There has rightly been much interest in the Democratic primary, both from voters and from potential candidates. By spring of this year, it became clear we had a record number of people running to be the one to take the dishonest, racist Trump out of the office of presidency.
As the campaign has worn on, and we’ve gotten a chance to hear from this multitude of candidates, it has become clearer who is up to the challenge and who is not. It’s the rigor of a long campaign that is testing the current field, and some of them are proving they have the ideas and the integrity to beat Trump and bring us past this political nightmare we’ve been living over the past few years.
Yet recently, late in the process, a handful of candidates have been doing their best, with varying degrees of success, to buy their way into the process. Billionaire Tom Steyer, whose impeachment activism is to be commended but whose poise on the debate stage has been wanting at best, joined the race in July. By dumping millions on advertisements in the first four primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina — he has effectively purchased his way into the debates. He participates in his second debate this week and has nearly qualified for the one next month.
Now, two perennial nearly-ran candidates appear to be entering the race — former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Bloomberg is a billionaire and Patrick has spent his time after leaving the governor’s mansion working at Mitt Romney-founded Bain Capital. Both would presumably take Steyer’s approach of using their financial resources to make up for their late entrances in the race.
One possible explanation for these late entrants is that billionaires do have something to fear in this Democratic primary — senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are running successful campaigns based on ending a rigged system that allows the wealthy to flourish at the expense of everyone else.
To get onto the Democratic debate stage, candidates have had to meet polling and donor thresholds that have risen as the process has gone on, but have remained fairly low.
And unfortunately, as Steyer has shown, someone with deep financial resources is able to game the system, blanketing the relatively cheap media markets in early primary states with ads — which improves name recognition, and therefore polling — and offering people gifts like T-shirts for relatively small donations.
Bloomberg upheld and expanded a disastrous stop-and-frisk policing policy over the 12 years of his mayorship that led to a disproportionate number of black and Latino people to be stopped by police, a policy whose effects are felt to this day. Only this week, on the eve of his candidacy, is he apologizing.
While Patrick doesn’t have anything so egregious to answer for, his eight years as Massachusetts’ governor were mixed. While a gifted speaker with an optimistic message, Patrick lacked in some key practical matters. His administration’s roll out of Obamacare was a disaster, even with the head start of having Massachusetts’ healthcare reform law in 2006 under Republican Gov. Romney. He brought casino gambling to the state. At the end of Patrick’s governorship, there was a hole of more than $1 billion in the state budget.
The steady decline of former Vice President Joe Biden’s electability argument in the face of numerous fumbles and growing dishonesty about his record — especially around his support for the Iraq War — does open up space for a different moderate candidate to emerge. The latest example of his being out of step with Democratic voters came this week when he said he remains against marijuana legalization due to the possibility of it being a “gateway drug.” But will the candidate who replaces him be someone whose primary way into the race stems from getting a boost through their financial connections? I hope not.
Reach Dave Eisenstadter at firstname.lastname@example.org.