And they’re off.
Whether you’re applauding the unofficial start of the 2020 presidential campaign or breaking into a cold sweat thinking of the endless slog ahead, it’s here.
Several Democrats — Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former U.S. housing secretary Julian Castro — have announced exploratory committees, former Rep. John Delaney has been campaigning in Iowa for nearly 18 months already, and a bunch of others are “close” to deciding. Not to mention a few subterranean Republicans mulling a primary challenge to President Donald Trump.
The field figures to include several members of the 116th Congress, which promised to be conspicuously dynamic even without the backdrop of a presidential contest.
Consider the restive House, now under Democratic control and spoiling for an oversight fight with Trump. Thanks primarily to freshman Dems, it’s the most racially diverse House in history, with more women than ever. And many of those newbies are spoiling for a policy fight with their own party’s more mainstream members.
The split Senate will ladle its own dysfunctional spice, with several GOP members from blue or purple states facing re-election in 2020 likely to consider breaking ranks with the president at times, as two already have over the shutdown.
While the House might contribute a member or two to the presidential lovefest, the Senate is virtually certain to send an army. Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand and Sherrod Brown appear to be in the mix. Add in a sprinkling of governors (like Colorado’s John Hickenlooper) and mayors (like L.A.’s Eric Garcetti), former pols (like Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke), business folks (like Howard Schultz) and the odd celebrity, and even two debate stages might not be enough to field this field.
That could bode well — or poorly — for the rest of us.
It would be a plus if this diversity of contenders generated real discussions about issues and policies, not debates over slurs and temperament. The potential is there — with Inslee’s focus on climate change, Warren’s work on economic inequality and corporate excess, and Michael Bloomberg’s effort to target gun violence, among others.
But a real scrum could also make scrumbinis more desperate to stand out. And with all the confirmation and oversight hearings being planned, there will be lots of opportunities for blowhards — apologies, for earnest elected officials working hard on behalf of their grateful constituents — to score televised points. Is it too much to ask these truth-seekers to seek to score substantive points, not merely political ones?
Washington’s rabid dog and pony shows, with contributions from members of both parties, are a real turnoff. How about asking questions intended to elicit information, not fuel electoral attractiveness?
And call me naive, but I’m also hoping all these lawmakers while they’re working their day jobs take votes they truly believe in, not votes they have exhaustingly triangulated to best serve their candidacies.
Every campaign starts with many unknowns. The more candidates, the more mysteries. It’s going to take a lot of bank shots to pull off a win on Nov. 3, 2020.
Will the sexism of Bernie’s Bros sink him? Will Harris’ and Booker’s lack of achievements do them in? Does Bloomberg have enough personality? Who has a leg up — pontificating senators or accomplished governors? Who negates whom? Who takes over one so-called lane and crowds out others? Will Trump be the GOP nominee? Can anyone stay above the fray that’s poisoning Washington? Is the country yearning for a shiny new thing it can’t stop looking at, or a comfortable old sweater it feels good about wearing? Does it want a politician or another outsider?
Time to start running.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.