When a politician starts muttering about hearing “sort of a crescendo” of interest in himself, it can mean only one thing — another presidential election season is upon us.
The pol in this case is Sherrod Brown, the Democratic senator from Ohio. One hopes his family is hustling him off to a good psychiatrist to deal with the pesky voices in his head, although the senator has reason to feel frisky after defending his seat in a Republican-dominated state considered critical to any contender’s chances.
But the rest of us need a break. It’s November 2018. Election Day 2020 is more than 700 days away. And our mailboxes, TV screens and computer monitors, not to mention our own cranial circuitry, are still in recovery from the onslaught of ads, often negative, sometimes downright nasty, from an election that still is counting votes in some places.
Maybe I’m just getting grumpier as I get older. After all, the adage that “the presidential race starts the day after the midterms” has been around for a while. Now is the time when everyone who fancies her or himself a contender starts publicly thinking about it. Perhaps they can start thinking about it to themselves. Perhaps we in the media can stop asking them if they’re thinking about it.
Perhaps bookmakers can stop taking bets on it. One website had odds last week for 169 potential candidates, from Donald Trump and Joe Biden to Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and George Clooney to Elon Musk and John Delaney.
Who’s John Delaney, you say? A Democratic congressman from Maryland who announced his candidacy on July 28, 2017 and has already campaigned in every one of the 99 counties in Iowa, site of the nation’s first presidential caucus. He doesn’t have a chance. He was joined last week by fellow low-profile Democrat Richard Ojeda, who just lost a House race in West Virginia but can claim some exceptionalism by virtue of having lost by only 12 points in a district Trump carried by 49 in 2016.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she’s thinking about it, calling it a “moral question,” which is true if “moral” equates to “chance of winning.” Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, former housing secretary Julian Castro, and billionaire Michael Bloomberg are exploring it. And while Hillary Clinton’s people whisper about a third run, Clinton has said she isn’t thinking about it — until after the midterms. Please, stop.
There’s even activity on the Republican side apart from Trump, who’s always in campaign mode. Retiring Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and term-limited Ohio Gov. John Kasich paid recent visits to New Hampshire, site of the first primary, arguing that some Republican needs to challenge Trump. Who could they have had in mind?
Even more frustrating are the formulas already being offered for the kind of candidate who can beat Trump. It has to be a Midwest moderate, or a true progressive. A woman, or a minority, or a veteran, or someone young. Who appeals to independents, or suburban women, or Hispanics, or rural folk, or millennials.
The reality is that candidates make races. I’m pretty sure Republicans in 2016 were not looking for a race-baiting, lying, misogynist with authoritarian tendencies. Nor were Democrats in 2008 seeking an inexperienced African American with an Arabic middle name.
I remember an August night in 2015 in a campground in Maine, hunched over a battery-powered radio and an iPad, trying to find a signal to catch the first GOP debate, Trump’s national debut. And when it was over, thinking to myself, this is going to be different.
I’m still thinking it’s going to be different, in ways we can’t possibly know, in terms of who is going to run and win and what boxes they’re going to fit in.
I’d just rather not be thinking about it quite this soon.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.