Winnow: verb. To expose (grain or other substances) to the wind or to a current of air so that the lighter particles (as chaff or other refuse matter) are separated or blown away.

— Oxford English Dictionary

WASHINGTON — It is time to dust off this marvelously appropriate verb for its quadrennial use to describe the thinning of a field of presidential aspirants. After two rounds of quasi-debates — “10-participant debate” is a quasi-oxymoron — the Democratic field is well on its way to contraction.

Joe Biden survived his second debate, but did not dispel the impression that the brittleness of his candidacy is more important than his double-digit lead in a field the congestion of which is, for now, his friend. He has never been the Democrats’ Demosthenes. Now, however, when he commits the sort of verbal fender benders that have long characterized him, or when he has a normal hesitancy reaching for the mot juste or an elusive fact, many people will wonder whether he is showing his age, 76.

Biden’s neon smile is a nice contrast with the snarl that defines the leader of the

other party, but Democrats must consider this: If they nominate Biden, they will be hostages to his health, and if he catches a cold or develops a cough in October 2020, the electorate might get chills.

There is not room for both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the lane reserved for those who think, eccentrically, the government is a tool of rapacious factions and that the government should be made much more powerful. If Warren can be more of a happy warrior, and less of the faculty-club know-it-all scold who showed up in Detroit, she should send Sanders packing. Florida, arm-waving, shouting Sanders (Rep. Tim Ryan to Sanders on Tuesday night: “You don’t have to yell”) will become president only if Americans do something they have not done since they re-elected Andrew Jackson in 1832 — vote for a thoroughly angry man.

Did they do this in 2016? No, Trump’s anger shtick was performance art. Genuine political anger presupposes genuine political convictions. It is as mistaken to accuse Trump of anything other than synthetic anger as it is to accuse him of racism. He is not complicated enough for either.

Regarding John Delaney, Steve Bullock, John Hickenlooper and some others who are still a far cry from double digits in polls, remember this: In January 1972, South Dakota Sen. George McGovern’s support was around 3%, which means he was within the margin of error of zero. Six months later, he clinched the nomination.

Many Democrats, who understand that their policies will remain mere aspirations if Republicans retain control of the Senate, are exasperated that three of their aspiring presidents are not seeking Senate seats next year. Hickenlooper, a former two-term Colorado governor, could be trying to deny a second term to Sen. Cory Gardner, the most vulnerable Republican incumbent. Bullock, having won Montana’s governorship twice in a state Trump carried by 20.6 points, would be a strong opponent against Sen. Steve Daines. But Hickenlooper and Bullock probably know that former governors, having had the exhilarating experience of wielding executive power, often are unhappy senators. Today, senators who are contented with their roles in a body that is both turgid and paralyzed are apt to be regrettable because they are in politics only for status — to be something, not to do something.

Some Democrats wish that former Texas Rep. Beto

O’Rourke would run against three-term incumbent Sen. John Cornyn, but O’Rourke, the incredibly shrinking candidate, always has been a figment of his and others’ imaginations. In 2018, $80 million bought for him a somewhat close — 2.6 points — loss against Sen. Ted Cruz. In that year, when Donald Trump was not on the ballot, some voters whose political interests span the spectrum from Trump to Trump, stayed home. Many of them probably will reappear when their messiah re-summons them. Although Cornyn’s approval rating is not markedly better than Cruz’s was, some of those who disapprove of Cornyn are more conservative Republicans who will neither stay home nor vote for a Democrat next year.

This might be 2020’s decisive paradox: The safer that continuing Republican control of the Senate seems on Election Day, the better are the Democrats’ chances of winning the White House. Many voters, perhaps a decisive number, will be willing to put a progressive in the presidency if, but only if, they know that they can count on that which they too often deplore: gridlock.

George Will’s email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(9) comments

Ystj

Trump has been winning so much, but I’m still not tired of it. Let’s face reality, he wins by a landslide in 2020, senate stays and there is a real possibility the house turns. The “squad” is turning moderate Democrats off. I know because I have many friends who won’t vote blue now. Also, you have the blexit and jexit. Many diverse groups are looking to the GOP as empty promises won’t keep votes anymore.

rikkitikkitavvi

I'm not tired of winning yet either. Trump made the dems (Pelosi) own the squad. Now they are the face of the dems. Don't forget #walkaway. I'm lovin' it.

FCPS-Principal

At this point it does not matter which Democrat runs. The worst Democrat is 10,000 times better than the best Republican. As far as the presidency is concerned, even the worst Republican is better than the current baboon hopping around the Oval Office, but that in now way justifies voting for any Republican candidate. Besides, none will run. None dare challenge their prize baboon. What would they run on anyway? They all agree with the baboon on everything. As far as the Senate goes, every single incumbent Republican needs to be flushed down the toilet. Every one is a baboon-loving brown noser and an enabler of the racist murders sweeping the nation, and a contributor to the steep decline of American since November 2016. As for the House, the Republicans need to be further marginalized.

Ystj

Are you a baboon or an idiot? I wish I knew your name like your buddies in Libby party, I’d expose your idiocy to the school board. Thank god my kids go to private school with the Republicans.

rikkitikkitavvi

In your mind fake disgusting principal.

DickD

The elderly are the most reliable voters.  Yet, what the Democrats want to do to Social Security will destroy it for those already on Social Security.  Bernie says it will cover everyone, including those already covered by company plans.  That means a windfall for major companies and more costs for Social Security.  It will not mean more money for those employed, it will mean more taxes for them.For those already on Social Security it will mean a risk of losing benefits, as costs are trimmed to meet the extra demand.  It also means that Social Security will go bankrupt sooner and right now there will be insufficient funds to meet the needs of millennials.  As it stands, Social Security will run out of funds in seven years, it needs to be fixed now and adding everyone to the costs is not a fix.Projections show Medicare for all would cost $30 trillion over ten years.  Bernie waives his arms and screams it will come from companies.  It will not, they are cutting costs all over to remain in business.  It is much worse than raising wages, because with wages you can work around the extra costs by hiring fewer and automating jobs.  With Social Security the costs will be placed on revenue, the more revenue, the more cost.  You cannot manage around that.There are other issues too: repayment of student debt, payments for slavery, forced busing and tuition free schools for all.Just remember one thing, all of this has to be paid for - somehow. Currently, the Republicans gave a great gift to the wealthy and large corporations, that is already adding to our debt and it actually raises taxes for the middle class in the fifth year. We cannot afford the Republicans or the current Democrats.

Dwasserba

All they have to do is remove the cap and Social Security is fixed. Medicare is a separate issue.

DickD

If they remove the cap, there will be deficit spending for Medicare. Of course they do it for everything else, so why not?

FCPS-Principal

Do you think anyone gives a hoot about deficit spending? No one, and I mean no one, does.

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