Why Not Cory Booker?
He's winning the debates and he's great on paper. When will he catch on?
If you were cooking up a candidate in a lab to take on Donald Trump, you might come up with someone a lot like Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. (Well, except for the unmarried vegan part.) Like Pete Buttigieg, Booker was a Rhodes scholar and the dynamic mayor of a city afflicted by industrial decline, and unlike Buttigieg, he'd be sure to increase African-American turnout. He's more talented than Joe Biden or Beto O'Rourke at summoning an inspiring and unifying civic gospel. His criminal-justice record is better than Kamala Harris's. He is near the top of Greenpeace's ranking of Democratic presidential candidates on environmental issues, behind only Jay Inslee and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Hell, he was even a reality TV star, albeit of the prestige type; his mayoral exploits were chronicled in the award-winning 2009 documentary series "Brick City." He once ran into a burning building and carried a woman out over his shoulder. Long before Donald Trump, he was known for his innovative use of Twitter, responding to his Newark constituents' complaints about things like potholes and snow removal. (In 2010, Time magazine called him a "social-media superhero.") He looks like a movie star, and is dating one, the former Bernie Sanders surrogate Rosario Dawson. Booker is often mocked for showboating, but his ebullient theatrical streak would be useful in running against a carnival barker who is, as Marianne Williamson said on Tuesday, channeling a dark psychic force.
After Booker's skillful performance on Wednesday, a CNN focus group and a flash poll of activists from the progressive group Indivisible both found him to be the night's winner. That makes him, along with Elizabeth Warren, one of only two candidates who is widely viewed as shining in both the June and July Democratic debates. His sparring with Biden was particularly impressive; he was able to simultaneously make the case against the party's front-runner and maintain a posture of optimistic, intraparty comity.
It's a bit of mystery, then, why he's yet to break into the top tier of 2020 Democratic contenders.
Sure, I understand why he's viewed with suspicion by large parts of the populist left. In the past he's reaped financial support from Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry. His style of technocratic, market-friendly liberalism, symbolized by the $200 million he raised from various plutocrats to remake Newark's schools, is very much out of fashion. His proposal for baby bonds — payments of $1,000 for newborns, with further annual payments for low-income children to help them build a nest egg by adulthood — is an excellent way to reduce the racial wealth gap, but it doesn't take aim at the increasingly overweening power of the ultra-wealthy.
But, as we're learning, the populist left is not the majority of the Democratic Party. For voters who want a center-left candidate who can rebuild the coalition that carried Barack Obama to victory, Booker seems a natural choice — certainly more so than the stumbling, defensive Biden, or the meritocratic niche candidate Buttigieg.
Booker's problem may be that he's too well known by political journalists to be exciting, but too little known by most voters to be a household name. If that's true, though, he could have a lot of room to grow, because if he starts moving up in the polls, he'll be a story, and once voters learn his story, he'll likely rise further. (After the Wednesday debate, his campaign told me it had its best-ever fund-raising day.) His Iowa operation is reportedly very strong; if he does well there, it would likely translate to a surge in South Carolina. That's what happened with Obama; once he won the Iowa caucus in 2008, African-American voters in South Carolina let themselves believe in him.
Maybe all this is fanciful; a recent poll has Booker at 3 percent and Biden at 26 percent. Then again, the 23-point margin between them is almost exactly the same as the one between the front-running Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at this point in 2007.
A subplot of this primary race has been the center-left casting around for a non-Biden standard-bearer — it's one reason for the boomlets for O'Rourke, then Buttigieg, then Harris. After Wednesday night, it might be his turn.
Michelle Goldberg. New York Times, August 1, 2019
August 2, 2019
Voices4Hillary Post Script. Like Michelle Goldberg, who wrote this op-ed, I was impressed with Cory Booker on Wednesday - I felt he “won" #DemDebate 4.
Granted Booker didn't face attacks as Kamala did, but he sparred beautifully with Biden and at least once rose above the fray to remind the audience and the other candidates that Trump, not each other, was the target. Yes, he went in with fisticuffs more than once himself, but so did they all.
Booker reached a high note for the debate and himself when he spoke on racial voter suppression, reminding us that Democrats lost Michigan in 2016 not because Hillary didn't appeal to white men, but because Republicans and Moscow targeted African American voters to suppress that voting bloc.
Booker also noted that Black voters — in particular, Black women voters — need to be more valued by the Democratic Party.
Briefly then, to me, Wednesday night showed that Booker should be a top tier candidate for the Presidency, single, vegan and all.
For transparency, my choice for POTUS remains #Kamala4ThePeople #BlueVictory2020 #KHive