Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Swalwell drops out

HE DID IT knowingly, if not willingly, and fully aware of the rhetorical snark that would come back to bite him. With his withdrawal from the 2020 presidential race on July 8, California Rep. Eric Swalwell has passed the torch, handed off that grand American aspiration to someone else — TBD.

If you saw the second presidential debate in Miami, you know Swalwell’s hijacking of that phrase by former vice president Joe Biden, Swalwell’s once-challenger for the nomination, was a club the young Californian tried to bash Biden with. It was Swalwell’s way of announcing — to the people at the Arsht Performing Arts Center and the world — that he was ready to lead the generational change he and others his age and younger have been calling for — to receive that torch as the 2020 nominee. It wasn’t to be.

“Today ends our presidential campaign, but it is the beginning of an opportunity in Congress,” Swalwell said in a news conference, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Swalwell apparently crunched the numbers and came to a hard reality of how the numbers — static support in the polls, static or declining donations, a change in qualifications for the next debate  — were crunching him. “We wanted to be honest with ourselves and with our supporters,” he said.

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There’s good reasons why Swalwell never caught fire. Unlike longer-distance runners like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (who never really stopped running after 2016) of California Sen. Kamala Harris, Swalwell got in way late, too late to create any singular niche for himself in a field that was crowded when he jumped in back in April.

A former Alameda County prosecutor, Swalwell, who’s on both the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, probably had to contend with the part of the Democratic electorate that doesn’t warm to prosecutors, for a variety of reasons. Harris, formerly California Attorney General, has had to deal with the same thing herself.

Swalwell couldn’t get any traction in the candidates’ young phenom lane, already occupied by former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg — that despite staking out gun violence as the issue that would be, sometimes poignantly, the centerpiece of his campaign, much the same way climate change is for Jay Inslee. Also, Swalwell ran for the presidency as a white male in a time and a political climate when that’s almost a liability; look at the growing appeal for a wider demographic palette, a desire confirmed in the 2018 congressional election.

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AND THEN there’s his age. At 38, Swalwell is young enough to be a viable contender for the White House in eight or 12 years, but it’s that fact that may have led people to think he doesn’t have enough experience for the job, right now.

He’s clearly a young man but he needn’t be in a hurry. Timing is on his side. His withdrawal from the race comes nine days before former Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees — and Swalwell’s a member of both of them. The credibility that eluded him on the campaign trail will come to rest visibly on his shoulders when Mueller testifies July 17.

And Swalwell also knows the value of strategic optics. It’s a very crowded field of contenders, and they’re each jostling for leverage that was never there for most of them in the first place. There’s a lot to be said for being the first one to leave the party, rather than the last.

Image credits: Swalwell: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

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