Thursday, July 18, 2019

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The Big 5

Wednesday, culminating in President Trump’s North Carolina rally featuring chants of “send her back,” was one of the most chilling and frighteningly momentous days in the history of the Era of Trump.

Nancy Pelosi finds herself simultaneously presiding over an attempt to impeach the president; overseeing efforts to hold two of his Cabinet members in contempt of Congress; trying to get her caucus members to spend the recess talking about health care, the minimum wage, and other Democratic priorities, rather than Trump’s outrages; (vainly) hoping the media will be interested for even a bit in efforts to improve the real lives of real people, rather than the daily battles between her tribe and the president’s tribe; and, oh, by the way, leading negotiations with the administration on a vital budget and debt ceiling deal.

That is a big inbox for the Speaker.  And the craziest thing about this is that everything Nancy Pelosi is doing now amounts to a holding pattern.  She is the voice of the Democratic Party until sometime next year between March and July, when there is a presidential nominee who will take over much of this work.

Who will that nominee be and will they be Pelosi’s equal in multitasking on matters that will determine both the future and nature of America?

Let us assume for now that there are only five prospects who can win the Democratic presidential nomination: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

Could one or more of the other hopefuls fight back into the hunt?  Sure.  But as of now, the route to such a thing is somewhere between highly unclear and deeply improbable.

So, without ruling out the future existence of a Big 6 or a Big 7, let’s look at the contenders, in alphabetical order.

Throat clear: We are at that point in the nominating process at which the only rational position to take is that NONE of the contenders can actually win the nomination. And yet someone will win it. And it will likely be one of the Big 5 – and not at a contested convention.


Path: Wins Iowa narrowly, wins New Hampshire somewhat easily, and everybody wonders what all the fuss was about as he sweeps the first four contests.

Strength: Still the safest harbor for the establishment and for those who think running a woman, a socialist, or a gay man against Trump is too big a risk.

Weakness: He can never make his candidacy seem fresh, new, or exciting.

Thought bubble: “Man, I am the most qualified person in this field by a lot, literally. Folks, as goes Scranton, as goes 270 electoral votes.”


Path: After lurking at the bottom of the Big 5 pack while the others tear each other apart, achieves stronger-than-expected Iowa and New Hampshire finishes fueled by top-shelf fundraising and stealth organizing, positioning him to win a three-way face-off in March.

Strength: No one else in the Big 5 says “the future” more than Mayor Pete.

Weakness: Given the constituent strength of the other members of the Big 5, hard to see how he expands his demographic coalition sufficiently to win enough delegates.

Thought bubble: “There is no challenge a McKinsey veteran cannot solve, especially if they did time at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.”


Path: Third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, strong second in Nevada, landslide in South Carolina, clear-cut winner on Super Tuesday.

Strength: Best combo of warmth, strength, experience, and freshness among the Big 5.

Weakness: Time is running out to project a clear rationale for her candidacy, which the opposition research waiting in the wings won’t make any easier.

Thought bubble: “As my friend Barack Obama would say, ‘I’ve got this.’”


Path: First or second in Iowa, easy firsts in New Hampshire and Nevada, close enough in South Carolina, and finishes Super Tuesday with sufficient delegates to be mathematically in the clear.

Strength: A tireless, hard-won appreciation for what is required to win caucuses and primaries on the shoulders of working women and men.

Weakness: Lacks the personal vision or staff help to change the downward trajectory that has swallowed up his campaign whole.

Thought bubble: “I don’t really understand why I have lost so much of my support, but if I keep saying what I believe, it has to come back to me like a boomerang.”


Path: First or second in Iowa, first in New Hampshire, first in Nevada, survives South Carolina, and finishes things up on Super Tuesday.

Strength: Clearest rationale for a candidacy that explains how citizen-voters have a place in the 21st century American economy.

Weakness: Various hurdles still to clear that are high and coming fast – scrutiny, national security vision, acceptance by the establishment.

Thought bubble: “I’m building a logistical operation powered by a message that is more complicated and nuanced than the media or my rivals recognize.”

 In other news:

The president said a lot at his Wednesday night rally, including attacks on The Squad and many of the Big 5.  I can’t quote it all here.

But if you want a distillation of his message for re-election, here it is:

“Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country. A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American Dream — frankly, the destruction of our country.”

Essential reading: This AP story framing our politics now and through 2020 as “Racist vs Socialist.”

Pundit Nancy Pelosi on Donald Trump: “You have to give him credit: He’s a great distractor.”

Pundit David Axelrod, quoted in a brilliant New York Times roundup of the day: “Part of the feral genius of Trump is that even when he has not fully thought it through, by behaving outrageously, he demands a response.”

Pundit Rahm Emanuel, in a Washington Post op ed, ignoring that many of his party’s leading presidential candidates support open borders and free health care for people who have come to the U.S. illegally, makes the case for centrism and inclusion as the only way to beat the incumbent.  The headline will make Team Trump laugh: “No, the Democratic Party Hasn’t Lurched to the Left”

Pundit Karl Rove, in his Wall Street Journal column, recounts his time jousting with AOC and his shared vision with the White House that she should define the Democratic Party.  This vision is not shared by the aforementioned Rahm Emanuel.

In Big Casino governing news, Speaker Pelosi says a budget and debt ceiling deal is close and/but must be reached by the end of this week, but note this flashing-neon sign from a Wall Street Journal story, implicitly pointing out that talks between Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin that exclude House Republicans and the president might lead to a pact-busting last-minute hitch:

“The president is not going to sign a bill that’s an all-Democrat House bill,” the [administration] official said.

If you think this has been a news-filled week, just wait and watch to see if the Big Casino talks fall apart in the next 24 hours, threatening, in theory, default and a shutdown.

More on that, and everything else, in Friday’s edition of Wide World of News.

See you then.

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