By Steve Chapman- Elizabeth Warren’s announcement that she will enter the 2020 presidential race evokes both hope and dread — hope that the campaign will deliver a better president than the incumbent and dread at the lengthy political ordeal that lies before us.
The prospect is something like preparing for knee replacement surgery. It may deliver joy in time, but only after months of pain and tedium. As with knee replacements, a happy outcome is not guaranteed.
Warren has assets that may serve her well, being a sharp-witted populist and a woman in a party whose voters are mostly women. It’s easy to make the case that she’s as likely a nominee as anyone.
But when The Hill opened the new year with a rundown titled “The Top Ten Democrats for 2020,” holding down the No. 1 spot was someone no one had heard of two years ago and whose claim to fame is not losing by much to an unappealing opponent in a blue year — Beto O’Rourke. Betting on him is the equivalent of investing in a tech startup, with a slim shot at a bonanza and a good chance of a complete bust.
The No. 2 person on the list, Bernie Sanders, is not even a Democrat, and he will be 79 years old on Inauguration Day, which would make him the oldest person to enter the office by more than eight years (over Donald Trump). He has not grown more charming since 2016, and he will find other candidates shamelessly plagiarizing his more effective themes.
Sanders’ appeal to Democrats may be overrated, given that he lost the 2016 nomination to Hillary Clinton, who evoked mostly lukewarm enthusiasm among even her primary supporters. He might consider what Alice Roosevelt Longworth said in 1948 after Thomas Dewey lost his second bid as the Republican presidential nominee: “You can’t make a souffle rise twice.”
Warren brings to mind a different adage: Opportunity only knocks once. In 2016, she alone could have combined a Sanders-like message with the chance to put a woman in the Oval Office. The moment called, and she let it go to voicemail.
Joe Biden, by contrast, has already had two tries, each of which was an abysmal failure. He had to abandon his most recent effort, in 2008, after getting less than 1 percent in the Iowa caucuses. Even more than Sanders, he looks like a BlackBerry in an iPhone X world.
But every prediction, including mine, involves a lot of guesswork at this point. The average American pays little attention to politics most of the time. Most voters know only a little about Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand and couldn’t pick Amy Klobuchar or Sherrod Brown out of a lineup.
Michael Bloomberg is far better known, and he has plenty of money to mount a campaign. But it would be surprising to see Democratic voters go for a tycoon who was elected mayor of New York as a Republican and didn’t become a Democrat until … October.
Surprises, of course, are the norm in presidential races. In 2004, Howard Dean was the Democratic favorite, only to be upended by John Kerry. At this point in the 2008 campaign, not many experts expected Barack Obama or John McCain to be nominated. A Hillary Clinton-Rudy Giuliani faceoff was the early forecast.
Nothing is more likely than the unlikely when the field is large, because candidates with broad appeal may fall victim to those with narrow but militant support. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio will back me up on this.
The 2020 uncertainties are even greater than commonly recognized. Asked her preference on NPR, Democratic consultant Anita Dunn spoke for many Democrats on Tuesday: “I like whoever can beat Donald Trump.” But one major question is whether any Democrat will get the chance.
Trump’s future is exceedingly murky. He could resign, be impeached and removed from office, or choose not to run. He could be indicted and lose to a primary challenger. In any of those cases, there is no telling who might take his place as the party standard-bearer.
Mike Pence? John Kasich? Tom Cotton? Mark Cuban? Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? The Republican race could be another wild free-for-all.
A matchup of Warren and Trump may sound too obvious to come true. But in an election with so many uncertainties, anything can happen. Even the obvious.