There are now 21 Democrats running for President, not counting more than 220 other people you never heard of. The 21 “major candidates,” and no doubt dozens of the rest, presumably believe they are the most qualified to do so. Why else run? And it is their right to run, but to what end? Have each of the 21 asked themselves if they are better qualified than their competitors to run for the highest office in the land? Have they asked themselves if they have the best chance of defeating Trump? Given that each of the 21 has decided to run, and ignoring the possibility that they may be seeking some other benefit, such as national name recognition or a future job in someone else’s administration, we must assume that each of them believes that he or she is “the one.”
The word delusional comes to mind with this assumption when we look at some of the candidates. Think Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, Tim Ryan, Jay Inslee, Eric Swalwell, or John Hickenlooper. There’s nothing wrong with these candidates, but really! Do they see themselves as offering something better and substantially different than Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or Kristen Gillibrand?
Actually, you can answer the question, “Yes.” These candidates, and others, have various credentials justifying their reasons for running, some more cogent than others. Common themes include promoting the under-represented, restoring ethics and civility to Washington (good luck!), and breaking through various glass ceilings or doors. Several see their candidacies as “historic” and hope to repeat the excitement surrounding the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Some also see their special qualification in the form of being able to stand up to Donald Trump in what is likely to be a very nasty general election. Joe Biden, for example, seems unflappable and likely to give Trump more of a fight than did Hillary or the dozen plus Republicans who ran against him in 2016.
So, what should the 21 Democrats and a few others believed to be still waiting in the wings do? And what should a few others, such as former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams, do? For the first group, each should do a serious self-examination and decide whether their candidacy helps or hurts the goal of changing current policies or replacing Trump. If the answer is hurts, they should drop out, perhaps throwing their support immediately towards the candidate who is most qualified and electable. For the second group, they shouldn’t run. Unless these unannounced candidates can honestly say that none of the announced 21 is better qualified, they should stay home.
The benefits of the field narrowing sooner rather than later are obvious—democratic fundraising could be more focused. Primary spending could be minimized, providing more resources to address the contrasts with the Republicans. And, most importantly, the “battle royale,” consisting of Democrats shooting at each other, could be avoided. Witness, for example, Senator Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ recent attacks on Joe Biden for his close ties to corporate lobbyists. At the end of the day, these attacks will serve only to give Republicans fodder and ammunition to promote their candidate.
Importantly, some are suggesting that the plethora of candidates could actually be a plus for Democrats and harden the eventual winner in a way that did not happen for Hillary. Because Hillary and her allies effectively discouraged anyone from challenging her, she arguably was less strategic around swing-state issues and was unprepared for Trump’s unorthodox campaign.
Pundits, some of them Republicans (or Fox commentators), also suggest that once the primary is over, all Democrats will unite behind the common goal of winning the election. This is not likely to be the case. First, in this crowded field, candidates are forced to outbid one another’s political promises. If Elizabeth Warren promises free college and student loan forgiveness, another candidate may feel obligated to offer reimbursement to people who paid for college and dutifully repaid their loans. A bidding war may also break out on reparations for slavery, single-payer health care, and fighting climate change. The proposals produced are likely, such as AOC’s Green Deal, to offer Republicans fodder to suggest that every Democrat is a Democratic-Socialist with plans to spend the country into bankruptcy.
All the above is another way of saying that Democrats must tread carefully despite President Trump’s legal problems. We know what we have with Trump and, for some that might be better than what we would get with some of the more starry-eyed Democrats. As one friend of mine put it, Trump with a Democratic Congress to control him may be better than a Leftist Democrat with a Congress to rubber stamp “the worst of the proposals we’ve seen so far.”
Time will tell whether Democrats will self-destruct or prosper as the current political circus continues. Democrats are unlikely to show more self-discipline than that reflected in the 15 Republicans that chose to run in 2016. It’s the way things are but you don’t have to like it. And it isn’t too much to ask anyone, Democrat or Republican, not to run for President unless they can honestly look the country in the eye and tell us that they offer something extraordinary.
J.E. Dean of Oxford, writes on policy and politics based on more than 30 years working with non-profits and others interested in domestic policy. He is an advocate for the environment, civil public debate, and good government.