Commentary: Impeachment’s a flop, but so is Democratic field

The only candidate with a chance to beat Trump is Buttigieg, and he’s too far left of the middle.

By Hugh Hewitt / The Washington Post

Pity the Democrats. President Trump is going to brush aside their absurd impeachment circus, flicking it away as he might a stray twig or leaf on the collar of his blue overcoat.

Millions of Americans were laughing at Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, simply refusing to indulge his begging for attention, scoffing at his repeated assertions that his impeachment hearings were a really big deal.

Now, they are laughing at the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, as well as the three musketeer law professors who testified on Wednesday. The profs thought they were ready for their close-ups, only to discover that the combination of cable TV and Twitter is far more unforgiving than even the most contentious faculty meeting over parking privileges.

And the impeachment flop is the good news for Democrats. Just look at their presidential primary.

So far, six candidates have qualified for the next Democratic debate, scheduled for Dec. 19 in Los Angeles. None of them can plausibly argue that they can beat Trump in the middle-America battleground states. All of them are white. Of the African American candidates in the field, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, dropped out this week, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick cannot buy their way onto the stage in the fashion that Tom Steyer has and Mike Bloomberg will.

All of them are dragged down by the fevers of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, about how economies ought to work. The Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has more influence in the Democratic Party than any of them do. It’s a collapse of seriousness among Democrats on a scale rivaled only by the fields that produced George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984.

That’s where we are headed: a blowout by Trump. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, remains the sole wild card. He’s so temperamentally different from the president that it’s impossible to predict how he would play in a general election, and at essentially half Trump’s age (Buttigieg is 37 and the president is 73), he is the candidate of generational change, a pitch that worked for Democrats in 1960 and 2008.

I don’t think the fact that Buttigieg is married to another man will change a statistically significant number of votes, but his politics are too far to the left to attract the center of the American electorate without some serious revisions on his part. He’d need someone on the order of retired Adm. James Stavridis on the ticket (from Hillary Clinton’s short list of 2016 vice-presidential options) or some other “reassurance” running mate, as Dick Cheney was for George W. Bush and Republicans in 2000.

Mostly, though, Buttigieg needs to climb off the far-left limb on which the MSNBC primary has obliged him to perch.

Will he ever walk back his plan to expand the Supreme Court to 15 justices? Read up on how President Franklin Roosevelt’s court-packing plan worked out. If Buttigieg reads “Supreme Ambition: Brett Kavanaugh and the Conservative Takeover” by The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus, he would glimpse the fire such talk sparks among conservatives. It is an unparalleled turnout machine.

If Buttigieg can moderate, sending signals that he would govern toward, if not from, the center, he could lure enough of that center to make this a real race. But it isn’t likely because the Democrats seem more intent on going full “Thelma and Louise” over the left cliff of U.S. politics. As the cliche goes, they mistook Twitter for the electorate, projecting their hatred of Trump onto the vast expanse of incredibly indifferent-to-politics America.

Twitter has damaged Democrats just as it has damaged journalists, revealing them as essentially members of exclusive clubs who luxuriate in their chumminess and have little in common with the average American. Twitter’s Democrats are bad enough online; it would be best if they never gather together in person. They’d make the wildest Democratic convention seem like a church board meeting.

It’s not fair that tribune of the common man Joe Biden has taken so many hits because consultants came up with his “No Malarkey” slogan, or because he talked in a video from 2017 about his hairy legs as a young man and a run-in with a “bad dude” in the 1960s called Corn Pop. But the new media environment puts zero premium on fairness. It’s not easy rounding into the stretch run to age 80. If Biden stumbles to the nomination, Trump would be almost as happy as though Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachsetts, were the nominee.

No, the threat to Trump’s reelection — and it’s not great, but it is real — is Buttigieg. Who among the Democratic candidates is most like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or French President Emmanuel Macron, the two upstarts at the NATO gathering earlier this week? They’d welcome a third.

Hugh Hewitt, a Post contributing columnist, hosts a nationally syndicated radio show on the Salem Network. The author of 14 books about politics, history and faith, he is also a political analyst for NBC, a professor of law at Chapman University Law School and president of the Nixon Foundation.

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