I’m reluctant to make political prognoses because I’m so bad at them. But I’m going to ignore my misgivings and go way out on a limb, not with a prediction but a bit of whimsical speculation.
I’m thinking of a potential Democratic presidential candidate — so far professing zero interest in the job, not on anybody’s radar — who could pretty much clear the field and have the nomination just by declaring. Furthermore, the resulting general-election contest against President Donald Trump would actually be fun for the country to watch, with the outcome utterly unpredictable.
And Trump could actually lose, which I don’t think would be the case if one of the mediocre, politics-as-usual candidates already running wins the nomination.
Let’s think about that field for a moment. So far, I believe, there are 21 candidates considered “major” by all those who label such things, and more than 200 “lesser” candidates with the proper Federal Election Commission paperwork filed.
That is good news for Indiana voters.
With 40 other primaries being conducted before ours, the election historically has been all over before it even gets here. But this state mattered for Democrats in 2008, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were still duking it out, and for Republicans in 2016, when it took losses here to finally get Ted Cruz and John Kasich out of Trump’s way.
With so many candidates on the Democratic ballot next year, it is likely there will be a number of them still around by our May primary. And if South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg should end up on the ticket, there’s a chance even the fall general election might matter here.
The big field is also good news for the country. Candidates won’t be able to stand out merely by hating Trump — they all do, after all — so they might have to get specific about what initiatives and proposals they have to offer us. Voters will have a chance to be informed. They will have choices.
The news is not so good for the Democratic Party, however. There are basically two lanes toward the nomination, the moderate one and the far-left one.
Let’s face it, even if some other candidates (such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota) try to sneak into that lane, it all but belongs to former Vice President and current poll front-runner Joe Biden. He will likely be one of the two candidates left standing as the process nears completion. But he has decades of baggage that Trump can and will exploit mercilessly.
The far-left lane is so overcrowded that whoever survives the vetting by the voters will have been pushed so far to the progressive fringe that it will be all but impossible to get back to most Americans’ political comfort zone.
How many times can Trump tweet “Socialism bad!”?
And let’s assume that one of the other two front-runners — Buttigieg or Bernie Sanders — will carry that banner. It seems quite possible that a Democratic Party obsessed with diversity, inclusion and intersectionality will nominate a white male for president. There is some kind of disconnect there somewhere.
So, what the party desperately needs is a candidate who can bring all the factions together, eat into the base of independents whose loyalty to Trump is not absolute and corral the enthusiasm of people who normally pay little attention to politics.
It needs, yes, Oprah Winfrey.
No, I’m not trying to be facetious or provocative. Think about it. Trump has already demonstrated that voters hunger for somebody outside the political system. I’d wager Winfrey has a TV following as loyal and large as Trump’s despite ending her network show. She is just as adept at messaging and is perceived as one thing he will never be seen as — nice. Instead of a savvy outsider outwitting lame tactics from politicians too dim to understand they no longer work, we’d have two savvy outsiders.
And I really, really hate to say this, but you know what the Democratic dream ticket would be? Oprah in the top spot with Buttigieg holding down the vice-presidential slot.
Someone I know said a couple of scary things (to me at least) recently. This is someone who voted for Trump but doesn’t really care for him. The first time, she said, “I really like Buttigieg.” The second time, she said, “I’m liking Buttigieg more and more.” Both times, she added, “Except for his positions on the issues, of course.”
How many people out there, I wonder, will decide they like him but never get to that “except for” part?
Just imagine. Mayor Pete makes the rounds of the party faithful, outlining a wonderful progressive vision for the future. Oprah makes all of it palatable to the general public. (Have you tried to read any of the books she promotes? I swear, she can sell anything.) And they are both constantly praised by a sympathetic, uncritical press that celebrates the long-awaited return of civility to politics.
I think ... I need ...
I think I need to take a deep breath now and see if I can get off this ledge I’ve talked myself onto.
Leo Morris is a columnist for the Indiana Policy Review and his column appears in Indiana newspapers.