Your teachers all lied to you. There is such a thing as a dumb question. We are literally surrounded by dumb questions every day. By definition, a dumb question is any question where the person being asked the question couldn’t possibly know the answer to what is being asked; and, moreover, any reasonable questioner would know that before even opening his mouth.
For example: Asking the weatherman, “Will it rain tomorrow?” Not a dumb question. Asking your Uber driver, “Will it rain tomorrow?” Dumb question. Asking a cashier, “What’s on the menu?” not a dumb question. Asking a cashier at McDonald’s, “What’s on the menu?” when it’s right there in front of you in neon yellow and hasn’t changed since the Clinton administration? Dumb question.
This campaign season is full of dumb questions—online, on the Metro, at family gatherings—mostly because people just don’t know any better. Fortunately, like Elizabeth Warren, “I have a plan for that.” Here’s a simple guide to the dumbest questions of 2020, why you shouldn’t ask them, and, most importantly, why you’ll never need to ask them again.
This is the Honda Civic of dumb questions. For some reason, it’s still everywhere you look because people have some strange attachment to it, even though it stopped being useful 15 years ago. Nobody knows who’s going to win the 2020 Democratic nomination, and if anyone says they know, or that their blog or statistics or scattered chicken bones know, they are lying. Why? Usually, the incumbent president’s challengers are political has-beens or second-tier candidates willing to go on a suicide run between stints as cable news pundits.
Not this time. You know those years when there are like five good choices for Best Oscar film or four different teams that can win the NBA championship? That’s the 2020 Democratic field. Donald Trump is so unpopular that everybody wants to take a swing at him. Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are the most experienced, best funded, well-known crop of challengers any incumbent has faced since Creed faced Drago Jr. Don’t ask who will win, just be happy there are real choices for the first time in years.
Obviously, this is a dumb question because you can’t speculate on the VP pick until you know the nominee and nobody knows who the nominee will be. I really want to just call this a racist question, even though that might indirectly insult the zillions of people who I hear asking this question all the time. “Who should the nominee pick as VP?” roughly translates to: “Which black lady will one of these white guy nominees end up picking—Kamala Harris or Stacey Abrams?”
There is a common assumption amongst political types that Sen. Harris has the VP nomination locked up. Not so fast. Only twice in the last 40 years has the party nominee picked someone they ran against in the primary as a VP (Obama/Biden 2008, and Kerry/Edwards 2004). So Harris had better play to win. As for Abrams, there’s not a job in America people don’t want her for—vice president, Democratic National Committee chair, NPR host; I think they even tried to give her Kelly Clarkson’s spot on The Voice. Who knows what she wants or who might ask? The key is, this question is dumb; the vice president has never won or lost anyone’s nomination, whether they were a reality star porn-inspiring icon like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin or picked out of central casting from The Handmaid’s Tale like Mike Pence. In the end, the nominee is all that matters.
Electability is as elusive as true love, harder to measure than intelligence and rarer than a second season of a BET sitcom. Nobody really knows what “electability” is and just about everyone elected president in the last 30 years was considered “unelectable” by large swaths of the political elite. George H.W. Bush was a “Wimp,” Obama was ... black, Trump was an unhinged, adultering reality TV star. They all won. The only definitions that matter are “viable” and “electable.”
Viability is the ability to get your party’s nomination, electability is the ability to win a general election.
These are not even close to the same thing. John Kerry was viable in 2004; he was a senator and a Vietnam veteran in a year when Democrats thought only a “war hero” could defeat George W. Bush. However, John Kerry wasn’t electable; nobody really wanted him as president, they just wanted George W. Bush out of office. There’s not one person in America who would trade a Kerry victory over Bush in 2004 for Obama’s election in 2008. Not even Democrats. In other words, we STILL don’t know who’s electable in 2020, but I’d say any of the top 10 candidates (including backbenchers like John Hickenlooper or Jay Inslee) could surprise us and be viable.
The granddaddy of dumb campaign 2020 questions. In most cases, people are just seeking reassurance that Trump’s reign of terror will be over by January of 2021. But, one, nobody really knows and two, until we knew the Democratic nominee it’s safe to assume he’ll get re-elected. If it makes you feel any better, Trump’s chances of being re-elected are pretty terrible, all things considered. Don’t get caught up in the “Trump only won by 77,000 votes across three states” rhetoric. Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million; that’s like San Francisco, Charlotte, N.C., and Detroit plus the nightly viewership of Wheel of Fortune combined. That was against Hillary Clinton, who half the country hated; an empty milk carton with a big donkey on the side could probably win by even more in 2020.
Second, Trump has had the worst approval ratings of any president in recent history. Lastly, he took a huge hit in the midterms. It’s common for the party that wins the White House to take a hit in the first midterms but Trump got the brakes beat off him across the entire country in legislatures and governors’ mansions and Congressional districts in states he’d carried by double digits just two years earlier. By all signs, he’s not in good shape going forward. Doesn’t mean he won’t get re-elected; just means it might be harder.
So there you go, the dumbest questions of the 2020 campaign season. Please forward and post them to anybody you know who pesters you with these questions. Please bring this up on your phone whenever you get the inkling to tweet someone these questions, and for goodness sake, remember that this election is 18 months away. Unless democracy completely falls by then, you’ll eventually get the answers to all of these questions. Just don’t ask if democracy will fall by then, because that’s not a dumb question and you may not like the answer.