March 2017 is probably far too early to start considering the next presidential election, and who the Democrats might send into the breach to take on Donald Trump (assuming he runs for re-election, of course). That said, there’s already an awful lot of rumor and sigh in the news transom about people having sudden-onset political stirrings, including those setting their sights on a 2020 presidential run.
Some of them are the last vestiges of the Clinton network, still high on that old Third Way supply, banking on the belief that the country isn’t yet done with late-1990s nostalgia. But a new group of would-be candidates is on the rise ― extravagantly wealthy wannabes stirred both by the Clinton-era Democratic Party embrace of meritocratic elites and the success of Trump’s outsider run. And if they all have something in common, it’s that they are all the worst possible people for the Democrats to run for office, if you consider the lessons of the 2016 election.
What were those lessons? Well, for one thing, 2016 was the year that the Democratic Party’s obsessions with the professional class finally caught up with it. Amid roaring calls for solutions to widely felt economic inequities, Hillary Clinton ran a campaign largely based on social niceties and boardroom diversification, with some incremental crumbs thrown the way of middle- and working-class strivers.
None of it added up to a compelling enough case against the GOP’s con-man class-traitor to win the election. (And tellingly, some taken-for-granted Democratic strongholds fell to Trump at the exact moment Democrats needed them most.) But if there’s one thing both political parties share, it’s that they are slow to learn their lessons. The fear that the Democrats might stay the course, despite Clinton’s failings, suffused the atmosphere in the recent Democratic National Committee election ― and those who wanted a decisive change are still not sure they’re getting one with the election of former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez. That some of the Clinton family’s most dedicated hangers-on feel like they are the person to run for office in the Trump era likely won’t soothe their ravaged souls, either.
And then there are the unfortunate side effects of Trump’s win itself, which has apparently touched off a whole new round of thinking as to whether it would be a good idea to examine this moment in history ― in which a brash billionaire-celebrity outsider has ascended to the highest political office in the world ― and consider whether the time is right to have more brash billionaire-celebrity outsiders try to run for president.
That every single day of the Trump presidency has been a scintillating demonstration of the Peter Principle seems to not deter anybody. Instead, the event of a complete and utter billionaire buffoon with no political experience has suggested to a slew of other buffoons that, hey, why not me?
A century or two of yawning inequality has left us with no shortage of such buffoons. Hundreds of these folks have ascended to the dizzying heights of our American oligarchy ― or were born there ― and now gaze downward, gripped with the firm conviction that they should run all that they see below. “Stay in your lane,” once the byword of America’s true and most successful innovators, is advice too easily chucked aside by today’s captains of industry. And so, “meritocracy” has become something of a dirty word.
Nowadays, those who have found success in one area are just as likely not to think that their success is translatable to other endeavors. When this turns out not to be the case, comical hijinks ensue. Perhaps the apotheosis of this rich-people folly came when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg thought it would be a good idea to appoint his friend, Hearst executive Cathleen Black, to the position of New York City schools chancellor ― despite the fact that her relevant experience could best be summed up as “not any.”
It was a huge disaster, but did anyone learn a damn thing from this experience? (Hmmm, let me check: Oh, yeah, Betsy DeVos is the U.S. secretary of education. So, no, nobody did.)
Still it’s one thing for Republicans to consider running the play ― they’ve obviously managed to make it work, at least in the narrow electoral sense. And their billionaire was no obscure figure. Entering the election with 100-percent name identification, and a years-long run in American living rooms as a fictional, all-knowing business leader, gave Trump legs up that your random billionaire lacks.
Replicating either side of the last presidential election is a losing move for Democrats. But it’s a very tempting one: It’s a notion that allows the easy-breezy fantasy that a massive party overhaul isn’t necessary, and that all of their problems can be ameliorated by either billionaires with quick fixes and cash on-hand, or Clinton 2016-redux candidates with better data and marketing.
With that in mind, here are a bunch of people whose political ambitions should be extinguished with all deliberate haste.
Bob Iger: Who, pray tell, is Bob Iger? Well, for a while, he was a member of Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, a collection of CEO heavyweights who were going to help Trump #MAGA, for which Iger was well suited as the chief executive of Walt Disney. SInce then, it’s been reported that he is mulling making a run for the White House in 2020. Hmmm, maybe he hasn’t thought through this whole politics thing? Apparently not, considering that his inspiration to maybe run for president stems from the fact that he says “a lot of people ― a lot ― have urged me to seek political office.” I mean, maybe set your sights a little lower, first time out?
J.B. Pritzker: Having endeavored mightily to paint the past two Republican presidential nominees as out-of-touch wealthy elites ― and having failed to distinguish their own last presidential nominee as something different ― are Democrats stupid enough to make an about-face and run their own billionaire?No, J.B. Pritzker wouldn’t make it out of Iowa without a negative vote total. But even though he’s recently been sniffing around the possibility of running in the Illinois gubernatorial election, that hasn’t stopped him from floating to friends that he’s considering making a run for the White House as well ― or so we’re told by one recipient of such a flatulent flotation. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, had designs on being commerce secretary under Hillary Clinton, just as his sister Penny Pritzker was under Obama. Just stop.
