Of the twenty-plus candidates running in the 2020 Democratic primary race, few would have guessed that the first to drop out would be Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell. He was gaining very little traction with poll numbers in the gutter – but he was polling above a number of other also-ran candidates, some of whom didn’t even qualify for the debate stage. So what’s Swalwell doing?
Each presidential election cycle, we see political up-and-comers enter the race with no chance of winning, seemingly for the purpose of raising their national political profile, in the hope that it’ll put them in position to run for something big later. The trouble is, it rarely ever works. Remember when Martin O’Malley tried it in 2016? People ended up not liking him because he stayed in the race long after it became clear that he no longer belonged on the stage. Accordingly, we haven’t heard from O’Malley since.
Here in 2020, we’re already seeing various Democratic candidates starting to burn their bridges with Democratic voters. Does anyone really want to spend a chunk of the debate watching two candidates, who are both polling close to zero, squabbling with each other? Is anyone ever impressed with a lesser known candidate down on the end of the stage who tries to hurl a clever zinger at one of the candidates in the middle who’s in contention? It plays poorly, and it tends to leave the also-ran candidates worse for wear after it’s over.
Eric Swalwell got his chance with a national audience during the first debate, and it didn’t get him anywhere. He’s still polling at zero. Sticking around for the second debate wouldn’t change that – but it could damage his long term career prospects. Instead, Swalwell is being widely praised today for dropping out and thus helping to clear the stage for the candidates who can win. He’ll go back to Congress better for wear, because he knew when to get out of the race. Some of the other 2020 Democratic candidates polling at zero percent should take a hint.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report