Mark Cuban is mistaken. The brash billionaire, owner of both the Dallas Mavericks and a very short fuse — surely no sports owner has been fined as much — said of the next presidential campaign and whether he will be a candidate: “It’s not about Donald Trump.” Wrong. It’s about nothing else.
Cuban’s quote comes toward the end of a recent Washington Post piece about the Democratic field for the 2020 election. It is the dreariest article of this, the dreariest spring I can remember. The article names 17 Democrats or independents who are thought to be pondering a presidential race — some, like Bernie Sanders, already well-known, and others, like Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, undoubtedly unknown beyond its suburbs.
The others range from the obscure to the invisible, a grand exception being Joe Biden, twice vice president of the United States and a genuinely nice guy. He is, however, 75 and no fresh face. Still, the one he’s got ain’t bad.
What struck me about the piece was not only the absence of a name that made me utter a “Yes!” and do the required fist pump, but what these possible candidates said. Together they constituted a cliche factory, a coalition of the mundane, the unoriginal, the blearily predictable and the familiar. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said this is a “moral moment,” Biden said “America is all about possibilities” and California Sen. Kamala Harris said “We must speak truth.” At least she didn’t say “truth to power.”
Howard Schultz, the executive chairman of Starbucks, said “This is not a time for isolationism, for nationalism. This is not a time to build walls. This is a time to build bridges.” Oh, be still my heart!
None of the candidates said what I wanted to hear. None of them said there is just one issue in the coming presidential campaign and that is Trump himself. None of them vowed to leave him dead (politically), to campaign on his lack of character, his lack of honesty, his lack of knowledge, his lack of self-discipline, his persistent attacks on the press and his truancy from the international coalition that the United States once led. None of them vowed simply to make America virtuous again.
This is no small matter. So far, the courts have done a pretty good job of keeping Trump in line. And while the economy may yet crash, for now it’s doing splendidly — full employment and little inflation. Not bad at all.
Trump’s real damage is simply existential — he exists. He’s the President. He lies, and he’s the President. He tries to intimidate the FBI and the Justice Department, and he’s the President. He tweets inanities, and he’s the President. He tries to cow the press, and he’s the President.
Of course it matters what he’s done to the environment, to women’s rights, to immigrants and to climate change. But his overwhelming injury is to our self-image. It would not matter to me if he brought peace to the Middle East and combined the two Koreas, he would still be a national embarrassment, a Fox News take on the Statue of Liberty, looming out of New York Harbor, giving the world the finger.
I know that Hillary Clinton ran straight at Trump and failed. But that was Clinton, an immensely talented person in all fields but politics. She had her own problems — a baggage train of scandals and associations, some of them wholly concocted by her political enemies. Still, she came awfully close. Now, though, the task is easier. Trump has done to many voters what his supporters think the Clintons and Barack Obama did to them: rob them of their own country.
I know that a roundup of many potential candidates cannot do them justice. The quotes are fragmentary — shards of their beliefs — and do not reflect their whole person or their individuality. Buttigieg, for example, may be the obscure mayor of a modest-sized American city, but he’s also a Rhodes Scholar who served in Afghanistan (Navy Reserves) and is openly gay.
The fact remains, however, that the Democratic field lacks a giant killer and, worse, seems to lack anyone who is imbued with a red-hot desire to flatten Donald Trump. He is the issue — not needed programs like banking regulation or the desire for diversity or the requirement to invest in education and re-education. Mark Cuban, who, incidentally, has what it takes to slug it out with Trump, has it wrong. Ask Trump. It is always about Donald Trump.