I felt a little embarrassed for Jonathan Allen of NBC News last week when, in a piece about potential challengers to Donald Trump in 2020, he wrote the following:
Former Vice President Joe Biden is going to look a lot like a presidential candidate this year.
He plans to raise money for Senate Democratic incumbents, campaign for Democratic challengers in Republican-held House districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, and engage in state-level races where the pickup of a couple of seats could flip control of a legislative chamber.
“You’re going to see him all over the place,” said Greg Schultz, executive director of Biden’s American Possibilities PAC.
Biden won’t be alone. Nearly one year into Donald Trump’s presidency — with the president’s approval rating hovering around 40 percent — Biden is one of roughly two dozen Democrats who are considering a bid for the White House in 2020. The list includes governors, senators, House members, mayors and even celebrities such as former professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
To quote a catchphrase tied to his years in “sports entertainment,” there is no chance in hell that Johnson will run for the White House in 2020, 2024, 2028 or any time thereafter. After the disaster of the Trump years, it may be a very long time before the country sends another pop-culture figure into the Oval Office (no offense, Oprah).
The speculation about Johnson running for the White House is reminiscent of the equally nonsensical mania surrounding Colin Powell’s prospective presidential bid in 1995. Like Johnson, Powell had an amorphous sort of popularity that would have immediately faded away once he was clearly associated with a political party. Right-wingers, of course, wanted nothing to do with Powell back then; today, if Johnson decided to run as a Republican, it’s impossible to imagine the tiki-torch alt-right crowd embracing Johnson, whose father is a black Canadian and whose mother is Samoan.
It’s equally impossible to imagine Johnson running as a Democrat; the Scorpion King would not be able to survive skepticism about his ties to Trump buddy Vince McMahon, and while Johnson is a smart guy, he would not be able to coast on charisma alone in policy-rich Democratic presidential debates. (Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders would lay the smackdown on him in such a format, no?)
What about running as a third-party candidate? Well, remember back in 1999 when Warren Beatty–like Johnson and Trump, another pop-culture icon–considered doing the same thing? Yeah, I thought so.
Those who want Johnson to run for President are simply thinking about the entertainment value of such a campaign. The problem is that our politics are not supposed to be entertainment. The conversion of our politics into entertainment has given us Trump. Would Johnson, as President, be as grotesque as Trump? Of course not. However, the obsession with getting celebrities to run for the most important office in the land demonstrates that our democracy has, no pun intended, hit rock bottom.