December 5, 2023
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Those who have been watching the Republican debates (not necessarily a recommended activity) probably will have noticed that, in a technical sense, both Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis have grown more adept over the last three months. That is the learning curve at work. A bygone example illustrates this point for me. Gary Hart—the Democratic front-runner who had been driven from the 1988 nomination fight by a sex scandal—returned to the fray in December 1987 after seven months on the sidelines. The rust showed. Normally a sharp debater, Hart was fuzzy and imprecise when he faced off against his Democratic rivals (who had been sparring for months) at the University of New Hampshire in January 1988.

Even a globe-trotting governor like Newsom, who visited China last month, would be ill prepared for the full range of queries that would be immediately hurled at him as a presidential candidate—hourly questions about a cease-fire based on the latest glimmers of news from Gaza, repeated inquiries about the best Democratic strategy on Capitol Hill to keep the government open, and never-ending queries about how to finance proposed new government programs. Senators obviously have a more national and international focus than governors, but such would-be candidates as Georgia’s Raphael Warnock or Connecticut’s Chris Murphy would also need time to build their repertoire of stock answers.

Obviously, those candidates who ran for the nomination in 2020 would have a built-in advantage in a too-much-too-soon Democratic primary season. But Harris has gone from flaming out in the presidential race before a single primary vote was cast to struggling to find her footing as the vice president. Remember, she is currently running in most polls at roughly the same level against Trump as Biden. Buttigieg, who narrowly won the 2020 Iowa caucuses, has not been as dominant a political figure as might have been expected as Biden’s transportation secretary. Despite a strong run as a surrogate, particularly on Fox News, he has faded from view after being criticized for a tardy response to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Amy Klobuchar, who outperformed expectations in the 2020 New Hampshire primary, and Cory Booker, who never got traction in the primaries, are senators who have struggled to raise money for a national campaign. And neither of them has been at the center of the action in the Senate during the Biden years or done much to enhance a sense of inevitability as a future presidential contender.