Gardner, but none have the name recognition and popularity of John Hickenlooper, former two-term Mayor of Denver and two-term Governor. The name Hickenlooper may seem whacky in 49 states, but it stands tall in the mile-high state. He would be the Dems’ best bet against Gardner. 

But where is Hickenlooper? Tilting at windmills, running for President. Look, the only scenario in which Hickenlooper emerges as the President of the United States would involve an asteroid, a flood, or a pandemic, and might require all three. Stop, John. Stop, now. Don’t wait for the April, 2020 filing deadline. We need you in the Senate. Do the right thing.
Similarly, no one is looking at Montana Governor Steve Bullock and seeing Franklin Roosevelt. Bullock started his Presidential campaign too late to have a real chance at qualifying for the opening debates (which is, arguably, itself an indication of insufficient political savvy). But in Montana, Bullock is big. He is a Democrat who won statewide office in Montana. There’s a Senate election there in 2020 with a Republican incumbent. Bullock would give the Dems a real shot at. Do it, Steve. Do the right thing.

Let's talk about Beto O’Rourke. It’s hard to look him in the eyes, ask him to risk losing a second Senate election in the same state within two years, and then try to tell him it’s a shrewd career move. The problem, however, is one of O’Rourke’s own making. Fresh off his dazzling near-miss in 2018, when he stormed out of nowhere to nearly defeat Texas incumbent Senator Ted Cruz, O’Rourke decided that 2020 was his moment.

However, for every brilliant move he made in his Senate campaign, he has laid an egg in his nascent Presidential bid. The Vanity Fair cover was more than its fair share of vanity. His propensity to leap onto countertops to give campaign speeches screamed style over substance. His campaign lags far behind his rivals in policy specifics. And his debate performance – where his natural charisma should have shone – was a dud.

Also in Texas we find the charming Julián Castro, who did very well in the debates, but had nothing to show for it in post-debate polling. Like O'Rourke, Castro is a young man. Both could serve two terms in the Senate and still run for President before they turn 60!

Sure, these two can read their clippings and justify staying in the race, but the O’Rourke/Castro phenomenon is shaping up to be an epic missed opportunity. The Democrats have two immensely appealing, capable, and well-qualified Texans who would have a strong chance to flip an important Republican Senate seat held by John Cornyn. And they are both passing on the opportunity.

C'mon, guys! Do the right thing!

Each of these candidates – Beto, Castro, Hickenlooper, and Bullock – should view the upside in their position.  On election night, 2020, they could either be sitting at home, largely forgotten, or they could be huge stories in some of the most critical Senate elections in the nation. Gentleman, if you don’t want to do it for your party or for your country, do it for yourself. 

But these candidates are hardly the only ones who should follow Representative Swalwell’s brilliant decision and opt out of the Presidential campaign. The essential dynamic of this race has already taken shape. There is a very clear top tier of the five leading contenders: Biden, Warren, Harris, Sanders, and Buttigieg. These are all well-funded, widely supported, well-developed candidacies, and all have staying power.

Then there are are candidates who are doing just well enough in polling and in the debates to carry on: Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar. We’d certainly put Castro and O’Rourke in this group, but still view them to be far enough behind the field that the Senate option seems wise at this point.

The rest? Despite the fact that there are at least seven firmly-entrenched, well-funded competitors out in front of them, a large number of "one percent" candidates persevere. Why

Sure, you can say that it is way to early to expect people to step aside. Really? The fact is that this race began in earnest six months ago. In that time, some candidates have made enormous progress. Others haven't made a dent.
There is a theory circulating that one of the reasons that there are so many Democratic candidates is because there is no downside to running… just upside, in the form of name recognition, elevating one’s personal brand, and career opportunity. Make a run for the Democratic nomination, and who knows? Maybe the VP nod? A cabinet post? How about a sweet gig on MSNBC? A few years raking in the dough as a big time lobbyist? What’s to lose?

Well, nothing… unless you put some stock in personal dignity and reputation.

For the incumbent Senator from New York to be lagging far behind the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana is not helping her brand. 

It’s one thing to make a serious, respectable run for Presidential nomination and not win.

It’s quite another thing to run for President and generate anemic support, become an easy target for late night comedians, and fail to even be taken seriously enough to be considered as in the top two tiers of candidates.

At that point, all you are proving is that you have no following, no visceral appeal, and no ability to rouse or motivate supporters. Keep it up, and all you will accomplish is to convince everyone that you’d bring nothing to the party as a VP candidate or even as an MSNBC contributor. 

Those who think that a failed run for the Presidency is a good path to the VP slot would do well to review recent history. Most VP candidates this century never entered the race for the White House: Tim Kaine, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin, Joe Lieberman, and Dick Cheney. The two exceptions are interesting. In 2004, John Kerry chose John Edwards as his running mate precisely because he had demonstrated powerful voter appeal as the runner-up in the Presidential race. And in 2008, Barack Obama selected Joe Biden… a candidate for the nomination who had dropped out very early in the race when he recognized that he was not a viable candidate.  So if are simply in it for the VP slot, (1) don’t run for President, (2) run such a strong campaign that you prove you can help in the general election, or (3) drop out early before it’s becomes apparent that you bring nothing to the table. 

There you have it, de Blasio, Moulton, Ryan, Gillibrand, Inslee, Gabbard, Delaney, Bennet, Messam, Sestak, Williamson, and Yang.

All you are doing right now is adding to the carnival atmosphere that makes the most important election of our lifetime look like a game show with an applause-o-meter and a buzzer. You are making this campaign look like a reality tv show, which, unfortunately for you, may be named The Biggest Loser.

Follow the fine example of Representative Swalwell.

He's not hanging around to further quantify his campaign's lack of viability.

Clear the deck. Get off the debate stage. Let the serious work of choosing the Democratic candidate begin.

Wouldn’t it be great if in next debate, we saw only the strongest candidates, and each got two to three minutes instead of sixty seconds to communicate their beliefs and proposals on, say, global warming, healthcare, immigration policy, income equality, protecting our elections from foreign subversion, Middle East peace, repairing relationships with allies, women’s reproductive rights, decaying infrastructure, voting rights, gerrymandering, racial bias and conflict, prescription drug pricing, fixing public education, addressing biases and inequities in law enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration, gender equality, comprehensive tax reform, dealing with the opioid crisis, balancing the budget, reducing the national debt, job creation, revisiting international trade and security alliances, and arresting the spread of nuclear weapons? 

You know, substantive dialog on the real issues. It's the thing that separates Democrats from Trumpublicans.

Clear the stage, wannabees.

If you won’t do it for your Country, do it for your party. And if you won’t do it for your party, do it for your own narrow self-interest. 

Coming in 17th out of two dozen candidates will not make you a hometown hero. 

Becoming a rounding error is unbecoming.

Having your name memorialized as a synonym for lack of self-awareness is not the legacy to leave for the grandchildren.

Recognize that a certain point, you are getting in the way of the most urgent task of our time: regaining control of our government before Trump, Barr, and McConnell destroy it. 

Representative Swalwell, thank you for your fine example.

As for the rest of you marginal candidates: if you persist in your pipe dream, you are destined to become a comedy or a tragedy, but most certainly not a President. 

Get out now.

Because the way things are going, it's only Swalwell that ends well. 

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