INDIANAPOLIS – Will Rogers may have been more than a comedian, a philosopher and a newspaper columnist.
He also may have been a prophet.
“I am not a member of any organized political party,” Rogers once said. “I am a Democrat.”
Rogers also said Democrats had a special way of conducting a firing squad. They would form a circle, he quipped, and then fire back toward the center.
The process for determining the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee is like a demolition derby, only less structured. At the end of this month, all 23 declared candidates will start debating. The field is so large that the event requires multiple nights and a basketball squad’s worth of moderators. With any luck, that first debate might, just might, end sometime before Election Day 2020.
It’s easy to see why just about every Democrat with a pulse in the United States wants to take a shot at the White House. The current occupant of the Oval Office is as vulnerable a candidate as we’re likely to see in several lifetimes.
President Donald Trump and his defenders like to tout the strong economy as his argument for re-election. They never stop to ask themselves two questions.
The first is: Why, if the economy is going so great, does our candidate struggle to maintain a 40 percent approval rating?
The second is: What happens if the economy falters or fails – either through the natural cycle of such things or, just suppose, someone were to start a costly and self-destructive trade war that hammered Republican strongholds in disproportionate fashion? (I know. That second possibility is the stuff of fantasy. No one sane would be dumb enough to threaten imposing tariffs on major trading partners that would punish American consumers just to look tough or distract attention from other problems.)
Given these two realities, the 2020 election should resemble a coronation stroll for the Democrats.
But these are Democrats we’re talking about. They’re skilled at seizing defeat from the jaws of victory. That’s what they’re hard at work doing now.
Republicans are much better at playing the long game.
In the 2018 election, when it became clear GOP candidates were swimming into a tsunami, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told major Republican donors to write off the House of Representatives. Focus on holding onto the Senate, McConnell said.
McConnell may be corrupt and amoral, but he’s no idiot.
He knows the Senate has unique advantages when it comes to exerting leverage. The Senate can prevent presidents from being removed from office.
More important, the Senate can bestow or withhold lifetime appointments to federal benches, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Given McConnell’s ruthless willingness to ignore or rewrite the rules regarding judicial nominations – appointing people to the Supreme Court during an election year is wrong except when he changes his mind – he can make the Senate a formidable bastion for the GOP for years, even decades to come.
Expect McConnell to reprise his 2018 message next year, too. Write off the House and the presidency, he’ll say, but hold onto the Senate at all costs. We can turn the tide from there.
While McConnell and canny Republicans are locking in to protect the Senate, Democrats are breeding presidential candidates like rabbits on fertility drugs. Longshot contenders for the White House who might be credible or even winning Senate candidates are all but guaranteeing that, even if a Democrat does capture the presidency in 2020, she or he won’t be able to do much with it.
Thus, it so often is.
Democrats have dreams.
Republicans have plans.
That’s why the GOP often can overcome long odds and achieve victory.
That thing Will Rogers said about how Democrats form a firing squad?
Sheer, brilliant prophecy.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.