What’s Wrong With the Democratic Primary? Everything.
Tom Steyer, Senator Cory Booker, and Senator Kamala Harris at the Ohio Democratic debate on October 15, 2019. Photo: Allison Farrand/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Most weeks, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich speaks with contributor Alex Carp about the biggest stories in politics and culture. Today, what’s at stake in tonight’s Democratic debate, the vote to start the Senate impeachment trial, and the Trump administration’s crumbling explanation for its strike killing Qasem Soleimani.
After failing to qualify for tonight’s Democratic debate in Des Moines, Cory Booker has dropped out of the race. Who has the most at stake onstage tonight?
I have not been an admirer of Booker’s easy-listening campaign, but it says everything you need to know about the DNC’s debate criteria that he did not make it into this debate and that Tom Steyer did. So now Booker, a United States senator and former Newark mayor of actual substance and proven political chops, is out of the race altogether, and Steyer, a poseur with zero achievements and no known adherents, hobbles on, thanks to heavy self-spending on campaign ads that boosted his name recognition in two states’ polls. It’s a joke, and the public knows it.
Another joke is the focus on the caucuses in Iowa, a 91 percent white state that, like the white and unrepresentative New Hampshire primary, is another glitch in the system by which the Democrats choose a national ticket. Democrats are fond of complaining about the preposterously undemocratic math of the Electoral College and the United States Senate, where solid red states with tiny populations can hold wildly disproportionate sway in comparison to densely populated blue states like New York and California. And yet despite quadrennial efforts, the party’s leaders have been ineffectual at cleaning up their own primary process, which, despite sporadic reforms, still hands over disproportionate clout to small early-voting states that look like neither America nor the party’s own base. What’s really impressive this time around is that, thanks to the failed debate process, the Democrats have driven most candidates of color out of their initially diverse presidential field even before the white electorates of Iowa and New Hampshire (or any other voters, for that matter) could weigh in. That takes work.
Even if the defection of four GOP senators forces McConnell to allow witnesses, John Bolton included, it will not affect the overwhelming odds for acquittal. But one positive outcome may yet be Trump’s own rampaging behavior, which seems to ramp up every day since the impeachment process began, reaching some new apogee (if that were possible) with his tweeting of a doctored image showing Chuck Schumer in a turban and Nancy Pelosi in a hijab. No one in America gets into his head and drives him battier than Pelosi, and one can only hope she, in league with the House’s impeachment managers, will keep finding ingenious ways to goad him as the trial proceeds. One can picture Trump wrecking some of McConnell’s best-laid plans to keep a decorous lid on the trial by whatever tweets he is hurling day and night from the toilet. Not to the point of changing the outcome certainly, but perhaps to the point of further endangering his own reelection campaign, not to mention Republican prospects in the Senate and House.