In every presidential election cycle, there’s a sleeper — a candidate not expected to get far who catches fire. Sometimes that candidate goes all the way. Barack Obama and Donald Trump did. Other times the candidate falls short, but only after exceeding expectations and, to one degree of another, giving more heralded candidates a scare. Examples are Howard Dean, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Bernie Sanders.
Sen. Cory Booker might be this year’s sleeper.
I say this for several reasons. First, he’s the “blackest” member of the Democratic field, at least so far. Kamala Harris is only half black.
Blacks make up about 20 percent of the Democratic vote. In the last three cycles, the candidate who did best among blacks turned out to be the party’s nominee.
Second, he’s the youngest of the major contenders, at least so far. Julian Castro and Pete Buttigieg are younger, but I don’t consider them serious contenders at this juncture. Beto O’Rourke is slightly younger than Booker, but he hasn’t entered the race yet.
Third, Booker has the most commanding physical presence of anyone in the Democratic field. The former Stanford football player stands 6′4.″ Beto O’Rourke is about the same height, but he’s on the scrawny side, at least compared to Booker. Soccer is his game, not American football.
Trump is 6′3.″ Obama is 6′1.″ Bill Clinton is 6’2.” We haven’t elected a president under 6’0″ since Jimmy Carter.
Fourth, Booker is the “hopiest” candidate in the field. His message is relentlessly optimistic. He speaks constantly about building bridges, cooperation, and our shared values as Americans. It’s BS, of course, but it’s BS people like to hear. See Obama, Barack.
The leftism Booker articulates doesn’t demonize America. He loves to talk about the civil rights movement as an American success story, which it is, of course. He has a riff about how the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama inspired a white lawyer in New Jersey to push for fair housing, which enabled Booker’s family to move into a white neighborhood, where he benefited from great schools and ended up at Stanford University.
Consider, too, Booker’s description of the American Founders. He calls them “imperfect geniuses.”
By calling the Founders geniuses, Booker respects the Founding, unlike so many on the left. But by calling them “imperfect” (which, like everyone, they were), Booker gives himself room to pick and choose his way through their masterpiece, the U.S. Constitution.
In short, Booker has it both ways. Barack Obama himself couldn’t have come up with a niftier formulation.
This leads to my fifth and final point: Booker is a world-class bullsh*tter. His stump speech is full of warm personal stories told well. Some of them may even be true.
Booker has the empathy thing down cold. From what I have seen, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kristen Gillibrand can’t come close to matching him. Joe Biden, another first-rate bullsh*tter in his day, can come close, but falls short. His oratory isn’t up to snuff, and wasn’t even in his prime. (I haven’t seen enough of Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro, Sherrod Brown, and Amy Klobuchar to rate them on this continuum, but I’d be very surprised if Brown and Klobuchar measure up.)
Two big questions hang over Booker. First, will his BS get him in trouble? Democrats are fine with BS in principle. They have nothing against phonies. But Booker has been caught lying more than once. If the pattern persists, and it very well might, Democrats will likely look elsewhere for their nominee.
Second, are Democrats looking for a “hopey,” conciliatory candidate in 2020? There’s an enormous amount of anger among Dems (as there was among Republicans in 2016). Based on what I’ve heard from Booker, he’s not going to run angry.
But Dems were plenty angry in 2008, yet they nominated Mr. Hope and Change. I think there’s a lane for an optimist who talks about cooperation and reconciliation, provided he doesn’t depart from leftism on issues of substance. Based on what I’ve heard from Booker, he isn’t going to depart on substance.
Booker might catch fire or he might go up in flames. I don’t know which, but I’m convinced he will be well worth watching.