When I think of things that I hope will triple over a three-year period, I am drawn to the stock market or perhaps the number of subscribers to this blog. At the other end of the scale are things that should absolutely not triple over any period of time. My body mass index comes to mind. Somewhere at the bad end of what I will call the “stock market to BMI scale” is a tripling of the number of “out party” presidential candidates. The only people who might view such a development favorably are campaign consultants who get paid to turn slim hopes into realities (though not necessarily electoral realities).
At the end of July 2015, there were 17 Republican candidates running for President. I found that out by reading an article on fivethirtyeight.com by its founder, Nate Silver. Since Barack Obama was President then, the Republicans were the “out party.”
In January 2019, there are 53 potential candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination of which three have already fizzled. I found that out in the same way I find out lots of numerical things. I asked an accountant, in this case Bill Arnone, a former Ernst & Young Partner who now heads the National Academy of Social Insurance. Bill is high in the pecking order of Democratic insider-ness and, given his propensity for counting things, he has a list.
Want to see it? Too bad, here it is.
Michael Avenatti – not running? Michael Bennet (CO) Joe Biden (DE) Michael Bloomberg (NY) Corey Booker (NJ)Jerry Brown (CA) Sherrod Brown (OH)Steve Bullock (MT) Cheri Bustos (IL) *Pete Buttigieg (IN) (1/19) Steve Bullock (MT) Juan Castro (TX) * Julian Castro (TX) (12-18)Hillary Clinton (NY) – not running Mark Cuban (TX) Andrew Cuomo (NY) Bill de Blasio (NY) John Delaney (MD) Jamie Dimon (NY) Tammy Duckworth (IL) Tulsi Gabbard (HI) Eric Garcetti (CA)* Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) (1/19)Luis Guttierez (IL) *Kamala Harris (CA) (1/19)John Hickenlooper (CO)Eric Holder (NY) Jay Inslee (WA)Tim Kaine (VA) Jason Kander (MO) John Kerry (MA) Amy Klobuchar (MN) Mitch Landrieu (LA)Terry McAuliffe (VA) Seth Moulton (MA) Chris Murphy (CT)Gavin Newsom (CA) Michelle Obama (IL) Martin O’Malley (MD) Richard Ojeda (WVA) Beto O’Rourke (TX) Deval Patrick (MA) – not running Gina Raimondo (RI) Tim Ryan (OH) Bernie Sanders (VT)*Howard Schultz (1/19) (NY) Tom Steyer (CA) Eric Swalwell (CA) * Elizabeth Warren (MA) (12-18)Marianne Williamson (TX) Oprah Winfrey (CA) Andrew Yang (NY) Mark Zuckerberg (CA)
The asterisk means “announced.” Italics means “serious” (as characterized by Bill) and, when he sent it to me, there were splendid bullet points to facilitate contemplating each one separately. It actually took some effort to convert the bullet pointed list into the bug splat you see above because the point of this story is not to contemplate each one separately. The point is to look at this great blob of names and contemplate why we tripled an already high number in such a short time. Conveniently, my very own personal BMI is 15.7 (as certified, warranted and guaranteed by the world’s greatest personal trainer) — more or less the same as the number of Republicans running in 2015 — and the prospect of it tripling to match the number of Democrats listed above is too loathsome to imagine. (By the way, careful and exhaustive guesswork suggests I am the world’s first blogger to reveal his BMI in print. Is this a great read or what? Now tell your friends. I didn’t put the reference to tripling my subscriber list up there for nothing.)
The reason Bill Arnone shared his list with me is that I promised to put the names into categories. That was a bad promise because (a) it is too hard and (b) you will end up with too much useless information.
Of the 53 names, I had heard of only 43, and some of the ones I pretended to have heard of were pretty much showing off. If you are one of the 10 in the “who the hell is that?” category, kindly introduce me to your largest donors, as I would like to share with them the joys of being the extremely generous patron of a political blog.
Seemingly a more interesting question than what category a candidate might fit into is how would the candidate contort him or her self to fit into one of the allegedly electable categories? For this journey, we would need a political adaptation of the WAZE traffic avoidance and travel optimization app, complete with cute little icons representing the pitfalls that will derail most of the campaigns that actually happen.
Candidates need to figure out how to go from wherever they are to whatever the destination is. In some cases, it might be the Democratic nomination, in others it might be an entirely different office that requires more name recognition than they have and, in still other cases, it might be a talking head slot on cable news. Then, of course, there was Jerry Springer so we should not forget reality TV. All of these quests can begin with a presidential run, which is as fine a publicity stunt as we offer in this country.
There are steps a candidate has to take before running for President. One is finding people to staff his or her campaign. These campaign staffers are not altruists. They get paid so they want to know two important things: do you have backers whose donations will be used to pay them and are you likely to stay the course or fade quickly. An early step for a candidate is putting together a campaign team. Ask yourself a question: how many quality campaign teams do you think the Democrats can serve up. I am betting it is less than 50, probably a lot less. Each of the major professional sports in the United States has about 30 teams. Do political parties seem likely to have more?
Nate Silver thinks deeply about politics, data, polling, predictions and many other technicalities of politics, sports, science and health, economics and culture. If the words “how do I think about this” ever cross your lips, Nate is your guy.
In 2015, he divided the Republican voter universe into five categories: Moderate; Establishment; Christian Conservative; Libertarian and Tea Party and tucked the candidates into overlapping circles that looked like the Olympic rings. President Trump floated around the periphery making occasional appearances at one extreme of the Tea Party circle.
For the 2020 election, Silver divides the Democrats into five key groups: Party Loyalists; The Left; Millennials and Friends; Black voters; and Hispanic voters (sometimes in combination with Asian voters). He calls these “The 5 Corners of the Democratic Primary.” Instead of thinking about “lanes” Silver is thinking about candidates who can build coalitions among at least three of the five groups. Notice that his groups of Democrats are based on identity not ideology (well, except the left, which is both). Women are not a group all by themselves because they are a significant part of all of the groups.
The 2015 Republican categories did not pick the winner of the nomination and the 2020 Democratic categories might not either but, with about 93 weeks to go until the election, the point is not to pick the winner. The point is to pick the losers so there remain a reasonable number of candidates to consider more seriously.
You don’t begin a long drive needing to know whether there is an accident near your destination because you aren’t there yet and, by the time you get there, the road might have been cleared. You do need to know the near-term obstacles, the better to avoid them. In the case of the bug splat list, the first steps are donors and campaign teams. For most, failing to overcome these challenges will be the end of the trail.
Plus, Silver might be wrong about the Five Corners of the Democratic Party in 2020 as he concedes he was about the Republican path to the presidency in 2016.
If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get there. Even WAZE can’t help with that.