The Republicans’ 2016 field of 17 major candidates for president has been succeeded by the Democrats’ field of 20 and still growing. Many are untried and untested, and many more seemingly have no hope of winning their party’s nomination.
So why the pile-on? The answer is President Trump. All by himself, he redefined what it meant to be fit to hold office. He won while at the same time doing and being what had made others seem unfit for office before him.
Ronald Reagan was 69 when he was elected as president. He had been divorced. He had starred in a film with a chimp. Each of these things was considered a problem at the time.
But then Trump was still older when he ran for president. He was divorced twice, had a sex life displayed in the pages of tabloids, had never worked in or with any arm of the government. When he ran, Trump was also being sued by a porn star named Stormy, who had said told others years ago that he had given her money not to reveal their affair.
Stories about FDR, JFK, LBJ, and numerous others emerged years after they died or left office; tales about Bill Clinton emerged in salacious detail while he still was in office. But Trump’s problems were publicized while he was running, and he still survived everything.
After Trump, nothing can be seen as a true barrier. Barriers themselves are regarded as things of the past.
Are you much too young, a small-city mayor, and did you with live with a mate who, if you were elected, would become the first man? No problem! It makes you even more interesting.
Are you 46 and much less accomplished, indulged in much too much by your wife and your rich father? Are you the poster boy, in a sense, for prolonged adolescence? A graduate of the Ted Kennedy school of automotive achievement, having tried to flee the scene of a drunken car crash you caused? No problem: In fact, you even get a rapturous cover story in Vanity Fair and the Annie Leibowitz treatment.
In 1960, when JFK was 46, he was thought of as being too young and too green to be running for president, though he had already spent six years in the U.S. House and eight in the Senate. Today, to have run and have lost a campaign for state office is considered an achievement enough for Beto O’Rourke.
“This is like failing to win a role in your community theatre production of ‘Hair’ and deciding to take your talents to Broadway,” writes Margaret Carlson in the Daily Beast.
Her metaphor could apply just as well to Stacey Abrams, who lost a governor’s race in Georgia and may now be considering joining the presidential fray. But Abrams actually refused to concede the election (she still refuses to do so), and she deems the governor guilty of “voter suppression,” of which no trace all has been found.
Losing was winning for Beto and Abrams, for two reasons. First, they turned out be compelling as speakers; second, they came closer to winning than their parties had in their respective states for a long time.
Still, it’s only so long that you can keep failing upward. Eventually, losing goes back to being losing again.