Volume 2, Issue 65: Capitol City

It has been more than five months since we introduced the Get This Lunatic Out Of Here 2020 Presidential Power Rankings. I know that there is a certain percentage of the reading public that wants to think about politics as little as possible, and boy howdy, do I ever get it. But this is all just getting started, of course, and if you're frustrated by being unable to escape the Presidential election right now, I have some bad news about the next 16 months of your life.

Considering we just had our first run of debates and thus more people are paying closer attention, I thought we'd do a whole newsletter this week on the Rankings, while the candidates are fresh in everyone's minds. The next debate, at the end of July, is in Detroit, and it has the same parameters for qualification as this week's did; the ones after that, in mid-September, have tougher requirements and thus will have fewer people on stage. Thus, this may be the last time we get to take a full look at this insanely wide field. (Because I promise not to do this again in a month.)

So, because I just spent four-plus hours of my life watching them, and because I came up with a bunch of jokes, and because I already have this newsletter, and because I'm constitutionally incapable of not irritating readers by typing about off-brand things they don't want to hear about, here is an updated Get This Lunatic Out Of Here 2020 Presidential Power Rankings.

Previous disclaimer applies: This is my personal preference, with an ever-shifting gaggle of factors, and it should (obviously) be kept in mind that I am a straight white male homeowner in his 40s with two kids and therefore have my own blind spots and unconscious biases. If the person you support is lower here than you'd like them to be, that’s fine! It’s not a personal insult! You're beautiful! And my viewpoints will change and evolve and sometimes be inconsistent and will likely be wrong on several occasions. They are simply mine at this particularly snapshot of a moment. It is OK if you disagree with me. It is great! You’re a whole other human being! If we agreed on every issue, that would be extremely weird! This is just my way to publicly sort out my thoughts on the people who are trying to become President, in real time, as the race moves along. I’m eager, even begging, to have my horizons expanded. Because whoever emerges out of this muck instantly becomes one of the most important people in American history.

It should also go without saying that every single one of these people would make a better President than the current one. That also goes for every member of Congress, and every professional baseball player, and every member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and everyone you met at Band Camp back in 1992. It goes for you, and your best friend, and your worst enemy, and your family, and every person you have ever met in your life. As I've said before: I would literally prefer a random name out of the phonebook.

OK, here goes.

26. Mike Gravel

While I am sure the teenagers who are trolling the world by goofing around and running Mike Gravel's campaign -- and this is actually what is happening -- are having a grand old time, I'll confess, I'm not feeling particularly whimsical about election tomfoolery this time around. The Twitter account is amusing, but I suspect this joke is going to get old fast, if it hasn't already.

25. Wayne Messam

The former football player and mayor of Miramar, Florida -- which, it must be said, has more citizens than South Bend, Indiana -- is officially running, but he doesn't appear to be actually campaigning and reportedly has stopped paying his staff. (And is monitoring their emails.) He was around this week commenting on the debates via Skype. I am reminded of David Letterman's immortal line about Carson Daly: "If you have a show at 1 a.m., do you really have a show at all?'

24. Marianne Williamson

She was fun to goof around on during the debate, and I do think her heart is probably in the right place, but one of the nice things about the debates was that everyone in it is qualified and smart and well-educated in these issues: This isn't the clown show that the Republican debates were four years ago, when people who have dedicated their lives to public service suddenly started talking about ugly spouses and their penis size. This is a serious time, and there are more than 20 serious people trying to figure out how to solve serious problems. Like with Gravel, my patience for silliness, as much as I love some New Zealand trash talk, is in short supply this year. Plus, I'm pretty sure she meant it when she said you shouldn't have to vaccinate your kids. I'd rather this get nipped in the bud before it gets out of hand. In case you don't remember four years ago, sometimes things get out of hand.

Also, a great Williamson joke I saw:

*** East Coasters: That Marianne Williamson, what a crazy loon, wow.
*** West Coasters: A person exactly like her is my medical doctor.

23. Andrew Yang

Speaking of people who probably shouldn't have been on stage, Andrew Yang didn't add a single thing to the debate Thursday night, and I can't think of something that would make me less likely to vote for someone than the descriptor "Former Tech Executive." Also: You're at a Presidential debate. Wear a fuckin' tie.

22. William Weld

In case you missed it, the only primary challenger to our current President said this month that if Donald Trump loses the election, he will refuse to leave office. So there's another festive party to look forward to.

