In every open primary season there comes a moment when the political establishment gets panicky and rumors start to fly that it's time to shake up the race and bring in someone to save the day. It doesn't matter if there's any particular reason to do it; it could be some churning in the polls or a sense that the candidates are straying too far from the comfortable centrism that establishment figures assume represents the truest desires of Real Americans.
Back in 2008, this took the form of a group of elder statesmen who came together out of concern that John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were insufficiently bipartisan, which this group believed to be the greatest threat to America. An event was held at the University of Oklahoma just prior to the New Hampshire primary and was hosted by former Senator David Boren, who issued this plaintive plea at the outset:
"We come together to appeal to all presidential candidates to tell us how they plan to bring us together: Hear our plea, bring us together."
The star attraction at that gathering was then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had recently converted from Republican to Independent and was known to be flirting with a run. Unfortunately for him, hope and change got in the way:
[E]ven as the mayor gathered on Monday with the seasoned Washington hands on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, the surging presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama seemed to steal energy from the event and set off worry elsewhere among Mr. Bloomberg’s supporters.“Obama is trying to reach out to independent voters, and that clearly would be the constituency that Mike Bloomberg would go after,” said Andrew MacRae, who heads the Washington chapter of Draft Mike Bloomberg for President 2008.
This past weekend, the Koch brothers took the Republican bull by the horns and reinstated the old smoke-filled rooms of generations past, sponsoring a high-profile summit with five hand-picked GOP candidates for their right-wing billionaire pals in attendance to choose among. It's unknown whether Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz was the favorite. (We can be fairly certain that Carly Fiorina, also in attendance, was not.) But we do know that Cruz got the biggest ovation of the event with his fiery denial of climate change and scathing indictment of Planned Parenthood. So it's safe to say that bipartisanship isn't of major concern to these particular billionaires.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side of the aisle, the establishment has decided that it's time to make a few waves of their own. Some little birdies whispered in Maureen Dowd's ear over the weekend that they are very worried that Hillary Clinton's commanding lead in the polls may not hold up, so they floated a couple of possibilities for a quick replacement.
According to Dowd, the Democrats have their own Richie Rich ready to take the plunge, should he be called to do his duty:
Potent friends of America’s lord of latte, [Starbucks CEO] Howard Schultz, have been pressing him to join the Democratic primary, thinking the time is right for someone who’s not a political lifer. For the passionate 62-year-old — watching the circus from Seattle — it may be a tempting proposition. After coming up from the housing projects in Brooklyn, Schultz reimagined Starbucks and then revived it. He has strong opinions, and even position papers, about what he calls the fraying American dream. While he was promoting his book on veterans last year, he honed a message about making government work again and finding “authentic, truthful leadership.”
There's nothing like a wealthy businessman to make the case for "authentic, truthful leadership."
You'll undoubtedly recall Schultz's campaign for bipartisanship from a couple of years ago, called "Come Together," in which baristas wrote the slogan on coffee cups in DC as a way of encouraging an end to the government shutdown. Then they delivered a bunch of signatures asking that the "partisans" come together. The logjam broke shortly thereafter, leading Schultz to believe that he had something to do with it. (Spoiler: He did not.)
As Phillip Bump wrote later in the Washington post:
This is what's known in 1980s hip-hop lingo as "believing the hype." Starbucks, like many other "corporate citizens," believes that its ability to create a self-replicating coffee-spouting business empire somehow translates into either having unique insights into the human mind ("people like coffee") or into how to persuade people to take action (like buying coffee). Overlay that with the still-in-vogue "let's make the world a better place through our capitalism" thinking (see Coke, McDonald's) and you get this immediately questionable idea.
Not that it stopped him. He later started an even more fatuous campaign called "Race Together" -- which, contrary to first impression, is not about cars, horses or track-and-field competition, but rather a campaign to end racism... by writing some words on a coffee cup.
As Sarah Kaplan wrote in the Post:
Schultz urges “partners” to write the phrase "race together" on their paper cups “to facilitate a conversation between you and our customers.” A USA Today supplement, set to be published March 20, includes a number of “conversation starters,” including the fill-in-the-blank question: “In the past year, I have been to the home of someone of a different race ___ times.”
That particular brand of authentic leadership is not quite as exciting as Donald Trump's, but it does have the virtue of offering you a cup of coffee to go along with the banality.
As it turns out, Howard Schultz was only mentioned in passing in Dowd's big bombshell column. The bigger news was that Vice President Joe Biden was contemplating a run at the urging of his late son Beau, who reportedly made the request on his deathbed. Why this was received with such fanfare now remains a mystery, since it had been reported some time ago. Then again, it hadn't been rendered with the quite the same operatic sentimentality that Dowd brought to the story in her weekend column, so perhaps nobody noticed. The New York Times actually did a follow-up report about it -- using Dowd as their main source of information -- which makes sense, since according to her column, she has access to Joe Biden's innermost thoughts. ("My kid’s dying, an anguished Joe Biden thought to himself, and he’s making sure I’m O.K.")
The excitement around the beltway is palpable. Mike Barnicle expressed the prevailing view perfectly when he wrote in the Daily Beast:
[T]here is this one thing, this one nagging question that hovers above Hillary Clinton like a crop duster with a full tank of gas. It’s been there for nearly three decades. It’s always there, won’t go away and seems as if it’s never really fully answered and it is this: Who is she? Really, who is she? Nobody wonders who Joe Biden is.
It's true that nobody wonders who Joe Biden is. He's known as a garrulous guy and a devoted family man. He ran for president twice and was a high-profile Senator for decades. Like our friend Howard Schultz, he's considered "authentic and truthful" (which is funny considering that up until the time he was chosen for Vice President, Joe Biden was probably most famous for being revealed as a plagiarist during his first run for president. )
Obviously, there's nothing wrong with either of these two men deciding to throw their hats into the ring. Schultz is a rich guy with idealistic impulses and Biden is the sitting Vice President. Why wouldn't they consider running? It's an open race. What's interesting about this little boomlet is the elation with which this news was greeted by the political establishment.
One might speculate that this is simply because they are bored with the campaign, but it's hard to imagine that the wild Republican circus isn't enough to keep them stimulated. The more logical assumption is that certain Democrats just don't think Clinton will be able to bring home the win, so they're hoping to get someone besides the socialist from Vermont (and those other two guys) in the race. Democrats are nothing if not nervous nellies.
But some of this may stem from a different kind of nervousness that has nothing to do with Clinton personally or her specific alleged defects. It may be a simple fear that two "firsts" in a row is too risky. NRA president Wayne LaPierre recently said it plainly: "I have to tell you, eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough." Perhaps some people simply believe that what America needs right now more than anything is a return to "normal" (read: another old white guy).
It's worth noting, however, that in the latest Fox poll, Clinton leads Sanders by 6 points among Democratic men and a staggering 44 points among Democratic women. That's not enough to win the general election, but it's a fairly good indication that for a large number of Democrats, this "first" is worth the risk. And considering the group of circus clowns the Republicans have on offer, it's probably not much of a risk at all. But that won't stop the political establishments of left, right and center from wringing their hands and clutching their pearls and demanding that this one drop out or that one should run. If there's one thing that makes them more nervous than anything else, it's that pesky thing called democracy. Whoever thought that letting the people decide was a good idea anyway?