Commentary: Cory Booker falls victim to the curse of the big field
AP

Commentary: Cory Booker falls victim to the curse of the big field

  • 0
{{featured_button_text}}
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) talks to guests at a campaign house party in Ankeny, Iowa, on December 31, 2019.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) talks to guests at a campaign house party in Ankeny, Iowa, on December 31, 2019. (Jack Kurtz/Zuma Press/TNS)

And then there was one.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) suspended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination Monday, having failed to escape from the low single digits in the national or early-state-primary polls. His withdrawal, while not surprising, leaves the race with only one African American presidential candidate: late entry Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts who has made barely a ripple in the polls. And it comes on the heels of Julian Castro's withdrawal, so there's no chance a Latino Democrat will face President Trump in November.

Some people will no doubt complain about the rapidly dwindling number of minority candidates in The Party That Looks Like America - the only other nonwhites still in the field are Andrew Yang, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who is Samoan American. But one thing the winnowed candidates have in common is mushy messages and hard-to-define missions.

Booker is a likable man who was running as an uplifting force, a unifier for a sharply divided America. His go-to word in the campaign was "love," which certainly differentiated him from the incumbent. (That seemed to be Marianne Williamson's theme too, meaning there was no market for a love candidate in 2020. Just imagine the campaign ads we're not going to see ... ) And it goes without saying that Booker would be a better president than Trump. But after watching him in the debates, I can't tell you how his approach to governing is different from any other candidate's. He, like Beto O'Rourke and Kamala Harris, was a charisma candidate, and that isn't enough this go-around.

Why? I'd point to a couple of factors. First and foremost, the Democratic field was so big, the amount of background noise made it hard for anyone to stand out. That worked to the advantage of well-known figures such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who started the race with a cushion and have pretty much held on to it. Same for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who'd already developed a big following among progressives.

Everyone else needed a distinct and consistent focus or a clearly distinguishing feature just to get attention. Think about it - you can rattle off at least one thing about almost all of the remaining contenders. Yang, for example, is the guy who thinks automation is killing so many jobs, the government should pay everyone $1,000 a month. That may be reductive and unfair to candidates who put a lot of work into having a complete platform, but it's the reality of a race with too many speakers and not enough microphones.

The second factor I'd cite is the unusual nature of the incumbent. Sanders and Tom Steyer, the investor turned activist turned presidential candidate, insist that it will take an unconventional candidate to defeat Trump. Meanwhile, middle-of-the-road candidates such as Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) say voters are hungry for a return to normalcy. Either way, Booker and the other folks who've fallen by the wayside represented neither a complete break with convention (except for Williamson, who proved that simply being unconventional isn't enough) nor a pendulum-swing back to the salad days of pragmatic policymaking and bipartisan governing of the Clinton presidency.

It's a shame that the Democratic field is becoming less diverse, but it's a very good thing that it is finally shrinking to a size that enables meaningful scrutiny by the voters. You may wish for different choices - more youthful candidates, say, or more impressive records of accomplishment - but at least your attention will be divided among fewer of them.

___

ABOUT THE WRITER

Jon Healey is the Los Angeles Times' deputy editorial page editor.

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

0
0
0
0
0

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

What's revealing about so many self-described nationalists is their contempt for the nation they claim to love. When President Trump talks about America, he talks about how people who don't love it should leave it - and then he talks about how awful it is and how much he doesn't love it. Here is America's president commenting on America's most populous city and fourth most populous state: "So ...

Reporters who cover Congress are rightly protesting restrictions on press coverage of President Trump's Senate impeachment trial. In a letter to Senate leaders, my Los Angeles Times colleague Sarah D. Wire, who chairs the Standing Committee of Correspondents, objected among other things to a proposal that reporters be confined to "pens" preventing them from "freely accessing senators as they ...

Most black men rarely get to experience, even vicariously, what it's like to be a white man in this country. I've been alive awhile now, but only truly understood the white male mindset once. It was 2006; Matt Lauer, the former NBC Today show host, was prepping for a television interview. He was bent over a coffee table, deep in concentration, reading a stack of papers as people around him set ...

  • Updated

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday can reliably be counted on for two phenomena: an outpouring of commitment to the ideal of nonviolent social change and a "revelation" that Dr. King was a Republican. That last point also reliably draws groans and exaggerated eye-rolling from those of us who say, "And your point is ...?" King himself was publicly nonpartisan but very laudatory of the ...

We the people of the United States of America are deeply invested in the impeachment trial now underway in the U.S. Senate, prompted by two articles of impeachment brought by the House of Representatives. But the House, we should remember, omitted several other potential grounds for impeachment, including racism, sexism and what the Dalai Lama aptly called the president's "lack of moral ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News