We are in the “in or out” political season, as certain ambitious political
individuals decide if they are going to run for president or not in the
The latest count has 14 “name” candidates formally in the race for
the Democratic nomination for president --- with up to a dozen
more possibly getting into the contest. Also declaring their
decision NOT to run were about a half dozen prominent Democrats,
the most well-known of whom were Hillary Clinton and former New
York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Running for president, and qualifying for the party TV debates, is very
tempting to an ambitious but nationally-unknown politician, but it
requires money and campaign staff, and not just self-confidence and at
least something of a credible political resume.
Long before Donald Trump appeared, it was an established fact that
publicity was a key element for any political figure to emerge from the
gelatinous gray mass of daily media coverage. Most of the candidates,
those already announced and those likely yet to announce, face the
challenge of how to successfully promote their candidacy and stand out
from the overlarge crowd. A few others, including Joe Biden, Bernie
Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are already well-known,but maintaining
their current relatively high poll numbers remains a constant challenge.
There were about 16 “name” Republican presidential candidates in
2016, and Donald Trump was not among the favorites until the TV
debates. His strategy was pooh-poohed by most political “experts” and
media commentators, but as Barack Obama did in 2008, he was able
to defy conventional wisdom, and prevail against better-known rivals.
Joe Biden and Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, one already a frontrunner and
the other a media favorite from his unsuccessful 2018 Texas senate
campaign, have yet to announce. When and if they do, they are likely
to be immediately significant factors --- as would New York Governor
Andrew Cuomo, who is reportedly considering a candidacy. But there
are a notable number of lesser-known figures, in and not-yet-in, who
might suddenly, or after the debates begin in June, come to the forefront.
What is very unlikely to happen is what happened in 1896 when the
keynote speaker at the Democratic convention --- not a candidate for
the nomination --- so electrified the delegates that he was nominated.
(Although he lost the general election that year, William Jennings Bryan
went on to be the Democratic nominee two more times.)
The Democrats have established a number of conditions, procedures
and rules, some of them new, which make an early winner unlikely.
Chief among them is removing the large number of superdelegates
from voting on the first ballot at the national convention, the prohibition
of winner-take-all in a given state’s primary or caucus, the new
early frontloading of major state primaries, the DNC decision
apparently to put all candidates who qualify on the same stage at the
same time (this might yet be changed), and, of course, the sheer
number of candidates.
The proportional allotment of delegates based on popular vote,
undercuts the traditional favorite son or daughter advantage of those
from larger states. A case in point is Kamala Harris of California who
has been lining up endorsements by many of her state’s leading
Democrats, but who will have to share the huge bounty of her state’s
delegates with her major competitors. The same will be true of other
large states with native sons or daughters who are running for
At some point, some in the large field will go beyond the common
Democratic theme of attacking President Trump,and begin attacking
each other. Party decorum and unity advocates abhor this strategy,
but it is inevitable in a political environment when a first-term
congresswoman feels at ease in attacking most of her party’s
leadership, past and present, including former President Obama.
This is certainly not a cycle, in either major party, for candidates who
are verbally squeamish. The voters are likely in for an “Uncivil War”
throughout the campaign The allegations, namecalling, pillorying,
churlishness, and other incivility of the past two years are likely to
have been only a practice run.
Into this political miasma, step the candidates for president of the
United States. It could well be the kind of cycle when some of the
“ins” --- in retrospect --- will wish they had stayed ‘out.”
Copyright (c 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.