Democrats, now that Rep. Nancy Pelosi has secured the support of her caucus to become the next speaker of the House, let me give y’all some rules for how to handle the 2020 presidential nomination process. There’s really only one: Act like Republicans.
Democrats have this annoying habit of always looking for “The One.” The one who will sweep them off their feet in a fit of electoral ecstasy. Only their “one” should make a go of it. All others are deemed inadequate or somehow all wrong for the party or the times. Then there’s this other annoying habit. If their “one” doesn’t win the nomination, then the person who actually does win is dead to them.
The exact opposite happens in the Republican Party. This fervor over “The One” is not a thing. In fact, when it comes to running for president, the GOP is a “come on in, the water’s fine” party. Remember the Republican debates in 2015-2016? There were so many candidates vying for the presidential nomination that they had to divide them into two groups: the main stage and the “kids’ table.”
Sure, folks have their favorite candidate and talk smack about the others. Their allegiances shift as the field winnows. But once the party faithful settle on a standard-bearer, that person is “The One.” The wagons are circled, and an all-out effort is made to get that person the keys to the White House.
When I asked Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, if my analysis of his party was correct, he basically agreed. “To paraphrase that old saying: Democrats want to fall in love, Republicans just want to win,” said Steele.
Democrats, if ever there was an election to not make the perfect the enemy of the good — to stop looking to fall in love and to start falling in line to win — by rallying around the nominee, whoever that might be, 2020 will be it.
Instead, I hear way too many nail-biting Democrats complain that the party doesn’t have a leader, that there are too many people thinking of running, that so-and-so is the best and the others should stand down. And don’t get me started on the political teenage crush du jour. One minute it’s all about Oprah Winfrey. Then there are dreams of Michelle Obama. Don’t forget the boomlet over Michael Avenatti. Today, it’s all about Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.). That’s not to say that O’Rourke or even Avenatti aren’t serious. But, c’mon, people.
So, here’s what I mean when I say Democrats need to act like Republicans.
Every Democrat who wants to run should run. There’s no such thing as too many candidates. Yeah, yeah, on her Nov. 25 show, MSNBC’s Joy Reid stood in front of the head shots of 32 potential aspirants, some not as serious as most of the others on the list. But trust me, most who hit the trail won’t make it to the first debate.
So what if they do? I’m old enough to remember the primary contests of the 2008 campaign when the party was tearing its hair out over having 10 nomination seekers on one debate stage the year before. Competition is a good thing and revelatory. Political dreamboats reveal themselves duds on the stump. Dark horses streak past the favorites. And through it all, we get to watch how all of them react to being under the most intense microscope in the world.
The staid process (when viewed through the WWE lens that was the GOP 2016 contest) produced a seasoned and prepared nominee in Barack Obama. He had been elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois only four years earlier, but he won the presidency against his more senior Senate colleague, John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Next, circle the wagons around the nominee. President Trump is such a threat to the rule of law, American democracy and the liberal world order that the United States spent more than 70 years building and helping to maintain that nothing matters more than making him a one-term occupant. Thus, who cares if the eventual nominee isn’t your “one.” Who cares if the eventual nominee only meets 80 percent — heck, 50.1 percent — of your checklist? Evicting Trump should be the most important item on that checklist.
Finally, don’t fall for the false narrative that Democrats don’t have a message. They absolutely do, as the midterm elections attest. Health care. Jobs. Fairness. Equal treatment under the law. And all of this can be discussed without responding to every one of Trump’s rhetorical, social or policy plunges from norms and decency.
Unseating a sitting president is not easy. In my lifetime, there have been just two one-term presidents, President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) and President George H.W. Bush (1989-1993). We’ve had three two-term presidents in the past 24 years. So, evicting Trump from 1600 in 2020 will be a heavy lift. Democrats need not make it harder by hobbling their nominee with needless infighting that distracts them from what must be their No. 1 goal.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj
Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast