Could we take a brief break from the hand-wringing over the Democratic presidential field to acknowledge a fact that should be plain?
Any of the Democrats vying for the White House — and any of the Republicans, for that matter — would be worlds better as president than Donald Trump. Given all that we know about him, or even just all we learned last week, any of them should be a slam-dunk against him in 2020.
And they would be, if so much of this country hadn’t utterly lost its way.
An official transcript, a slew of witnesses, and Trump’s own statements have made it clear that the president of the United States tried to pressure a foreign government into digging up dirt on a political opponent, that he did not just invite, but sought to compel interference in our democratic process. On Wednesday we learned that, in a stunning and reckless breach of security, Trump explicitly pushed for the sham investigation in a call with his EU ambassador on an open cellphone in a restaurant in Kyiv.
On Friday, as former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was describing attempts by the president and his goons to smear her for standing in the way of their nefarious schemes, Trump engaged in some real-time witness intimidation, tweeting “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.”
The same day, a jury found Trump’s longtime adviser Roger Stone guilty of lying to Congress and witness tampering over the Russian interference that helped elect Trump in 2016. The president Stone had lied to protect reacted with yet another unhinged tweet excoriating his enemies.
And twice last week, Trump asked the US Supreme Court to block the release of the tax returns he has for years said he would “love” to share.
It is all conduct we used to agree was unacceptable, and un-American. But, led by soulless politicians and pundits who deify Trump, a giant swath of this country excuses and admires what would have been disqualifying before his rise.
So Democrats compete to determine which of them stands the best chance of toppling a president who should be unelectable.
How to do that? Nobody seems sure. Democrats are looking for someone above reproach, who can shore up the base and win over the tiny sliver of voters in battleground states who will probably decide the election. This person must appeal to both the white working class and voters of color, to women without alienating men. They should be sharp enough to go at Trump, but not so combative they turn voters off. A fighter, and a unifier.
Into this crowded field comes our former governor, Deval Patrick, casting himself as the Goldilocks candidate, the nice guy who sits between moderates like Joe Biden and progressive firebrands like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But Patrick has vulnerabilities: his missteps as governor, including his removal of officials who tried to compel his brother-in-law to register as a sex offender for raping Patrick’s sister more than a decade earlier. There is some nuance in that case, but not enough to excuse his intervention, nor to prevent an attack that will make the Willie Horton ad seem like a love letter. Patrick will also have to answer for his extensive corporate work.
But his shortcomings, like those of his Democratic rivals, are minuscule compared to the appalling qualities Trump displays daily. Democrats are playing not just by different rules, but an entirely different game.
In any case, Patrick’s biggest hurdle is the fact that the America that would vote for him — a black man appealing to our better angels — is probably no longer big enough to elect him.
Given how much despicable conduct voters will tolerate in Trump, it’s unclear if that America is big enough to elect any of the decent and accomplished Democrats in this stellar group.
Though it shouldn’t even be close.