The Slatest

Who Should Drop Out

Twenty Democrats. Two debates. Several men who look alike. It’s time for these people to call it a day.

Democratic candidates onstage before the second Democratic debate.
Democratic candidates onstage before the second debate—and the last for several of them if anyone is listening.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.

After two nights of Jake Tapper’s cool glasses, awkward national anthems, and people saying things, the second round of Democratic debates has come to a close. Now it is time for a whole bunch of candidates to stop running for president. Here are Slate staffer picks for who should follow in Eric Swalwell’s legendary footsteps and drop out right away.

John Hickenlooper

He is the least articulate and interesting of the 7 to 10 versions of the same candidate—Joe Biden’s white male moderate understudy—and he’s already had staffers quit because they recognized the pointlessness of the escapade. His brand of Colorado center-leftism is more effectively represented in the debate by Michael Bennet. And at least Tim Ryan and Steve Bullock have an ethos. —Jim Newell

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson has no business running for president. Not only does she have no political experience, she has no desire to get any. At Tuesday’s debate, she bemoaned the “wonkiness” of policy proposals and pooh-poohed the “intellectual argument” in which she’d just witnessed some of her peers engage. In her view, politics cannot mitigate the rot racism and Trumpism have sown in the soul of America. Cool! Don’t get into politics, then! Williamson loves being a spiritual leader and inspirational speaker who sells a lot of books. She should go back to being a spiritual leader and inspirational speaker who sells a lot of books. For all her foul and potentially dangerous ideas on vaccinations, disability, mental health, fatness, HIV/AIDS, and science in general, she doesn’t appear to have many actual opinions on the most pressing things a president has to think about. When asked about the reservations she expressed about “Medicare for All” at Tuesday’s debate mere minutes after she’d expressed them, Williamson took it all back. “I felt dirty after I said it,” she said. “I felt like, you know, I had to say it.” Apparently, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders had swayed her to their side in real time. Imagine what a well-spoken foreign agent could do! —Christina Cauterucci

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Michael Bennet

Michael Bennet is a human beta blocker, a one-man antidote to anything that might resemble excitement or drama. When he talks, one’s pulse slows, the eyes grow heavy. Imagine John C. Reilly—his voice is uncannily similar—reading the glossary in a biology textbook: That’s what it’s like listening to the guy. He appears to have decided it would be a good idea to run for president after giving a speech during the government shutdown where he broke his unrelentingly beige character and colorfully ripped Ted Cruz. During his run, he has reverted to his natural state of dull, playing the role of a compassionate moderate who won’t make “empty promises” to the American people about health care, though he did manage to muster a little energy talking about schools at the second debate. He’s a reasonably coherent and thoughtful critic of Medicare for All, but so is, like, John Delaney. Theoretically, Bennet could have played an interesting and important role in this race’s policy discussion; in the Senate, he’s been a key advocate for a child allowance that would give at least $3,000 a year to every child under 17 in America. It’s the sort of idea that once would have seemed overly ambitious, but thanks to his work could conceivably pass under a Democratic administration. And yet, he doesn’t talk much about it. It’s not clear why he’s on the stage, and he should leave. —Jordan Weissmann

Bill de Blasio

When sports fans suggest that an athlete should retire, the phrase “hurting his legacy” often comes up. I’ve always thought the legacy being referred to is the athlete’s own, and I’ve felt similarly when it comes to politicians. If a candidate wants to flail about on the stage and speak of past glories, well, that’s up to the candidate. It’s his or her legacy. However, there are certain types of candidates who would be better off getting out, because this is about more than just the candidate’s legacy. These include a) those who are faring poorly, b) those with a sincere belief in their party, c) those whose policy ideals are being adequately represented by a plausible nominee, and d) those who have unfinished business at home. Bill de Blasio fits all four criteria.

If John Hickenlooper and John Delaney—two former officials who don’t see their form of practical centrism reflected in the party—want to keep running, God love ’em. If Beto O’Rourke thinks his magic can be recaptured in a Ted Cruz–less environment, who am I to say he’s deluded? If Andrew Yang or Marianne Williamson, who have no chance at winning but every chance at sharing what they sincerely think are their interesting outsider ideas, want to stay, who am I to harsh the Yang Gang’s mellow or deal the Eight of Swords? But Bill de Blasio has a city that doesn’t much like him, with a lot of needs, that isn’t excited at all by his skipping town. The only thing New Yorkers hate more than de Blasio staying in town is de Blasio out on the trail ignoring his city. There are plenty of progressive candidates with de Blasio’s agenda who are flying the banner more effectively than he is. Every moment de Blasio takes up interrupting, or butting in on a debate stage when a more plausible rival could be better sticking it to Joe Biden, whose policies he clearly sees as flawed, is a moment wasted. Bill de Blasio is coming off as selfish, pointless, and hopeless. Run Bill run, back to the city that, if not needs you, then at least pays to house you. Come home. —Mike Pesca

Beto O’Rourke

Anyone who’s toured for months in an Econoline knows what it’s like to run out of gas. The campaign of Beto O’Rourke—ex–indie rocker, ex-congressman, ex–Democratic heartthrob—was losing reasons to exist before Tuesday’s Democratic debate, and nothing that happened in Detroit gave it any reason to keep chugging. The platitude-happy O’Rourke tried on policy details for size, mostly to incoherent effect. He was most natural, and even rousing, when talking about the border and his own state—but that’s an argument for running for Senate against John Cornyn, not wasting his and our time in a presidential primary. He didn’t make any gaffes, but he failed to make a major impression. To borrow the famous line from O’Rourke’s hero Ian MacKaye: He was just out of step. —Jonathan Fischer

Tim Ryan

When Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan decided in April to run for president, the field was already crowded—but he filled a gap. The only Rust Belt Democrat running was a small-town mayor who had gone to Harvard and worked at McKinsey. At its best, Ryan’s critique of the Democratic Party as a group that caters more to voters who shower before work than those who shower after work—and had, for that, lost Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan—is compelling. “That brand is damaged,” he told me last fall. “Our party is seen as coastal and elite, and that’s a big problem in a lunch-bucket state like this one.” Who could argue with that? Especially since Ryan isn’t one of those guys who thinks the party should stop talking about race; on the contrary, he talks about racial divides often, and when I visited Youngstown last month, his black constituents spoke fondly of him.

Unfortunately, Ryan hasn’t presented much of an alternative to the Silicon Valley–Wall Street axis. His biggest moment on Tuesday was an uninspiring attack on the Sanders-Warren universal health care plan. And when the time came for Ryan to finally give voice to popular misgivings in the Midwest about free trade, automation, and deindustrialization, he flubbed it, giving credit to Trump and then pulling back. “Look, I think President Trump was onto something when he talked about China. China has been abusing the economic system for a long time,” he said. But then he wavered, saying he’d have to “reevaluate” the tariffs, that “some of them are effective,” and that Trump had “bungled the whole thing.” What?

The rhetoric matched his spectral demeanor onstage. The best he could take away from Tuesday night was a rebuttal to Sanders’ impassioned criticism of the status quo: “You don’t have to yell,” he said to Sanders. So I’ll say it in an inside voice: Rep. Ryan, it’s time to drop out. —Henry Grabar