21. Tim Ryan

I can't come up with a better joke than that one.

20. Bill de Blasio

You may remember, when de Blasio announced, me saying that I didn't share most New Yorkers' hate for de Blasio, if just because I moved to Athens right after he became mayor and therefore never really had to deal with him. After watching him Wednesday night ... I get it now. De Blasio is that guy at the end of the bar who won't shut up about anything. And if he thinks you're not paying attention, he'll shout a little louder. I think I agree with him on a lot of things, but just hearing his voice inspires a rather shocking amount of revulsion. And that's just from one debate! Imagine if he'd been my mayor for six years!

19. Eric Swalwell

There is a smugness to Swalwell that came up, I think, in his needling of Joe Biden for being old on Thursday night. Kamala Harris went at Biden hard but with purpose, and righteous anger. Swalwell felt like he was just mocking an old guy. Michael Kinsley's great book "Old Age: A Beginner's Guide" from a few years ago was very smart about how cruel the young are about the old, as if it's not going to happen to them someday. Something about Swalwell's little dig at Biden really bothered me.

18. Joe Sestak

Sestak seems like a decent enough guy, and he's a Navy admiral who looks like Scott Glenn should play him in a Tom Clancy movie, but announcing he's running for President the same week as the first debates -- debates he's not in -- strikes me as ... strategically unsound.

17. John Delaney

There is having your moment come along at the right time in history ... and there is being a bald white guy moderate in 2019. Delaney had nine people standing next to him and he still looked so lonely.

16. John Hickenlooper

I honestly do not remember a single thing he said, and, frankly, I'm having a hard time recollecting which night he was even on.

15. Tulsi Gabbard

She's a little more reckless than she seemed on stage on Wednesday -- and I wonder if that might have changed if she'd have been at the more raucous Thursday debate -- but she had a good night. I am generally in favor of more Presidents from Hawaii.

14. Michael Bennet

I know this is just a random photo still, but honestly: Isn't it nice to think that we might someday have someone who thinks as President? Like, someone who takes a second and, like, ponders? That's where we are: Thinking feels like a relic from another time.

13. Seth Moulton

Until Moulton -- a high-quality person with a fascinating backstory -- qualifies for a debate, I'm going to use this picture of him, which looks like a man whose wife has gone missing and who is the primary suspect.

12. Steve Bullock

Easily the best-positioned candidate who didn't make it on stage, he'll be up there next time, and I bet he ends up being a breakout hit. It'll be too late for him by then, but any Democrat who can elected governor of Montana has something going for him. Plus, he was funny on Colbert.

11. Bernie Sanders

I continue to think Bernie Sanders can cause more trouble in this election than he can help, and I do worry his Medicare-for-All plan is going to be a serious headache for whoever survives this insane process. I think he is a good person who has already earned his place in history, but as I've said before: I didn't vote for him last time, and I have a lot more options this time.

10. Beto O'Rourke

Yeah ... that wasn't good. O'Rourke continues to be the candidate I am most emotionally connected to -- almost entirely for generational reasons that seem a little less important with each passing day -- but even I'm about ready to give up the ghost at this point. The problem was not the Castro exchange (which wasn't really O'Rourke's fault; Castro actually interrupted him, de Blasio style) or the Spanish speaking, which other candidates did later anyway. It was that he was so passive. Part of the affection for Beto is based in his political skill, his ability to inspire and engage. But after getting kicked a couple of times, he looked like he just wanted to go home. It turns out: You can't just wing this on charm and good intentions. I still think he has incredible potential, and I still believe in the guy. But it might be time to sit a few plays out, and try to remember how and why you got here in the first place. This is not his moment.

9. Julian Castro

He made great sport of Beto, which appeared to be the plan all along. But I bet that act doesn't work with a candidate who is more, oh, engaged than Beto was on Wednesday. He also had the best LGBT moment, and it wouldn't surprise me if he campaigns more on LGBT issues than, say, Buttigieg. It still feels like he should have more traction than he does, doesn't it?

8. Jay Inslee

He has clearly established himself as The Climate Change Guy, and we're going to need him to be, considering how little climate change came up on either night. But he was solid on other topics too, when he got a chance to speak. Plus: I don't think I ever knew there was a Washington accent before. I like it!

7. Kirsten Gillibrand

She clearly got the wrong night to debate: I think she could have had a Castro-esque moment if she'd have had that night rather than the more stacked Thursday night. Sitting next to Kamala Harris, she just looked like ... not Kamala Harris. I'm not sure how she differentiates herself right now. I might personally find her the most likable of all the candidates. But that's not enough.

