Littwin: Why are Bennet, Hick running for president? For the same reasons everyone else is.

All aboard the 2020 Express: Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, and Sen. Michael Bennet — pictured here at the 2016 opening of RTD's A-Line — both want to be president. (Photo by Evan Semón)
All aboard the 2020 Express: Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, and Sen. Michael Bennet — pictured here at the 2016 opening of RTD's A-Line — both want to be president. (Photo by Evan Semón)

The first question any candidate for office has to answer is why he or she is actually running for the job. You’d be surprised how many have no real answer beyond, well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

But for Michael Bennet, the question is just a little tougher. I mean, coming off prostate cancer surgery, with 20 Dems already in the field — many of them qualified, one from his own state — Bennett announced he was running, too. In adding one more Dem, the earth did not move. Much of the earth didn’t even take notice. Bennet says he’s a long shot and he is. We’re talking a Kentucky Derby-sized field, but, after a DQ, it’s worthwhile remembering that a 65-to-1 shot was the winner.

And still they come, despite the numbers in the latest poll I saw, which didn’t include Bennet: Only eight candidates were above 1%. Only six were above 3%. (John Hickenlooper, by the way, hit 1%, a step up from the last poll when he hit a big fat 0.)  Don’t you have to be a raging egotist or terribly naive — and Bennet, I can testify, is neither — to believe the race to defeat Donald Trump needs yet another candidate, particularly one with decidedly low name recognition and no obvious base?

A New York magazine piece on Bennet’s announcement, clearly labeled satire, answered the question this way: “Why I — a Bland White Guy You’ve Never Heard Of — Am Running for President.

Bennet joined the race long after Hickenlooper, who had brought Bennet into Colorado politics, had announced. (The Bennet-Hickenlooper analysis may require a politically astute shrink, rather than a mere political columnist.) It isn’t as if the campaigns will overlap all that much. It’s a matter of donors and a matter of forcing Colorado politicos to take a side. Most will not. Most will figure there’s a VP slot or cabinet post at best. Or maybe Hick will come back to Colorado and run against Cory Gardner for his Senate seat in 2020.

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, is having predictable problems. In covering one gaffe, in which he couldn’t bring himself to tell Morning Joe he was a capitalist, Hick has finally conceded the obvious in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Brew-pub owners across the country heaved a sigh of relief. But to take it further, Hickenlooper then seemed to take a sideways shot at Bernie Sanders, telling a New Hampshire crowd that the GOP had helped in “reviving the lure of socialism for a generation of Americans” while blaming Trump and the Koch brothers for helping to “resuscitate the discredited ideas of Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin.”

Marx and Stalin — really? How about Trotsky and Mao? I hear the kids talking about AOC and Bernie, which might not be the same thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure “Das Kapital” isn’t a best seller these days, and I must have been binging on “Barry” during the Stalin nostalgia moment. When the show trials start, let me know.

So, the challenge for Bennet is to come up with a campaign-origins story that makes sense. He wrote a book decrying the money and corruption that plague Washington. He was short on how to solve the problems, but it’s no secret that nearly every Democrat’s first priority is ridding us of the Trump presidency. We’ll know if Bennet is making any progress when/if he gets a Trump nickname. Biden’s Sleepy Joe is presumably a shot at Biden’s age from the septuagenarian president who says “I’m the youngest.”

Then there’s Biden himself. Put me in the camp that Biden’s overwhelming numbers, while significant, are no guarantee of anything. For example, Biden is strongest with African American women, a number that, I’m guessing, will be challenged and overcome by do-not-underrate-her Kamala Harris. And several election gurus, in pushing back on Biden, have pointed out that establishment-backed, non-incumbent Democrats haven’t performed so well in presidential elections.

But let’s take a brief history tour. Don’t worry. There’s no quiz at the end. Hillary Clinton, establishment, lost in 2016. Barack Obama, non-establishment, won in 2008. Kerry, establishment, lost in 2004. Gore, establishment, lost in 2000. Bill Clinton, not the establishment favorite, won in 1992. Mike Dukakis, establishment, lost in 1988. Water Mondale, establishment, lost in 1984. Jimmy Carter, not establishment, won in 1976. McGovern, not establishment, lost in 1972. Hubert Humphrey, establishment, lost in 1968. You get the picture. For the record, all those Dem establishment nominees were seen as “electable.”

