It is only March 2019, and I am already sick of the 2020 presidential campaign. Granted, not much is happening on the Republican side — everyone assumes President Donald Trump will sail to renomination — but there are so many Democrats running it's hard to keep count. And for the life of me, I can't figure out what some of these people are doing in the race. Former Texas Rep. and failed Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke jumped in this week, as in he literally hopped on the counter at an Iowa coffee shop to exude enthusiasm about ... what? He doesn't seem to have a platform beyond being a nice guy who won't denigrate his opponents, even when the president shot a barb. "I think he's got a lot of hand movement," the president said after O'Rourke's announcement. "Is he crazy, or is that just the way he acts?" But it will take more than an aw-shucks smile and a refusal to engage in tit for tat with the insulter in chief to attract voters.
One would think Democrats would have learned something from the 2016 election. And maybe they did, but it was the wrong lesson. Trump became the Republican nominee in large part because there were too many Republicans competing in the primary. Having 17 declared candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination doomed several fine, well-qualified contenders who simply couldn't gain traction or differentiate themselves from one another. That left the loudest, least qualified and most grandiose candidate standing center stage. Trump started his campaign with universal name recognition and the willingness to say anything to grab free media. And the same journalists and networks he derides today as the "enemy of the people" were happy to oblige him by putting him on the air more often than any other candidate.
There is no character comparable to Trump in the Democratic field, but neither does there appear to be a reason for some of the Democratic candidates to be in the race in the first place. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, is in her fourth term in Congress, but she's known mostly for her disgraceful visit with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2017, during which she referred to U.S.-backed opposition forces as "terrorists." Pete Buttigieg was elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana, at 29, becoming the youngest-ever mayor of a city with a population over 100,000, but how exactly does that qualify him to be president? Even senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris don't offer much in the way of foreign policy depth or experience to make them suitable to lead the most important nation in the world.
"Well, what about Trump?" you ask. Exactly. Look where ignorance and inexperience got us. Of course, there is always Sen. Bernie Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren, both reliable leftists. Maybe the Democratic Party wants to go that direction — it almost went with Bernie in 2016 — but nominating either candidate may well be the best guarantee for Trump's re-election.
I haven't mentioned Joe Biden, for good reason. He's still doing his Hamlet act, though he says he's getting closer to making a decision. But with a field as crowded as it is now, Biden may well not be able to break through. That would be unfortunate, in my view. He has the best chance of drawing independent voters and disaffected Republicans, who might not agree with him on the judges he'd nominate or some of the policies he'd support, such as higher taxes, but who trust he's ready to return some normalcy to the Oval Office.
In the old days of smoke-filled rooms and party bosses, someone would have pulled aside the candidates crowding the Democratic race and told them to build their credentials and wait their turn. But in the free-for-all that is party politics today, anyone with enough hubris can throw a hat in the ring. Democracy isn't stronger because of it but weaker as demagogues and amateurs vie with experienced leaders for votes.
Linda Chavez is chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center. To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.