On April 3rd, 2011, the Number 1 seeded Stanford Cardinal played Texas A&M for the opportunity to go to the National Championship Game in women’s college basketball. As an alum who bleeds Cardinal Red, I had plenty of reason to be optimistic. Stanford was both bigger and more skilled than the upstart Aggies – plus, we had the experience advantage, for Stanford was making its fourth Final Four appearance in as many years. Everything was going true to form with six minutes to go in the game, as Stanford had pulled away to a ten-point lead. But then the Aggies started chipping away with one hustle play after another. Texas A&M was beating Stanford to every loose ball, reflecting not only tenacity but impressive quickness. By the game’s final minute, it was a see-saw affair, with the lead changing hands over and over again. The Aggies seized a one-point advantage with 19 seconds left, only to have Stanford answer with what appeared to be a game winning layup with nine ticks remaining on the clock. But that turned out to be plenty of time for the underdogs, who sprinted their way up the court to hit the game winning shot with three seconds to go – sealing a 63-62 victory and catapulting the Aggies into the Championship Game, which they ultimately would win.
From the opening tip to the final buzzer, I was pulling for the Cardinal. Yet I have to be candid: by the time that game ended, I knew that we didn’t deserve it. A&M played like they wanted it more. We were the Clydesdales, but they were the Little Engine That Could. We were cocky, they were scrappy; we were confident, they were desperate. Obviously, when you’ve going to your fourth Final Four in four years and you enter a game as the higher ranked team, you feel ENTITLED to win the game. And let’s face it, when you’re Stanford University -- one of the most elite academic institutions this side of the Andromeda Galaxy, it doesn’t take much to grow that sense of entitlement. A&M didn’t bring any of that baggage to the table. They just brought hustle, and hustle was enough.
I’ve allowed myself to relive that debacle to point out to you that we appear to be witnessing déjà vu all over again. This time, the role of Texas A&M is being played by the Republican Party, whereas Stanford’s part is being played by the Democrats. Going into this election cycle, the Democrats had won two Presidential Elections in a row – and when you think about it, they’ve won the popular vote five out of six elections. What’s more, demographic trends indicate that the Democrats figure to have an even greater advantage now than before, since the Hispanic population is growing so rapidly and Hispanics (like every other “minority”) vote disproportionately Democratic. Further, if all that wasn’t enough, going into this election season, the Democrats had by far the most well-known and experienced candidate. Indeed, during the first Republican debate, Marco Rubio said that "If this election is a resume competition than Hillary Clinton is going to be the next President.” The fact that she would also be the FIRST woman President, and that women represent 50% of the electorate, only made Hillary seem that much more inevitable. Just like Stanford.
But have you noticed what’s been happening? The GOP has held two debates and each one is garnering record audiences. The first debate had 24 million viewers. This past week’s debate had 23 million. The Republicans are planning on a total of eleven debates this season, five more than Democrats, who won’t even begin until mid-October.
The “coach” responsible for the Democrats’ reluctance to go to battle is Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Congresswoman from South Florida and the head of the Democratic National Committee. She is also known to be a big partisan of Hillary Clinton. For some reason, she has decided that it is in her candidate’s interests to have her Party sit out the summer and early fall and let the Republicans take all the political oxygen. Unfortunately for Schultz, her candidate, Madame Inevitable, isn’t looking nearly so grand these days.
Because this blog is a law-free zone, I won’t comment on Hillary Clinton’s e-mail issues. But as they say in sports, all you have to do is look at the scoreboard. Even among women, her popularity is plummeting. In the words of master-pundit, Nate Silver, “Clinton is stuck in a poll deflating feedback loop.” And yet, at least when it comes to winning the nomination, she’s still Madame Inevitable. Her closest competitor is Bernie Sanders, who looks like an absent-minded professor, calls himself a socialist, and refuses to say anything the least bit critical about Hillary. Some would argue that Joe Biden is also potential competition, but our avuncular Veep has spent his summer auditioning for the role of Hamlet, not building a campaign organization. Honestly, if he isn’t sure he is able to handle running for President at the age of 72, why should anyone think he can handle actually doing the job at the age of 78 (which is how old he’d be at the end of his first term)?
I suspect that the Dems are in denial. They look at the Comedy Act that is Donald Trump, see how much he has been dominating the Republican stage, and figure that they’ve got nothing to worry about. To quote Schultz, "I am actually thrilled at the voters across America being able to see the 16 Republican candidates in the food-fight that they'll engage in tonight in the doubling down on extremism, alienating immigrants to the country who simply came to make a better way of life for themselves, alienating women by suggesting that we're providing too much health care funding for them, and wanting to take away the access to quality affordable healthcare for all Americans."
There you have today’s Democratic Party mantra in one paragraph. But I can simplify it into one sentence: “We barely even have to show up to win because our opponents are a bunch of wackos.” I somehow doubt that Stanford’s Hall of Fame Coach Tara VanDerveer took Texas A&M so lightly.
For those of my fellow Dems who are still in denial, let me point out what should be obvious: Donald Trump wasn’t the only candidate on stage this past Wednesday. In fact, for a full 37 minute stretch, the Donald didn’t even open his pie hole. What I saw included, in addition to some lesser candidates, an impressive political moderate (John Kasich) and a brilliant orator (Carly Fiorina). In addition, I watched as the most likely nominee, Marco Rubio, seemed to mature and blossom before our eyes. Believe me, the Republicans are going to fight for this prize, and while they might not have any stars, Texas A&M proved that you don’t need stars; you just need fighters. By the summer of 2016, whoever emerges from this Republican primary season will be battle tested and battle ready.
And who will s/he face? Why Hillary, of course. Hillary has been allowed to play this hand with a rigged deck. That’s clearly what Schultz has been attempting to do – minimize the opportunities for the Democratic Party electorate to make an educated decision that might potentially result in a different candidate winning. Hillary has the money. Hillary has the organization. Hillary has the endorsements. Hillary has the name recognition. And without many debates to stop the momentum, the Democratic race is over before it starts.
But there will be a competition next summer. And will Hillary be ready for that? Or will she feel like all she needs to do is strut onto the stage, throw out the same old “Republicans Suck” lines, and the Fates will hand her the victory. That sure seems to be her Party’s game plan. At this rate, they’ll be lucky to compare themselves to the Stanford Women’s Basketball Team. After all, at least Stanford kept it close.