A Boring Presidential Nominee? Bring It, Democrats

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- It’s probably still too early to make sensible predictions about who will be the next Democratic presidential nominee. Still, with less than two years until the Iowa caucuses, some 15 months or so until the first debates, and less than a year before the bulk of the candidates officially announce their campaigns, it’s less early than you might think. Candidates have already made trips to early primary and caucus states, and they’ve started the process of shopping policy proposals and meeting with party actors.

Some two dozen candidates are currently showing tangible signs of (as Josh Putnam puts it) running for 2020, and what happens over the next year will determine how many of them will be running in 2020. Candidates who drop out after testing the waters are best thought of as having run and lost, although in practice it’s sometimes very difficult to distinguish between those who have a national profile but really never did run from those who mounted serious (but unannounced) campaigns, found little interest, and then declared they were choosing not to run after all. 

All that makes speculation about the nomination irresistible. Which brings me to the latest FiveThirtyEight exercise in guesswork, set up as a fantasy draft. And looking at their selections? I don’t really get it.

Of the 24 candidates they drafted, somewhere between a quarter and half of the selections are basically nontraditional candidates. The theory seems to be: Now that President Donald Trump has proved it can be done, we should expect total outsiders and politicians without conventional credentials to win a fairly large share of future nominations.

I don’t buy it. Trump’s nomination certainly should convince even the most die-hard skeptics (I’m one of them) that such things are possible. But Trump won the nomination narrowly, by historical standards. He took advantage of dysfunction in the Republican Party that doesn’t appear to be present among Democrats. And he benefited from a Republican openness to non-politicians (or new politicians) that goes back a while, with presidential candidates such as Herman Cain, Steve Forbes, Pat Buchanan and others all running fairly serious races – something that’s happened far more rarely on the Democratic side.

Could that openness spread to the Democrats? I’ve learned never to say never. Still, it seems unlikely to me that Democratic party actors, who universally have nothing but scorn for Trump, will decide to emulate the Republicans who nominated him. 

So, no, I don’t really think that FiveThirtyEight picks Mark Cuban, Howard Schultz, Oprah Winfrey or Michelle Obama are at all likely to be the party’s candidate. Instead, it’s probably a safe bet that the winner will be a current or recent governor or senator with at least four years of experience at that level, including those who are currently in office but wouldn’t reach four years until January 2020. In other words, it’s more likely than not that Tim Ryan, Jason Kandor, Mitch Landrieu, Julian Castro, Eric Holder, Doug Jones and Sally Yates will all fall way short of the top spot on the ticket. 

I think it’s also unlikely that the nominee will be older than 70, which knocks out Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton – all of whom seem unlikely on other grounds as well. 

Looking at the draft board, that leaves Amy Klobuchar and John Hickenlooper as underrated possibilities. And then there are several others who have traditional qualifications for office that went undrafted: recent governors Martin O’Malley and Terry McAuliffe; current senators Chris Murphy and Jeff Merkley. 

Could that be entirely wrong? I’m not going to say “never” again. Not after Trump. And even if he proves to be entirely a fluke, it is of course true that some of what were once considered requirements for nomination – being white and male and Protestant and never having been divorced, to begin with – have either been shattered or were never really full barriers in the first place.  

Still, my money would be on getting one more current or former senator or governor. Boring? Perhaps. But as Seth Masket points out, maybe it’s time for a little boredom. 

1. Yoshikuni Ono and Barry C. Burden summarize their new research on voters and female candidates.

2. Also at the Monkey Cage: Lilliana Mason and Nathan Kalmoe on Republican hatred for John McCain.

4. Erica Werner reports on the dim prospects for the rescission.

5. Austin Frakt at the Upshot on health-care spending.

6. Good roundup from Politico’s Bill Scher on women in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries. 

7. My Opinion colleague Noah Smith on the U.S. safety net.

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