It’s barely a week since the 2018 midterm elections, yet it seems like every day someone else lets it be known that he or she is exploring the possibility of running in the Democratic presidential primaries in 2020. “We’re thinking about it,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told the Columbus Dispatch in an interview published Monday morning. Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, according to CNBC, has hired former John McCain 2008 campaign manager Steve Schmidt. And on Monday, Richard Ojeda, who lost out in a West Virginia congressional race, launched his presidential bid.
It goes on and on. Billionaire former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg changed his voter registration to the Democratic Party last month. Stormy Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti thinks he’s got the bona fides. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) says she considering it. Some even think Hillary Clinton is going to try again.
Then there are the names that continue to circulate, maybe because they’ve visited Iowa or New Hampshire, or because they won’t give a definitive yes or no, or because they’ve given some indication that something is up: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.); former vice president Joe Biden; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.); former attorney general Eric Holder; Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.
The Washington Post counted 25 people — last spring. It has only grown since then.
Good. The more the merrier. The sheer number of candidates considering a run greatly increases the chances of a gradual winnowing of the flock, something that will allow supporters to slowly coalesce around one candidate and then another, instead of feeling forced into an allegiance, come hell or high water. You know, like in the last Democratic presidential primary.
I admit that a few months ago, I begged Schultz not to run. “The last thing the Democratic Party — or the Republican Party, for that matter — needs is a business leader with no elected political experience running for president,” I wrote. Don’t get me wrong. I still feel that way, especially since there are dozens of other potential candidates.
But I’m old enough to remember 2015, when there were so many Republicans vying for the nod of their party, the early intraparty debates needed to be divided into two to ensure everyone got airtime. The Democrats considered this something of a joke. The clown car, people named it. “This is getting ridiculous,” sniffed political analyst Bill Schneider.
The joke was on the American public. As it turned out, the vast GOP field offered an advantage that became clear only in retrospect. It prevented until the very end one-on-one mashups. Did it get personal — too personal? You bet. But when there were so many figures on the debate stage, not to mention so many people entering the race, only to drop out, it didn’t allow for a pernicious us-vs.-them to develop among the party voters — a key distinction. They saved their wrath for the Democrats.
That’s not what happened on the Democratic side. After Iowa, only Clinton and Sanders were left to battle it out. It was as if someone in the American League decided early in the season to cancel all baseball games, in favor of offering instead an entire season of the New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox (and, by the way, intimated that all fans should really prefer the Yankees). The result? Are you still angry that Sanders referred to Planned Parenthood as “establishment” or that Clinton condescendingly dismissed single-payer health insurance? There’s a social media fight out there for you raging as I type this sentence.
That won’t happen in 2020. We’ll get to discover whether Democratic voters are willing to overlook Bloomberg’s support for “stop and frisk,” or embrace Schultz’s belief that the national debt is “the greatest threat” the United States needs to handle — and what candidate their supporters will choose next if their chosen standard bearer gets pushed out. Concerned that Sanders is too far to the left, that Warren’s handling of “Pocahontas” bodes poorly for the general election, or Holder is too solicitous of Wall Street interests? No need to stew. You’ll get a say. And when that one falls out, you can decide what you are willing to overlook and select another and then another until there is one man or woman left standing. Here is one thing I can guarantee: That person will turn out to be much, much better than Donald J. Trump.