As President Trump calls impeachment a “lynching”—with all the blowback you’d expect from such a racially raw term—you might think the Democrats would be feeling good about their chances.
After all, the president is also struggling in the polls, battling his own party on Syria, and had to reverse himself on hosting the G-7 at his Florida resort.
But no, the Dems are nervous. So nervous, in fact, that they’re engaged in their quadrennial ritual of fantasizing.
What superhero is ready to don a cape, swoop in to rescue them and capture the White House?
The media love such fantasies, of course, because it’s an exciting story line and the chance to pump up a new personality.
Remember when Oprah made a few comments and the press was seized by the idea that she could be president? The only problem was, well, she didn’t want to be president.
Now comes a New York Times report that Democratic donors and insiders are “fretting about who is in the race and longing for a white knight to enter the contest at the last minute.”
The reason, obviously, is a lack of confidence that any of the current field can defeat Donald Trump—who, even after a likely impeachment vote, is virtually certain to survive a trial in the Republican Senate.
The current polls show several Democratic candidates besting Trump, but that could look very different in the fall of 2020 after the nominee is battered by zillions in Republican advertising along with Trumpian attacks.
Joe Biden probably has the best chance to oust Trump, but there is rising concern that his uneven debate performances and anemic fundraising may sink his primary campaign. Biden could have dominated as the target of Trump’s Ukraine efforts, in my view, but he has still not done an interview since impeachment exploded.
Elizabeth Warren is viewed by the prognosticators as having the best shot at the nomination, but there is growing fear that she’s too far left to win a general election. Even as she’s taking a second look at Medicare for All, having ducked questions that it would force a middle-class tax hike, Warren is saddled with other positions that delight Democrats but could be viewed as socialistic in a general election.
If you assume that Bernie Sanders can’t win as a 78-year-old heart attack survivor, that leaves two moderate alternatives to Biden.
Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar both had strong debate outings last week, and Mayor Pete has surged into third place in the latest Iowa poll. But neither seems a surefire bet to beat Trump. And thanks to Nancy Pelosi, both are getting far less media oxygen because of the overwhelming focus on impeachment.
So who do the Democratic dreamers want?
The Times says Sherrod Brown is getting a lot of calls (his wife confirms this). But if the Ohio senator thought he could win the nomination, he would already be in the race.
Eric Holder is toying with the idea of getting in. But Barack Obama’s attorney general has never won an election.
Mike Bloomberg? He was a very good New York mayor, but he threatens to run every four years and never does. He wound up deferring to Biden this time. He’s 77. Not happening.
Hillary? You know she’s thought about it. But she also knows she’s had her shot.
(Update: Oops! The Washington Post follows up today, saying: "Hillary Clinton, according to two people close to her, has not ruled out jumping in herself, a sign that she is hearing similar dissatisfaction.")
Michelle Obama? I’m sure she’d look good in Democratic polls. One unnamed person “mused” about her to the Times. She was a popular first lady. But unlike Hillary, Michelle has never exhibited the urge to be a politician herself. I have the sense that she devoted eight years to public service and is happy to have her life back.
Late entries can kick up a fuss, but they never win, not after the current candidates have raised millions, set up organizations and developed their ground games.
So this is really about a collective unease that Biden won’t win the nomination and that Warren might.
It’s like a fantasy football league, lots of fun to play and game out the possibilities. But this is a contest you only win with flesh-and-blood players on the field.