The Mueller report seems ready to take over the headlines for the next month or so. However much we learn of whatever it contains, the special counsel’s report is a distraction from the main event on America’s calendar, which is the 2020 election.
President Trump’s war on the FBI will be an issue for many years to come, whether or not he is re-elected. But the path of events going forward, including the incumbent’s decision whether or not to run again, depends above all on who the Democrats nominate to run against him.
The Washington Post’s quarterly list of the top 15 Democratic presidential candidates, published Saturday was not encouraging, at least to those who consider Trump’s presidency to have been a disaster. Reporter Aaron Blake ranked Sen. Kamala Harris first among contenders, Sen. Bernie Sanders second, Sen. Elizabeth Warren third, Sen. Cory Booker fourth, former Vice President Joe Biden fifth and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke sixth.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ranked tenth; Hillary Clinton, who has not said whether she is running or not, ranked eleventh.
The list thus contains seven young and/or inexperienced legislators, four of them women; two governors, Gov. Jay Inslee, of Washington (ranked thirteenth), and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, of Virginia (fourteenth); and four elderly veterans – Biden, Bloomberg, Clinton and Sanders.
So it seems a good time to point out that the Democrats have a candidate who has already beaten Trump once, and who. leading their ticket, would almost certainly thrash him again.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not on The Post’s list. Maybe the political pros know more than I do. Only those close to Pelosi can gauge her stamina. Were she to run and win, she would be, at 80, the oldest president ever elected, and unlikely to serve more than a single term. That in itself might be a virtue, in that it would give voters four years to assess the current crop of hopefuls.
The conventional wisdom seems to be that the Democratic nominee will have to stand toe to toe with Trump and punch it out. Lingering over Trump’s El Paso rally the other week, Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger described what he saw as “political performance art at a high level.” He concluded, “Progressives and their media affiliates can produce all the Trump fear and loathing they want. If their candidate can’t hold a stage with him, they won’t win.” Pelosi, who has little to prove, could run a front porch campaign.
As a candidate, Pelosi would represent a more businesslike future. She would also represent the durable past – Congress’s 75-year record of legislative achievement in cooperation with the executive branch, for one thing. The long ascent of women to positions of great responsibility, always against long odds, for another. For all the talk of new social programs costing hundreds of billions, the two most pressing items on the domestic agenda are to shore up Social Security and tackle health insurance once again. An experienced consensus-builder could lay the groundwork for both.
Pelosi’s single biggest asset as a candidate would be that her campaign would be the least divisive. She wouldn’t need to dismiss the concerns of Trump voters. with questions of border security, she could embrace many of his positions and put them in perspective. Nobody is going to be able to intone the fateful sentence for a second time – “our long national nightmare is over.” Pelosi, better than anyone else, could at least begin the healing.
It may not happen. Clearly the country is ready for a new generation. Might voters delay the turning of the page for four years in exchange for a pattern-setting woman president? This much seems clear: a back-room deal wouldn’t be possible once the primaries have begun. The possibility of Pelosi’s candidacy should undergo a careful thinking over at the highest levels of the Democratic Party, whatever that means, and in the press.
David Warsh, a veteran columnist and an economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com, where this essay first ran. He’s based in Somerville.