Sheryl Sandberg: According to some election-year rumors, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was in the running to serve as Hillary Clinton’s treasury secretary. Since then, she’s been rumored to be considering a White House run, amid occasional denials. At the same time, she has recently been more open to Trump’s overtures. She was one of those Silicon Valley leaders who met with Trump prior to the inauguration. As Slate’s Helaine Olen notes, Sandberg made no public mention of the Women’s March that took place afterwards, a curious move for the “Lean In” maven ― at least until you consider the fact that “Lean In” is a disingenuous brand-washing scheme, and that Sandberg is especially unwilling to criticize her C-suite peers for crimes against women in the workforce.
Howard Schultz: The Starbucks CEO has said “never say never” to a presidential run. Indeed, Schultz would be the fever-dream candidate of the No Labels set: his political “brand,” insofar as he has one, is essentially based around his core belief that everyone in politics should be a lot nicer to each other. This worldview most famously manifested itself in the short-lived March 2015 “Race Together” campaign, in which Schultz ― after having mostly eliminated manual espresso machines in Starbucks stores ― tasked baristas with bridging America’s racial divide. If you want a president who believes that all of America’s problems can be solved by constantly throwing corporate culture at them, he’s your guy.
Mark Zuckerberg: Hey, let’s see: Do we really want the founder and CEO of Facebook ― a business that depends on learning as much about your private life as possible, more and more every single day, always probing and collecting, never ceasing in its sleepless drive to know everything about you, better than you could possibly know yourself, until the very idea of “privacy” becomes an obsolete concept and individual autonomy is subordinated to a set of bloodless algorithms and advertisers are straight-up living inside your dreams ― to be our president? I dunno, man. As Big Brother might say, that sounds doubleplusungood!
Chelsea Clinton: Anyone else notice how after the election, Chelsea Clinton has been slowly creeping into our lives? There’s been this gradual ramping up of Total Chelsea Clinton Awareness, and along with it, the gradual ramping up of yet another Clinton’s political career ― even though, up until now, Chelsea Clinton has essentially been nothing more than a lodestar for other people’s money to find their way into Clinton bank accounts. (I read here that she was paid $600,000 to do journalism? Holy cats, how long did it take Jimmy Breslin to make $600,000?) Anyway, she’s been tweeting lately ― tweets that feel a little too clever, but not enough to be thought of as “edgy” ― the sort of social media output that makes you want to look for hidden wires. Hillary Clinton got a lot of stick ― unfairly so ― for lacking authenticity, but her daughter’s recent re-emergence feels like a ghost in the shell being willed into existence by a team of P.R. firms. We don’t suspect we have to fear a run in 2020 from Chelsea. But let’s please add every year in the future, ever, to that safe space.
Terry McAuliffe: The biggest beneficiary of the Clinton family to not have actual Clinton family DNA (probably, anyway!), McAuliffe revived his political career by winning the 2013 gubernatorial election in Virginia. It was close. Too close, considering he was running against a throwback Christian conservative ideologue in the form of Ken Cuccinelli. During the 2016 campaign, McAuliffe distinguished himself by telling reporters at the Democratic National Convention that Hillary Clinton was definitely going to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal after the election. The TPP, if you recall, was the thing convention-goers booed and jeered more lustily than Donald Trump. McAuliffe and his spin-team later tried to walk this back, saying that it was just McAuliffe who supported the TPP, which ― is still not good? Anyway, he is basically kooky, has a lot of funny-money connections, and suffers from the fact that Virginia has a one-term term limit for governor, leaving him with an itch that has to be scratched, probably with a huge pile of donor money that could be put to any number of more productive purposes.
Andrew Cuomo: The Clintons and Cuomos have never been particularly warm to each other, but the two political dynasties, eternally orbiting one another, have managed to seamlessly apply the transactional-slash-triangulating political style they share in common to their interpersonal relationships. Now, as rumors mount that Cuomo is considering a White House bid, he’s welcoming former Clinton campaign staff into his fold, where they’ll likely discover similarities to their natural habitat. Liberals have, in recent months, thrilled to Cuomo’s stance on fracking and his defense of immigrants, but they’re setting themselves up for huge disappointments. Cuomo, who is astonishingly petty and mean-minded, has done more to dampen the fortunes of New York’s Democratic Party than New York Republicans have. And he’s corrupt as all get-out to boot ― his most notable accomplishment as governor was to shut down the Moreland Commission anti-corruption inquiry as soon as the probe starting sniffing around targets with ties to the governor ― and getting away with it.
That, right there, is a murderer’s row of the exact wrong candidates for the Democratic Party, who’d be better advised to begin the hard work of rebuilding their party’s foundations and restoring a deep bench of new policymakers with fresh ideas. This is not the moment to try to lock arms with a gaggle of dilettante 1-percenters, promising to do what Trump pulled off. And it’s certainly not the time to try to revive the fortunes of their political cousins ― the broken remnants of the Clinton machine.
Drown these candidacies in the bathtub, right now.
Ryan Grim contributed.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.