George Will: For the Democrats, it’s winnowing time | TribLIVE.com
George F. Will, Columnist

George Will: For the Democrats, it’s winnowing time

George Will
1487354_web1_1484119-40578abf87c44357a25b8d6a10a6eac9
From left, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate July 3 in the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

Winnow: verb. To expose (grain or other substances) to the wind or to a current of air so that the lighter particles (as chaff or other refuse matter) are separated or blown away.

— Oxford English Dictionary

WASHINGTON

It is time to dust off this marvelously appropriate verb for its quadrennial use to describe the thinning of a field of presidential aspirants. After two rounds of quasi-debates — “10-participant debate” is a quasi-oxymoron — the Democratic field is well on its way to contraction.

Joe Biden survived his second debate, but did not dispel the impression that the brittleness of his candidacy is more important than his double-digit lead in a field the congestion of which is, for now, his friend. He has never been the Democrats’ Demosthenes. Now, however, when he commits the sort of verbal fender-benders that have long characterized him, or when he has a normal hesitancy reaching for the mot juste or an elusive fact, many people will wonder whether he is showing his age, 76.

There is not room for both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the lane reserved for those who think, eccentrically, the government is a tool of rapacious factions and that the government should be made much more powerful. If Warren can be more of a happy warrior, and less of the faculty-club know-it-all scold who showed up in Detroit, she should send Sanders packing. Florid, arm-waving, shouting Sanders (Rep. Tim Ryan to Sanders Tuesday night: “You don’t have to yell”) will only become president if Americans do something they have not done since they reelected Andrew Jackson in 1832 — vote for a thoroughly angry man.

Did they do this in 2016? No, Trump’s anger shtick was performance art. Genuine political anger presupposes genuine political convictions. It is as mistaken to accuse Trump of anything other than synthetic anger as it is to accuse him of racism. He is not complicated enough for either.

Regarding John Delaney, Steve Bullock, John Hickenlooper and some others who are still a far cry from double digits in polls, remember this: In January 1972, South Dakota Sen. George McGovern’s support was around 3%, which means he was within the margin of error of zero. Six months later he clinched the nomination.

Many Democrats, who understand that their policies will remain mere aspirations if Republicans retain control of the Senate, are exasperated that three of their aspiring presidents are not seeking Senate seats next year. Hickenlooper, a former two-term Colorado governor, could be trying to deny a second term to Sen. Cory Gardner, the most vulnerable Republican incumbent. Bullock, having won Montana’s governorship twice in a state Trump carried by 20.6 points, would be a strong opponent against Sen. Steve Daines. But Hickenlooper and Bullock probably know that former governors, having had the exhilarating experience of wielding executive power, often are unhappy senators. Today, senators who are contented with their roles in a body that is both turgid and paralyzed are apt to be regrettable because they are in politics only for status — to be something, not to do something.

Some Democrats wish that former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke would run against three-term incumbent Sen. John Cornyn, but O’Rourke, the incredibly shrinking candidate, always has been a figment of his and others’ imaginations. In 2018, $80 million bought for him a somewhat close — 2.6 points — loss against Sen. Ted Cruz. In that year, when Donald Trump was not on the ballot, some voters whose political interests span the spectrum from Trump to Trump, stayed home. Many of them probably will reappear when their messiah re-summons them. Although Cornyn’s approval rating is not markedly better than Cruz’s was, some of those who disapprove of Cornyn are more conservative Republicans who will neither stay home nor vote for a Democrat next year.

This might be 2020’s decisive paradox: The safer that continuing Republican control of the Senate seems on Election Day, the better are the Democrats’ chances of winning the White House. Many voters, perhaps a decisive number, will be willing to put a progressive in the presidency if, but only if, they know that they can count on that which they too often deplore: gridlock.

George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and can be reached via email.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.