If you want Bennet’s answer for why he’s running, there are many places to look. There’s Bennet’s campaign video — if you have four minutes, here it is — in which he makes the case that America needs realistic solutions to our problems. No free college, he says. A public option — in which people can keep their insurance if they want — instead of Medicare for All. He’s running as the anti-Trump but also as the anti-Bernie. So far, though, no mention of Marx or Stalin.

For you policy wonks, Bennet is there for you — as a politician who likes to both read and write — with his several-thousand-word campaign manifesto, in which he tackles at length a multitude of issues, but particularly “bipartisan ineptitude, laziness and an absence of vision” which he argues, with the help of rich donors and Fox News, made way for the Tea Party, which made way for the Freedom Caucus, which made way for Donald Trump.

There are other reasons any reasonably ambitious Democrat has little to lose by getting in the race. For one thing, the size of the field might well favor the emergence of an underdog, although Mayor Pete seems to have taken the early lead there. For another, unless you’re Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff and maybe Jerry Nadler, if you want to have your voice heard over the next 18 months or so, you have to be in the game. If Bennet were still only a senator, would any reporters be asking his opinion on Medicare for All?

Bennet is in the game. He’s working hard, after a late start, to try to quality for the late-June debates. As many as 20 will qualify, with the participants split into two panels by lottery. The only thing we know for sure is that in Bennet’s case, and in many others’ on stage, you won’t be able to tell the players without a scorecard. And to take the baseball metaphor one step farther, you can’t help but notice at this stage that at least half the candidates wouldn’t make anyone’s starting lineup.

12 COMMENTS

  1. You’ve cleared the fog a bit, but why, when every Dem Senate seat is precious Bennet wants to risk it for a job (the Presidency) which will be almost pointless with out both the House AND the Senate.

  2. “Trotsky.”

    Okay, I’ll take the bait.

    Check out Michelle Goldberg, now of the Times, in Slate, 2-16:

    “In 1980, Sanders served as an elector for the Socialist Workers Party, which was founded on the principles of Leon Trotsky. According to the New York Times, that party called for abolishing the military budget. It also called for “solidarity” with the revolutionary regimes in Iran, Nicaragua, Grenada, and Cuba; this was in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis.”

    Like that last bit best.

  3. The Iranian hostage crisis actually began when the CIA overthrew the democratically elected government in 1953 and installed a brutal puppet dictator called “the Shah”, so Sanders isn’t wrong to call for end to CIA. That also explains the Socialism hysteria about Sanders. That is also coming straight from the CIA and their mouthpiece the Washington post. They don’t even hide it anymore, the CIA’s own internal documents freely admit they have either active or retired agents in every corporate newsroom in the country.
    To return to the article however , the reason we now have almost 2 dozen Dem’s running, and it will be more than that eventually, is to make sure no one gets 50% of the vote in the first round. Guess what comes back in the second round? The Super-delegates. The power structures in this country will never allow anyone like Sanders to ever become president.

  4. Even if the “debate” format is geared to the large number of participants, it is going to mean 1-2 minutes of self-introduction, and something like 5-8 minutes each for the remainder of a 2 hour show (by the time there are introductions, commercial or sponsor breaks, and questions for those running).
    Here’s hoping there will be other forums for candidates to each answer a a couple of questions about things the President actually DOES —
    * how would she or he identify, vet, nominate and urge confirmation of the 700 or so “key” appointments requiring Senate confirmation?
    * how would he or she use the power to commute or pardon those convicted of federal crimes?
    * what would she or he consider priorities in our foreign relationships, and what treaties would she or he initially pursue?

  5. I’m with JD, I just don’t see our Colorado’s own getting enough polling/funding traction to make it to the second debate.

    So in essence, Hick and Bennett, as wonky as they may be, are asking contributors to buy them name recognition for future projects.

    Tough sell.

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