Spartacus has left the building. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) announced Jan. 13 that he is ending his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. In a message posted on Medium.com, Booker referenced his attempt to run as a unifying force for the nation. “Nearly one year ago, I got in the race for president because I believed to my core that the answer to the common pain Americans are feeling right now, the answer to Donald Trump’s hatred and division, is to reignite our spirit of common purpose to take on our biggest challenges and build a more just and fair country for everyone,” Booker wrote.
The theme never caught on with potential Dem primary voters. Booker’s strategy to strike a pose as a new Barack Obama, promising hope and unity to a country marked by stark political divides, failed to gain traction within a party enraged by Trump’s administration and fueled at the grassroots by increasingly vocal demands for radical progressive change.
The early campaign wording was filled with pretty blue bouquets. “Barack Obama won on ‘hope’ and ‘change,’ Donald Trump’s campaign was ‘divide and conquer,’ and I believe the American voters now want ‘unity’ and ‘respect,’” Jim Demers, a New Hampshire Democratic strategist and Booker supporter, told McClatchy News Service in March 2019. “This country is so divided and we must come together. And people want Congress to get things done by finding common ground as well.”
But those vague terms were not enough to set the Garden State senator apart from the rest of a crowded Dem 2020 field. Belying his above-the-fray rhetoric, Booker frequently waded into controversial issues such as gun control. In May 2019, he called for a national gun licensing program and a ban on assault weapons, taking a strident and abrasive position against “gun violence.” “We are not going to give ‘thoughts and prayers,’ which to me is just bullsh*t,” Booker told CNN at the time.
He made more waves in July when he personally escorted illegal aliens over the southern border with Mexico so they could present themselves for asylum. The move drew criticism for being more of a political stunt than a serious approach to a major issue that has embroiled Americans in vigorous national debate.
Lack of Presence
By September, the Booker campaign was clearly flagging, plagued by low polling numbers and facing substantial fund-raising concerns. In a plea for donations to keep him afloat, sympathetic party figures revealed just how little the senator had been able to define himself to the nation at large. “We need him in the race. His race is one factor, but his voice is another factor,” veteran Democratic strategist Minyon Moore told NBC News.
By punching up his race and themes of sweepingly generic positivity, Booker hoped to capture the magic that propelled Obama to the White House in 2008. At the same time, he staked out many of the same staunchly progressive talking points that the Democratic Party demands of all its presidential candidates today. The conflicting stances contributed all the more to the muddled and unfocused campaign messaging that afflicted Booker throughout 2019.
For Democrats, it was never going to be enough in a post-Trump political era clamoring for change.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.