Persnickety time experts debate whether the current decade ends next month or next year. Much like using “impact” as a verb, however, the rest of the world has moved beyond these technical matters and now acts as if Jan. 1, 2020, is the beginning of the ’20s. This is good news for writers, who have been fruitlessly looking for a synonym to describe the current decade beyond “the worst timeline.”
There is another virtue with the decade ending five weeks from now. The news in recent weeks has been coming at us like an unregulated fire hose. Last week there was a day in which there were back-to-back impeachment hearings followed by a Democratic presidential debate. I am sure other things happened that day, but even intelligent readers of The Washington Post might be forgiven for not being able to process All the News.
It is in these media-saturated moments that readers need guidance. What news is important? What news is not? Which news cycles, if any, can be ignored?
The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts very much wants to help its readership out, especially with the holiday season approaching. So here are three men who are generating news cycles that you can safely ignore for the rest of the decade:
1) Mike Bloomberg entering the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. With Bill de Blasio withdrawing from the Democratic primary, American politics faced a critical shortage of New York City mayors on the national political stage. So Bloomberg is in.
What does Bloomberg bring to the table? A lot of money and … um … er … not much else that is new, to be honest. Much of that money will be devoted to ads against President Trump, which I suppose can’t hurt Bloomberg. The thing is, as FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich noted last week, “It would be unprecedented for someone who enters the presidential race this late to win the nomination in the modern era. Other candidates have been building campaign organizations and relationships for months. And the electorate is happy with the existing field.” There is also the small matter of Bloomberg not polling terribly well.
Because a plutocrat managed to disrupt the 2016 GOP primary despite horrific favorability ratings, it is natural to wonder whether history will repeat itself. It’s super unlikely. Trump did a lot of unconventional things, but he entered the race five months earlier than Bloomberg and participated in most of the debates. Bloomberg can’t qualify for the debates because he’s not accepting campaign contributions, and that’s a DNC criterion for qualifying.
Furthermore, Trump’s secret to doing well in the GOP primary was to pick a suite of issues where a chunk of the base diverged strongly from what the candidates were selling — namely, protectionism, immigration restrictionism and nativism. Bloomberg is a relative moderate, but there are already plenty of candidates in that lane. The only issue that Bloomberg emphasizes that might appeal to Democrats is gun control, but I don’t think Beto 2.0 will work.
Bloomberg provides a wonderful natural experiment to see whether money alone can buy more in a presidential campaign than it did when John Connolly or Phil Gramm was running. Political scientists should be paying attention — no one else needs to.
2) John Bolton turning against Trump. The depositions and testimony of multiple National Security Council officials during the impeachment inquiry suggest that former national security adviser John Bolton did the right thing in attempting to shut down Trump’s actions involving Ukraine. A quick Google search reveals that the phrase “John Bolton did the right thing” had fewer than five entries, so congrats to Bolton for successfully expanding that search history.
Last week’s testimony also hints that Bolton might know some fairly incriminating stuff. Bolton’s lawyer has teased that possibility already, as has Bolton in a paid private speech. Over the weekend, the former national security adviser finally got access to his Twitter account, and started doing the teasing himself on social media:
Let’s get back to discussing critical national-security issues confronting America. The threats are grave and growing. The presidency and control of the House and the Senate will all be decided in less than one year. It’s time to speak up again! #JohnBolton
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) November 23, 2019
Oooh, sounds spicy! Except that Bolton’s next tweet was a plug for his preexisting super PAC. And for someone who sounds eager to speak up, Bolton has been substantively quiet. That is probably because he signed a book deal with a whopping reported advance of $2 million and does not wish to blurt out anything that would affect book sales.
The Age of Trump has undeniably lowered the bar for political courage, but it’s still higher than Bolton’s current posture. If he really wanted to testify he could have done it. There is precedent for someone in his position, and several of his former underlings did so without a $2 million advance. Instead …
Adam Schiff on John Bolton’s refusal to testify before Congress: “He will have to explain, one day, if he maintains that position why he wanted to wait to put it in a book instead of telling the American people what he knew when it really mattered to the country” #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/W7cN6zhMtE
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) November 24, 2019
When Bolton’s book comes out, there will probably be an anecdote or two that merits further discussion. If his last memoir is any guide, however, there will also be many, many pages about Bolton’s brilliance in the face of bureaucratic torpor and cowardice from all of his enemies, foreign and domestic. Readers can wait until the book comes out, because Bolton will probably say little of merit between now and then.
3) Sen. John Neely Kennedy’s newfound faith in postmodernism. What Americans learned from the impeachment inquiry is that: A) There is, in the words of the AP’s Julie Pace, “a mountain of evidence that is now beyond dispute”; and B) Elected GOP officials really, really don’t care.
For a great example of how Republican officials are reconciling their political perceptions with, you know, the facts, may I present to you Sen. John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana:
WALLACE: Senator Kennedy, who do you believe was responsible for hacking the DNC & Clinton campaign? Russia or Ukraine?
KENNEDY: I don’t know. Nor do you.
W: The entire intel community says it was Russia.
K: Right. But it could be Ukraine. Fiona Hill is entitled to her opinion pic.twitter.com/KQAUkWeJIo
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 24, 2019
In a way, Kennedy’s position is liberating. Traditionally, commentators have tended to assume that those articulating “there are no facts, just opinion” views came from the left. No longer!
Even better, with that statement, which contravenes what the intelligence community briefed senators on just last week, Kennedy revealed the value of his opinion. The good senator is certainly entitled to it. The rest of us are equally entitled to ignore it.