And we’re off! It seems like only yesterday we were wiping the shock off our faces as we slowly realized that a sexist, fear-mongering TV reality-show host was going to be our 45th President. There are 21 months before the next Presidential election — 21 long months of campaign updates and breathless, non-stop coverage. That’s nearly two full years, more than 600 days. That works out to more than 14,000 hours of coverage — some 800,000 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.
With the entry of Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, into the Democratic race, there are now at least 13 contenders, ranging from the enigmatic California senator Kamala Harris to the enigmatic Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren. Perhaps we’ll also have the baby-faced mayor of South Bend, IN, Pete Buttigieg. At 37, Buttigieg is just two years above the legal age to run. And now Uncle Bernie rises again — but he’s an Independent. I do not count him as a Democrat.
Who else? Other candidates, declared or not, include NJ senator Cory Booker (definitely in), Ohio senator Sherrod Brown (maybe in), Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar (definitely in), former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke (maybe definitely in), New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand (definitely maybe in) and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (maybe in). Two who have flirted with running since forever are former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg (who, unlike some people, is an actual billionaire but not running), and our good Uncle, former Vice President Joe Biden (who is definitely maybe definitely maybe not maybe definitely running).
The US, as far as I know, is the only country that finishes one presidential race and almost immediately starts the next one. There are several reasons for this, some of which are reasonable and make some sense. Since the cost of a modern presidential campaign can run as high as $1 billion or more, it is crucial to lock in the big-money donors and create a main Super PAC and hire top-tier fundraisers early. Of course, some candidates have said that they won’t use PACs — rejecting the huge, unlimited amounts of dark corporate money they generate — so those candidates need the time to build and launch a formidable online machine to solicit millions of comparatively small donations from ordinary citizens. Sanders is a pro at this latter strategy; he raised $7 million in donations by the end of February.
Since, courtesy of Russia, a “wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates is already underway on social media,” each 2020 candidate must also hire the very best IT staff they can find to outwit and out-think the troll factories coming their way. This means that each candidate further needs a communications shop of veterans and top-flight new talent to fight all the other disinformation campaigns that Russia will surely launch. We know that Trump has done nothing, and will do nothing, to ensure free and fair elections, so this isn’t spin. Russia did it in 2016 and without consequences, so each of the candidate has to know that they’re going to try and do it again.
Warren and Harris both have national name recognition (and Warren even has that nasty moniker that our Baby-in-Chief bestowed on her), but for a majority of the voters the list is full of unknowns — another reason that our presidential election seasons begin earlier and earlier. In 2019, each candidate will spend as much time as humanly possible traveling across the country and appearing on every morning network show, every dinner-hour cable news show and every late-night talk show they can find to introduce themselves to the country — or, in the case of Julian Castro, to distinguish himself from his twin brother, Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro.
Sanders, having decided that he has the secret sauce for a 2020 win, comes into the race with more baggage than Hillary ever had emails — thanks to his wife. This means that Biden, the beloved former VP and President Obama’s BFF (I believe this is true) will be the most formidable opponent of all. He has a unrivaled 53% approval rating and that is for doing absolutely nothing since 2016 but being awesome and smiling that smile that makes the sun come up and cure cancer. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed the power of Uncle Joe:
53 percent of respondents have a favorable view of Biden, compared with 33 percent who have an unfavorable view… Biden is the only possible 2020 candidate in the poll who has a favorability rating better than 50 percent.
Imagine if Biden comes out swinging! I believe that Trump — if not thrown out of office — would shake in his China-made MAGA cap for he underestimates Biden at his peril: Trump couldn’t simply give Joe a nickname or try to humiliate him without incurring a massive voter backlash. Trump is so far out of Biden’s league as to be from another planet entirely. I’d like to watch a 21-month takedown of Trump by a future President Biden.
Meantime, I don’t mind a large field. I want to open the job up to everybody and then we can whittle it down to the five or six that matter. O’Rourke will most likely step in; he’ll quickly replace Castro as the Great Hope of Texas. Since his breathtaking Senate campaign came thisclose to beating the universally hated Ted Cruz, he has the name recognition and fundraising apparatus in place. He just needs to make it official.
We can also analyze each candidate in terms of who might be a possible VP to Uncle Joe or Aunt Kamala or Cousin Beto. In this sense, the 2020 primary debates will be shark-infested waters no matter who’s in; anyone not fast enough with one-liners and cable-ready quotes will be eaten alive. The VP role is the attack dog, and anyone who wants to be on the ticket as VP had better know how to bite, gnash and kill.
American presidential campaigns are uniquely ours, and our excess of candidates and our excess of dollars spent, our nonstop breaking news and our endless interviews all seem to have an adverse effect on people actually voting. Despite an uptick in 2018, we continues to have terrible voter apathy. Add in obstacles to voter registration and the ability of people to simply get to the polls (if they’re not moved out of existence) contribute to strikingly low turnout in what used to be the world’s most powerful democracy. Talk of making Election Day a national holiday remains where it has been for years: dead in the water.
The US ranks near the bottom in terms of voter participation when compared with other developed nations, and perhaps that has something to do with how interminable our campaigns are. Fast Company recently published a story on how other countries manage the length of their election cycles. This — below, verbatim, with appreciation — is what they found:
- In France, the presidential campaign is generally only two weeks long.
- In Argentina, candidates are only allowed to advertise 60 days before the election, and the official campaign can’t get under way for 25 days after that.
- The longest election campaign in Canadian history lasted for just 11 weeks, and Canadians were already fed up.
- The longest campaign in Australian history lasted 94 days.
- In 2015, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt announced that national elections would be held three weeks later.
- In Mexico, a 2007 law limits the length of campaigns, kicking off with a 60-day “pre-campaign” season, in which candidates vie for the nomination, and then a 90-day campaign that stops three days before the actual election…
In addition: each party in the UK may spend no more than £29.5 million on campaigns in the year preceding a vote — that’s slightly less than $40 million. Compare that to the US where, in 2016, $2.4 billion was spent on the US presidential election. Germany — this is my favorite — allows only one 90-second TV ad. Just one! It’s enough to make a girl think of moving.
So here we are, back where we started. We have just about two more years of election campaigning to look forward to, with all of that endless CNN breaking news (that is neither breaking nor news) about a field of Democratic candidates. At least on the Democratic side they look mostly like America: of the current top contenders, only a few are white men. I’m half-excited, half-aggravated and fully engaged. Yet 21 months is a long time. And so I’m going to be honest with you. Right now, I’m ready to change the channel.