September 15, 2019
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Jay Inslee’s exit shows how bad our presidential selection process is

Elaine Thompson | AP
Elaine Thompson | AP
Gov. Jay Inslee listens to a question while speaking with reporters about his plans to run for a third term as governor Thursday in Seattle. Inslee, who has ended his climate change-focused 2020 presidential bid, announced his plans earlier Thursday via email, hours before appearing at a news conference at Planned Parenthood in Seattle regarding the Title X family planning program.

In a sane presidential selection process, a two-term governor with a solid record on raising the minimum wage, health care, job creation, immigration and education — coupled with real expertise on a critical topic, climate change — would be a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Instead, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is dropping out, he announced Wednesday night.

The Washington Post reports, “He told [MSNBC’s Rachel] Maddow that he felt hemmed in by the design of the televised debates, where candidates were given short amounts of time to answer on complex subjects like climate change. But he said that he would look to support the eventual nominee and felt bullish on the Democratic Party’s chances. … ‘I think we’re going to be just fine ultimately,’ he said. ‘We just need to get to the business of unifying the party. I believe we will do that.'”

At around 1 percent in the polls, he was not going to make the September debate. Rather than be cut from the field, he wisely exited. His humility in recognizing that he wasn’t going to be the standard-bearer was refreshing.

One can second-guess his near-complete focus on climate change, which did not put his overall record of accomplishment front and center. One could also say that he lacked the pizzazz that modern campaigns require, but the system is screwy, and the candidates best able to govern are often the first to go.

You can blame the Democratic National Committee for setting up a ridiculous debate process whereby unserious candidates took up space on stage, rich candidates could spend gobs of money to collect enough donors to meet the qualification criteria and moderators seemed determined to get candidates to bicker. The media’s over-reliance on horse-race coverage over policy explanation doesn’t help, either.

And yet, this system is the only one we have right now. (I have plenty of ideas about how to fix it, such as using regional primaries to shorten the process and cut down the field to viable candidates, as well as employing someone other than TV anchors to moderate debates.) Nevertheless, we get the selection process and candidates we deserve. And to be fair, it certainly is possible to run a meaty campaign built on real grass-roots enthusiasm, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, proves every day.

We hope that every candidate who doesn’t make the September debate follows Inslee’s and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s example in exiting sooner rather than later and being as gracious and positive as possible. Perhaps that kind of humility and good judgment doesn’t count for much in the current political climate, but when you see dead-enders refusing to leave the race and rally around the winner, remember that you don’t have to be a self-absorbed jerk to do well in politics.

Inslee is the third candidate to drop out, after Hickenlooper and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, which unfortunately leaves behind too many cranks, crackpots and nonviable contenders. The DNC should aim to get the field down to a manageable five or six by the end of the year, figure out a better debate format and cease using donors as one of the debate criteria.

Come to think of it, maybe Inslee, Hickenlooper and Swalwell should do the moderating — at least they know the issues and have the party’s best interests at heart.

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post. Follow her @JRubinBlogger.

 



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