For maybe the first time in Michael Bennet’s political career, he has gone viral. And as quickly as you can say “Ted Cruz’s crocodile tears,” Bennet is, for the moment, a social media star.
All it took was Bennet going on the Senate floor to excoriate Cruz for 25 minutes or so. Sure, Cruz is an easy target — remember Lyin’ Ted? — but this was the kind of direct hit your rarely see from the Senate and you never see from Bennet.
But there’s little you can do to make Democrats more excited than to rip Cruz apart. According to C-SPAN, Bennet’s speech has broken records for views of a C-SPAN video.
Bennet’s shots at Cruz, along with those at Trump and at the government shutdown, certainly looked spontaneous (he didn’t have any notes, anyway), and at least two points have emerged from the speech:
One, the suggestion that Bennet, a senator little known outside of Colorado, was considering running for president no longer seems like a pipe dream. Two, now that Bennet has had his moment, he has to follow it with something to show that his fiery speech (two words rarely used before in that order when referring to Bennet’s oratory) is not a one-off. In fact, Bennet now has Facebook ads up in four early-voting states referencing the speech.
Last I talked to Bennet, he was still in the presidential-bid-consideration stage. But lashing out at Cruz, the nation’s most unpopular senator (who’s now aptly sporting a Satanic-looking beard to match), can never be a bad look for a Democratic candidate. If you haven’t seen the clip, Bennet began by saying he was unmoved by Cruz’s crocodile tears for first responders considering that, back in 2013, Cruz had led a shut-down-the-government movement even as Colorado was literally drowning in floodwaters. The speech took off from there.
The twitter response was overwhelming. Many were encouraging Bennet to run for president. One even had Lincoln applauding Bennet from his grave, where I doubt you can even get C-SPAN.
Even Donald Trump noticed, objecting to Bennet’s use of “medieval” to describe Trump’s wall (all Dems are using that). And Bennet hit back.
.@realDonaldTrump if you don’t like the word “medieval” to describe your wall, how about ineffective, wasteful, offensive, unpopular…
— Michael Bennet (@SenatorBennet) January 25, 2019
This was, of course, exactly what Bennet needed — a jump start. If he gets in, which is suddenly a safer bet, he’d be facing a field that probably starts at somewhere around two dozen or maybe even more. The size is no longer surprising. Everyone wants a shot at Donald Trump. And no one has truly begun to separate himself/herself from the field.
In fact, the biggest news in the Democratic field in the last few days comes not courtesy of Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren — both of whom hit it big in recent visits to Iowa, with Harris’s CNN town hall breaking cable records — but from Howard Schultz, who has announced he’s considering running as an independent. If the reception that the Starbucks mogul received from his fellow Democrats were any cooler, he’d be his own venti-sized polar vortex.
For Democrats, beating Trump is everything. But the strange thing is, the huge field could be an advantage for someone like Bennet and his (still?) friend John Hickenlooper, who has all but announced he’s running.
Hickenlooper spent Sunday in Iowa — he’ll soon be spending a lot more days of the week there if he does run — at a house party and at a brewpub, where, of course, he would be pouring drinks while hoisting a Double Trouble IPA. “I’m not just frustrated,” he said. “I’m over-the-top angry about what’s happened to the country in such a short period of time.”
Hickenlooper doesn’t, publicly anyway, get over-the-top mad. He also doesn’t say things like this: “I don’t think there is anyone else that can reliably — as I can — beat Donald Trump.”
Retail politics — which is the way you play the game in Iowa — plays to Hick’s strengths. He can work a room or a brewpub. His message, as reported by the Des Moines Register, is that he hopes to unite a divided country through progressive pragmatism. Working both sides of the aisle is typical Hickenlooper speech-making. Going progressive, which isn’t, is a nod to the fact that it’s a tough road for moderates in this primary season.
Obviously, Hickenlooper and Bennet remain longshots — maybe longer than long shots. But there’s a reason that a relatively little known outsider could have some hope of being competitive.
In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll of Democratic contenders, Joe Biden led the pack — at 9 percent. I’ve seen other polls with Biden in the 40s. So, who knows? Biden was followed by Harris, Sanders, Trump!!! (yes, 4% of Dems named Trump), Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren and Michelle Obama.
This was an open-ended poll — no names of possible candidates were listed — which would explain the low numbers and the votes for Trump and Obama. Neither Hickenlooper or Bennet cracked 1 percent. Neither did Sherrod Brown, Julian Castro, Michael Bloomberg or Kirsten Gillibrand. But the big number — the huge number and probably the only number that matters in this very early polling — is that 56 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners didn’t name anyone.
I’d guess that this has nothing to do with a lack of enthusiasm for the candidates. Democrats are obviously motivated. And in other polls, Biden, Sanders and Warren have all gotten big numbers. I’d guess Harris, who is suddenly the hot candidate, will get big numbers in the next poll. But it’s early, and Democratic voters are desperate to pick the right person out of an ever-expanding lineup.
It’s doubtful that those voters will end up choosing either Bennet or Hickenlooper. But here’s why both may run: As of now, given the size of the field, I’d say the odds were against every other candidate, too.