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?