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The Winner Takes It All

My family loved to play games.  Board games, card games, any kind of game.  And every one of us wanted to win. Granted, Mother preferred partnership games where she didn’t have to try so hard, depending on her other half to do the heavy lifting, while Daddy enjoyed setting your bid or dropping the queen of spades on you almost as much as winning.

Seems like a lot of folks are thinking about winning these days, politically speaking.  Many define that simply as beating Trump in November. For others, it’s beating him with the candidate with the right policy positions—from their perspective—together with passing every test of “correctness” and “righteousness” that they can devise.  Generally speaking, Democrats are really good at coming up with these tests.  

But if there’s anything to be learned from Trump’s successful campaign in 2016, it might be that “appearing” to be a winner is at least as important as actually being a winner when it comes to gathering support.  A crucial part of giving that impression is exuding a kind of self-confidence that may or may not be entirely justified.

So let’s look at what happened in Las Vegas this week.  (What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas when it’s broadcast live.)  For arguably the first time in this interminable series of Democratic debates, every one of the candidates was on both offensive and defensive, acting for once like they really want to win.  

Sure it was fiery, combative, and somewhat lacking in civility—as if that matters anymore, if indeed it ever did.  But even those who despair of the tone probably had a moment or two when a zinger was delivered, perhaps by their candidate of choice, that caused them to leap up and shout encouragement at the television.  (I readily acknowledge that calling it “television” dates me, but there you have it.)

Iowa and New Hampshire are behind us, but the results in these two states offer few clues about who the ultimate winner might be—even less about who might actually beat Trump.  Sure, Sanders and Buttigieg came out on top, but San Francisco won the coin toss at the Superbowl, and look how that turned out.  

The flip side of winning is losing, and it’s worth noting that two of the viable (whatever that means) candidates have never lost an election.  Of course, they’re women, so how electable can they be? The B-Boys (Bernie, Biden, and Buttigieg) have all lost elections before—the first two at the presidential level they aspire to now.  

Never mind that the electoral constituencies in Massachusetts and Minnesota measure in the millions, while the population of Delaware, Vermont, and South Bend, Indiana measure in the thousands.  (No, Joe, you don’t get to claim you won the whole United States in 2008 and 2012—that really was Barack Obama.)

Now enter Mike Bloomberg.  The self-funded Bloomberg (totally, not in the Trump way) has been accused of trying to buy the nomination and the presidency itself.  If he is, he’s doing it with his own money, a fact not lost on Hillary Clinton’s supporters who ponied up about $1 billion in 2016. At $55.5 billion, Forbes has him as the ninth richest person in the world.  Compare that to Trump’s $3.1 billion, and I have to wonder why the president hasn’t pulled Giuiliani out of Ukraine to negotiate a buyout deal with Bloomberg—and not even a leveraged one at that.

If Bloomberg does well on Super Tuesday, he would then join the other B-Boys, but not having lost any of his three previous elections—including the one he won after getting New York City’s term limits law changed so he could run and a third time.  

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess whether this week’s edition of Battle of the Democratic Stars (plus Bernie) will influence either the electorate or the polls—“moving the needle” as people who haven’t bothered to learn the difference between “affect” and “effect” would call it.  We’ll see.

When Democrats come together for the national convention this July in Milwaukee, they would be well served to remember that getting the nomination and winning the election are two different things.  Drop the balloons, and let confetti fall like rain. But no sprinkles. Sprinkles are for winners, and getting on the horse is not winning the race.