It’s never too early to start talking about the next election. That’s the golden rule of the 24 hours news network. As little as it matters in reality the small ups and downs of candidates, the vast majority of whom will never make it to the presidential contest, they drive interest in the news. Elections mean change, and almost everyone wants some change all the time. And so, ink continues to be spilled daily over each new candidates every new thought. My own political views notwithstanding, I can hardly help but consume all of it, or at least as much as I can cram down my mind-gullet on any given day.
Here are what I consider the most memorable quotes from the best articles about the 2020 hopefuls so far. I offer it here in part as a primer for those not yet familiar with the current cast of recurring characters. Mostly, though, I offer it to myself as an archive–a way of recording what people thought about these candidates in the white hot heat of the moment when everything was still possibility and nothing had been settled yet. Because, in the end, most of these names will in fact be resigned to history–the kind of history only historians and grad students do, not the history you learn in school.
No one is getting more coverage right now than undeclared, front-running Joe Biden, whose “tactile” style of personal interaction has proven less than ideal in a post-#metoo political landscape. Politico has by far the best article, “What Should We Make of Joe Biden?,”taking more seriously than most the true, legitimate diversity of opinions on Uncle Joe within contemporary feminism.
All the op-eds about “creepy” Uncle Joe make me want to call up my now-long-dead rhetoric professor. “What do you call the trope in which a part of a thing stands in for the whole?” I’d ask. “Synecdoche,” he’d say. “And isn’t there a synecdochal fallacy?” Well done, he’d say (or I hope he’d say). The false inference from the property to the essence.
It’s a sly feint, that false inferring. It’s how you glide from Biden’s old-school-pol’s touchy-feeliness to his unsuitability for office, without anyone quite noticing.
The last thing Joe Biden needs, at this moment when millennial and GenX candidates are sucking all of the oxygen in the Democratic primary, is to look like somebody’s grandpa. Yet that’s the impression he gives in that rambling two-minute video, where he unbuttons his shirt collar, turns the folksy-meter to 11, and declares his sudden realization that “the boundaries of respecting personal space have been reset.” It’s one of those excuses that might possibly be worse than the crime. No, Joe, the boundaries haven’t changed; what’s changed is that people at last feel empowered to tell you that you’ve been crossing them for decades.
The precise opposite of Biden, as far as coverage goes right now, is the enigmatic media darling, Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke is continuing to thrive in his wheel-house of “not winning, but doing better than he has any right to,” but the consistent lack of specificity leaves everyone with an eerie sense that there is something more theatrical than substantial to Beto. The Washington Post unpacks some of the problems with this in “Beto O’Rourke is a Walking, Talking Generation X Cliche.”
It’s hard to distrust the state, even performatively, and then actively try to participate in it.
Kamala Harris is–despite her checklist of diversity credentials–a more traditional candidate. A coastal liberal of a less iconoclastic sort with an impressive list of public service credentials and a dynamic personal presence. She’s also, unsurprisingly, drawing from at least some traditional Democratic sources of funding: Hollywood elites. Only time will tell whether or not this is to her benefit. Says Variety’s “Kamala Harris, Other 2020 Candidates Make Push to Showbiz Donors as First Deadline Nears:”
Harris likely will lead other candidates in the money primary when it comes to the amount she has raised from showbiz sources. She has been the most prolific in courting high-dollar donors at traditional fundraising receptions. Her first big Los Angeles one was at the home of Universal’s Jeff Shell and his wife Laura; she earlier this month headlined an event at the home of J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath.
The crowd of second tier candidates have the hardest time attracting attention, and often how they attract attention is not the most productive. Enter John Hickenlooper, the folksy, riches to super riches Westerner is the long shot of long shots, for a good reason. As a Politico profile notes, “John Hickenlooper Is Running for President As Himself. Uh-oh.”
He probably won’t be the president of the United States. Maybe it’s because he’s too weird. Then again, maybe it’s because he’s too normal. Maybe it’s because he’s too much like us—flawed, offbeat, human.
With Pete Buttigieg, it’s been an embarrassment of riches for the media. Once they got past the incessant joking about his names (and we’re not really past that yet), what do they focus on? He’s young. He’s gay. He’s a Rhodes Scholar. He’s a veteran. And on and on. As it so happens, it the gay thing that is the fixation, but not in the “can we elect a gay man president” way that you’d expect. Instead, it’s more of a “is this gay couple just to precious to stand; they had to be cooked up in a Hollywood lab” way. See Politico’s “Chasten Buttigieg Is Winning the 2020 Spouse Primary.”
That’s the ultimate purpose of the presidential spouse: to sell the entire package, letting us imagine the family in the White House as a symbol of success, a national ideal. As a potential first husband, Chasten would be historic but also a comforting throwback, someone who took his husband’s last name and unwaveringly supports his ambitions without wondering how they have affected his own.
Elizabeth Warren was supposed to be part of the top tier; she has, after all, the firebrand flare and New England intellectual heft of Bernie Sanders, minus the socialism and the imminent expiration date. For whatever reason though–and the ancestry debacle probably has something to do with it–she can’t seem to live up to her own name. Part of the problem may be that she just can’t seem to dissolve her brilliance and her spunk into the same tasty cocktail that Bernie has manged. This is basically the judgment of an unflattering Bloomberg op-ed, “Warren Steals a Page from Trump.”
Elizabeth Warren’s latest position paper, on agricultural policy, is a disappointment on two fronts: too wonky to be considered a purely political document, but not nearly wonky enough to be defensible in terms of substance.
Then of course there is that vast pack of candidates who don’t rise to the level of serious consideration. These are the Tulsi Gabbards, who can be mentioned just long enough to say they don’t merit mention. A surprising contender to slip down into this category is Amy Klobuchar, whose rising status has largely become a backdrop against which to view her slow death by a thousand cuts. Though an “an able member of the Senate” (talk about damning with faint praise), Klobuchar has seemed to struggle to run with the pack, even the second tier pack. Consider her unfavorable ranking in Politico’s “Latino Outreach or Google Translate? 2020 Dems Bungle Spanish Websites.”
Klobuchar’s Spanish website has perhaps the most egregious mistakes, leaving readers to wonder whether the text was copied and pasted straight from Google Translate.
There are, of course, others. The vegan candidate. The anti-circumcision candidate. The teen trolls’ candidate. Oh, and Bernie Sanders, about whom undoubtedly more has been written in the last three years than any politician save the president. But the goal is not to be exhaustive. This is already too much to say about an election that is more than a year away and a caucus that is still almost that far off.