But among Democrats themselves, there are two lessons they ought to have taken away from 2016. The first is that in a 17-candidate field it is difficult to stand out, especially when everyone is saying more or less the same thing. Imagine Cory Booker attempting to make his position on ICE slightly woker than that of Kamala Harris, who is busy pointing out that Kristen Gilibrand only recently changed hers to bring it more in line with the progressive grassroots. How can these positions not blur in the minds of primary voters who are, as Vox pointed out recently, more than anything “pissed at Trump.” For three years now Democrats have responded to Trump’s bullying like a freshly-pantsed nerd feebly intoning “I know you are but what am I?” What the base wants now is someone who at least sounds like he would be not only willing to give the rich jerk a swirly but capable of actually forcing his orange head into the toilet.
This is one reason that I do not rule out the chance of the nomination being seized in Trumpian fashion by an outsider candidate like Michael Avenatti. While the rest of the candidates whinge about Trump’s badness in between articulating their bullet-pointed lists of Center for American Progress-approved policies, Avenatti could, for example, use a four-letter word on live television. The first time it happened it would slip past the network. Journalists and late-night hosts and morning shows would talk about nothing else for days. The next time the cable channels would be ready with their bleeps. “Is this being bleeped out on TV right now? It’s not here. I can say f— and you people will hear me. [Laughter, thunderous applause.] Watch it on YouTube later.”
Trump showed us these cheap tactics work. They allow a candidate to monopolize discussion, attracting the attention of less politically engaged voters while making the conversation among pundits entirely about him.