Dear Democratic presidential candidates: I know all 23 of you want to run against President Trump, but only one will get that opportunity. If you truly believe your own righteous rhetoric, some of you ought to be spending your time and energy in another vital pursuit — winning control of the Senate.
I’m talking to you, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, who would have a good chance of beating incumbent Republican Cory Gardner. I’m talking to you, Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, who could knock off GOP incumbent Steve Daines. I’m even talking to you, Beto O’Rourke, who would have a better chance than any other Texas Democrat against veteran Republican John Cornyn.
And I’m talking to you, too, Stacey Abrams of Georgia, even though you haven’t jumped in. You came within a whisker of being elected governor, and you have a national profile that would bring in a tsunami of campaign funds. You could beat Republican David Perdue — and acquire real power to translate your stirring eloquence into concrete action.
As the Republican Party has long understood, it’s all about power. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could not care less about lofty words and high ideals. Coldly and methodically, he has used his power to block widely supported progressive measures such as gun control, to enact a trickle-down economic agenda that favors the wealthy and to pack the federal bench with right-wing judges whom we’ll be stuck with for decades.
We all remember how McConnell refused even to schedule hearings for President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, ostensibly because the vacancy occurred during an election year. Were you surprised when he said recently that if a seat were to come open in 2020, he would hasten to confirm a replacement? I wasn’t. That’s how McConnell rolls. He exercises his power to its full extent and is not bothered by what you or I or anyone else might think. Charges of hypocrisy do not trouble his sweet slumber.
McConnell is not going to be reasoned, harangued or shamed into behaving differently. The only way to stop him is to take his power away, and the only way to do that is for Democrats to win the Senate.
That will not be easy this time around, but it is possible if Democrats can build on the blue-wave momentum they generated in last year’s midterms — and if they put forth the candidates who have the best chance of winning.
Flipping the Senate will also require a bit of luck. For example, if Alabama Republicans are foolish enough to nominate the buffoonish Roy Moore yet again, Democratic Sen. Doug Jones will have a much better chance of reelection in what ought to be a GOP bastion.
But fortune favors the prepared. Good things are much more likely to happen for the Democratic Party if it backs up the presidential nominee with down-ballot candidates who have their own appeal and their own pizazz. Imagine a Texas Senate race featuring O’Rourke, whose near-miss campaign last year against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz resulted in nearly twice as many Democratic voters turning out than in 2014. All of a sudden, Texas’s 38 electoral votes don’t seem like such a mortal lock for Trump. Texas begins to look like a state in which Trump has to spend time and money — resources he would rather deploy elsewhere.
Likewise, Georgia’s 16 electoral votes look genuinely up for grabs if the electrifying Abrams is on the ballot. There and elsewhere, whatever boosts voter registration and turnout is likely to help the Democratic Party — and ultimately make our government more representative of the nation it serves.
Who am I to tell Hickenlooper and Bullock not to run for president and to go for the Senate instead? A realist. In a Des Moines Register poll released Saturday, each was the first choice of 0 percent of likely Iowa caucus participants. Yes, it’s early. Yes, Joe Biden could stumble. But will Bernie Sanders stumble, too? And Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala D. Harris, and Amy Klobuchar, and Cory Booker, and all the rest who at least have measurable support?
O’Rourke, at 2 percent, is at least on the map in Iowa. Maybe he’ll light up the first debate and climb in the polls; if he doesn’t, I urge him to assess his options. And Abrams, of course, has a perfect right not to run for anything. I just wish she would reconsider.
We don’t need 23 presidential candidates. Some of you, please, fight for the Senate.