Opinion: Booker’s Presidential Prospects Grow Dimmer

Carl Golden | September 24, 2019 | Opinion
The likelihood of a substantial cash infusion producing a surge of support to vault the senator into the top tier of candidates is unrealistic
Carl Golden

While the prospect of Sen. Cory Booker’s presidential campaign raising more than $1.7 million before the end of the month to continue his quest for the nomination is problematic, his future is dimming steadily, and the possibility of a withdrawal looms large.

In a memo to his campaign staff, Booker’s campaign manager warned there is no long-term path forward if the funds are not forthcoming. While the campaign has not exhausted its funds, the sum is necessary, he said, to continue and expand operations through October and November.

The appeal for contributions is neither a stunt nor an attempt at spinning the media, he said, but a genuine unvarnished look at Booker’s campaign status, unprecedented in its transparency.

His campaign’s latest report said it had raised just over a half-million dollars, but the startling admission that, without the funds, viability is in serious jeopardy appears to be a last-ditch attempt to stave off the prospect of ending the senator’s effort three months before the Iowa caucuses — the first real test of strength for the Democrats who remain.

Booker has never broken the 3% ceiling in the Real Clear Politics polling averages, and the likelihood of any substantial cash infusion producing a surge of support to vault the senator into the top tier of candidates is unrealistic.

Money follows polling, and bundlers and major contributors follow polling. They don’t mind hedging their bets to some extent, but persistent single-digit standings with no discernible movement is a deal breaker.

Booker’s fourth-place finish in a Monmouth University poll of New Jersey Democrats, while not necessarily definitive of national standing, was unhelpful, portraying a badly struggling candidate unable to draw significant support in his home state, where he and his history are well-known and documented.

Another face in a crowd of candidates

His dilemma mirrors that of the half dozen other candidates who’ve remained mired in the 1% to 3% range — relatively paltry name recognition and a frustrating inability to capture voters’ imaginations, relegating them to a face in a very large crowd.

By all accounts, Booker’s campaign appearances have been extremely well-received, his speeches even described as electrifying. Roars of approval swept the crowds in response to his eloquence and passion.

He’s acquitted himself well in the candidates’ debates thus far, drawing favorable reviews and demonstrating that he belonged on the same stage with the leaders and could compete with them on an equal footing.

Yet, he remained at 2% or, in some states, even less. He fell victim to an “I like Cory, but….” reaction from voters who wondered whether he was, indeed, the candidate who could fulfill Democrats’ fondest wish — defeating President Trump.

When he entered the race for the nomination in February, he sprinkled his announcement with phrases like “common purpose…revival of civic grace…help each other…unity…collective will…meet hate with love.”

His peace-and-love message sounded to some like he was seeking the mayoralty of Woodstock.

Such cynicism aside, though, his pitch came at a time when his party’s focus was just the opposite — Trump must go and it matters not what weapons of personal vilification are used to accomplish that end.

Going after Trump

A significant segment of the Democratic Party paid lip service to Booker’s message before casting it off in favor of a scorched earth strategy to portray Trump as the personification of evil, an unscrupulous manipulator whose actions — private and public — came perilously close to crossing a line into official wrongdoing.

“Nazi…xenophobe…misogynist…fascist…racist…bigot” were tossed around casually to describe Trump, but with the force of party leaders behind them. His family was attacked in a most cruel and obscene fashion, cheered on by elements of the media and the entertainment world.

Demands for impeachment and criminal indictment grew in both strength and numbers, even though the odds of success are very long.

“Common purpose…civic grace…help each other” didn’t fit.

At times, Booker stepped away from his public character, notably when he excoriated Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.

His “I am Spartacus” declaration during those hearings has stuck to him, a subject of much derision that was seized on by his critics as another example of alleged inauthenticity — a criticism, unfounded or not, that has dogged him during his public career.

The arm-waving cries of outrage over the actions of others are, his critics say, staged posturing, a unique and familiar Booker tactic to play to the cheap seats and the media.

His rhetoric — while soaring and graceful — masks a lack of substance, covering what his critics claim is a personality unmoored from deeply held principles or ideas, someone who is adept at identifying the direction of the latest political winds and hitching a ride on them.

Veering from his ‘unity’ message

As his party and his competition drifted further to the left, proposing all manner of staggeringly expensive government programs, Booker jettisoned his unity platform and joined in.

He became one more candidate undifferentiated from the others, blending in with an ideological movement and remaining a face in that crowd.

Should he fall short of his life-saving fundraising goal, Booker could become the highest-profile candidate to abandon the campaign thus far. That he’ll be joined by a number of others is a certainty.

His departure would hold implications for Gov. Phil Murphy, as well. To this point, Murphy has used Booker’s candidacy as a shield to deflect pressures from others in the running to offer an endorsement. His understandable obligation is to his home state senator, and he will stay with it as long as Booker remains.

The smart money suggests that Murphy would side with former Vice President Joe Biden, with whom he’s maintained a long-lasting friendship.

He will, though, be subjected to approaches from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, particularly if the nomination remains contested through the spring and up to New Jersey’s presidential primary on June 2.

He could potentially play a decisive role, although recent history suggests it’s unlikely that nominations are decided by the time of Super Tuesday primaries, well in advance of New Jersey’s balloting.

Odds of success were long

For Booker, the odds of success were exceptionally long, and he was unable to shorten them. He’ll remain in the Senate, bide his time, and at age 50, is certainly young enough to wait out another four years of Trump or a Democratic president.

He’ll be a subject of attention as a potential vice presidential candidate, as well as a cabinet officer in the event of a Democratic victory.

A point or two may have been chipped off his rising star, but its brightness remains.