It's the easiest layup in Democratic politics.
All a politician needs to do to generate some good press is hint, insinuate, ruminate — or simply not deny — a desire to run for president.
Now some of these people will launch campaigns, others are simply flirting, and still others don't have the faintest possibility of being taken seriously. But it doesn't matter: they all get some ink
The late Russell Baker used to write about the Great Mentioner, how up-and-coming pols would mysteriously be designated by the press as presidential timber. But that no longer matters. In the social media age, they get to mention themselves — and reporters invariably follow.
Maybe the Democrats — figuring hey, Donald Trump did it — will wind up with a field so massive that it will make the GOP's 17 contenders last time look like an elite club.
One reason for the recent wave of stories is that potential candidates feel liberated to show a little leg after the midterms. Before Nov. 6, they engaged in a sanctioned form of lying, saying the idea of a White House bid never crossed their minds, even as journalists and voters alike knew that was basically bull.
Take newly reelected Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who bucked a red tide in his state:
"After insisting for years that a run for president was far off his radar — Mr. Brown has begun wondering aloud if he should have the world’s most important job after all."
And here’s the pitch, in The New York Times:
"Rumpled and unvarnished — with a fondness for sweatshirts, less so for ties — Mr. Brown would in some ways seem uniquely positioned in a party hoping to win back the Midwestern states that flipped to Mr. Trump. Throughout his political career, he has championed populist platitudes like the 'dignity of work' that have resonated with working-class voters in all corners of Ohio while also supporting liberal social causes like women's reproductive rights and L.G.B.T.Q. rights."
The same goes for New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who the Times says has undergone "a notable shift ... Less than three weeks ago, in the lone debate of her re-election campaign, Ms. Gillibrand pledged to serve her full Senate term."
Right after the election, Gillibrand told Stephen Colbert that "the hatred and the division" she said was caused by Trump "has called me to fight as hard as I possibly can to restore the moral compass of this country."
And Elizabeth Warren, after years of denials, said weeks ago she was taking a "hard look" at a presidential run.
What's more, you don't even have to win your race to have your hat thrown into the proverbial ring. Ted Cruz beat Beto O'Rourke by 3 points, but it's the Texas Democrat who's getting the media love. That includes yesterday's Politico piece with this blind-quote headline: "He's Barack Obama, But White."
O’Rourke is “scrambling” the Democratic field, having raised $70 million in the Lone Star State, “his closer-than-expected performance in the largest red state on the map was credited with lifting at least two Democrats to victory over House Republican incumbents.” A Politico/Morning Consult poll had him third among Democratic voters, behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
A Boston Globe column was titled "Beto O’Rourke Lost the Election, But He’s Getting the Most Presidential Buzz."
Thanks to the media, of course. O’Rourke says he hasn't made any decisions. I know, Abe Lincoln won the White House after losing a Senate race, but that was a long time ago.
The list goes on. The Washington Examiner says "Kamala Harris will have a digital army behind her if she runs for 2020."
Julian Castro is also being "mentioned." In fact, says the AP, "Castro has spent much of his political career being discussed as a potential presidential candidate since he was elected San Antonio mayor at age 34 ... Julian Castro would be a prominent Latino candidate in the 2020 field."
Mike Bloomberg has been toying with a presidential bid since stepping down as New York mayor, but never quite seems to do it, despite the pundits pining for him. In fact, the Republican-turned-independent recently re-registered as a Democrat. One person in touch with Bloomberg thinks he’ll make the run, but his "centrist" policies are likely to clash with the Democrats’ left wing. Oh, and he’ll be 78 on Election Day.
This Times op-ed in favor of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sort of captures the anyone-can-try ethos:
"Governor Hickenlooper, an optimistic, pro-business, pragmatic centrist, might seem, at first, like a long shot for the Democratic nomination. But then, in considering a post-Trump era, it is hard to imagine anything."
Nor do you need to be a politician. Politico informs us that "Marianne Williamson — pal of Oprah, spirituality guru and fixture of Hollywood's New Age community" — has been visiting Iowa. If nothing else, this should help her rack up more best-selling books on spirituality.
And I haven't even mentioned those touted in a Washington Post write-up: Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Deval Patrick, John Delaney (don't ask), and Hillary Clinton herself (she's making noises.)
And no handicapping list would be complete without Michael Avenatti, whose nascent bid suffered a tiny setback with his arrest on domestic violence allegations, which if true means he wouldn't even get Stormy Daniels' vote.
Look, you never know who might catch fire. Barack Obama wasn't exactly a leading contender in 2004, and few geniuses saw Trump as president the day he came down the golden escalator.
But one thing is undeniably true: These wannabes and many others know that the press cares far more about any public figure who harbors presidential ambitions. That's why it suddenly seems like every unindicted Democrat is pondering a 2020 campaign.