6. Joe Biden

Look: That he is wiping the floor right now with Trump in key swing states can't be ignored. But he was terrible on Thursday, and he was terrible in a way that makes you worry that, if he makes it that far, he'll get destroyed. He was slow and ill-prepared and defensive and surprisingly weak: I mean, after Harris pummeled him, he actually begged the moderators to move on. That's not our Uncle Joe. I do think Joe Biden would make a good President. But he looked far, far past his prime on Thursday. Maybe he'll be better in a month. But if he's not, this could all implode on him fast. I want more for the guy. I admire him. But he has to be better than that.

5. Pete Buttigieg

His answer to the question about the police shooting in South Bend was remarkably honest and straightforward, though I'm not sure if would make me feel any better if were a black person in South Bend. (Or anywhere.) But he is obviously an incredible political talent: He is able to make thoughtfulness sound assertive in a way that's sort of thrilling to watch. He strikes me as an obvious VP choice.

4. Amy Klobuchar

Yeah, I don't care about the comb anymore, and I probably never should have. You can see why people think she's so good, and why she's won so many elections in places you wouldn't expect her to. I don't quite believe she'll be able to pull off any of the bipartisanship she claims she will, but -- and this very well might make me a sucker -- I still think it's important that we try.

3. Cory Booker

Now that's more like it. Booker is finally getting a little bit of momentum and showing off why people (like me) were so excited about him for so long. (The old joke about Booker is that he's "been a rising star for three decades.") Also, he's dating Rosario Dawson, and Rosario Dawson is awesome. As long as Biden is in the race and saying things, Booker is going to have plenty of opportunities to grab headlines. His Spanish is pretty bad though.

2. Elizabeth Warren

Can I say I didn't think she was that great on Wednesday? She was fine, she didn't hurt herself, she clearly was prepared and ready. But I'm not sure frontrunner status -- which she had on that stage that night, at least -- serves her well. I think she's better fighting from behind, the underdog who doesn't give up. Having her be the comfortable person in the middle made her, and the debate, a little sleepy. And it's tough to imagine her digging into Biden the way Harris would the next night ... which makes it tough to imagine her doing it to Trump either. But still: Her rise from Also-Ran Pocahontas to Person Basically Setting Everybody's Terms on Everything has been something to watch.

1. Kamala Harris

That's what we were waiting for. More than anything from these debates, I want to see the person who will stand up there next year and depant that idiot for the whole world to see. There isn't a candidate out there who would do that better than Harris. I understand that some people are concerned about her prosecutorial record, but it's not like she's going to become President and say, "OK, first thing I'm doing is making drug laws tougher." I"m a little concerned about her raising her hand on the Medicare-for-all question -- namely, that she seems not to be entirely clear about what her position is -- but she passes the most important test of all. When you look at all those people on stage, yammering on and on about why they want to be President, they can all seem like, well, jokers: Just hot gas and ambition. You want someone who can step up and rise to the seriousness of the moment. No joke here: This is a deeply intelligent, incredibly strong person who I'd put my money on in any rock fight. There is a long way to go. But Thursday made me feel pretty good about having her No. 1 in these rankings from the beginning.

Also: My Lord there are a lot of people running for President. I need a nap.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. You may disagree. It is your wont.

1. O.J. Simpson's Twitter Is Boring As Hell, New York. I think I have written more than 20 pieces about O.J. Simpson over my 10-plus years at NY mag. I know, I'm sorry, I'm trying to delete it.

2. Debate Club: Best Wes Craven Movies, SYFY Wire. A Nightmare On Elm Street is still sort of insanely scary.

3. The History of the Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry, MLB Productions. If you get a copy of the program for the Yankees-Red Sox series in London this weekend, I'm in there.

4. The Thirty: Each Team's Best Home Run Derby Participant, MLB.com. I wrote a bunch of stuff this week that will run next week, so don't worry, I'm not getting lazy on you.


Still on hiatus! Back in September! Watch the ones you haven't seen on Amazon or on SI TV.


Grierson & Leitch, "Toy Story 4," "Child's Play," and "The Hunt For Red October."

Seeing Red, Bernie and I are beginning to wonder if we even like baseball anymore.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.


I do think we covered these.


Writing letters is good for you. Bring 'em on at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603


"Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out," Cracker. David Lowery of Cracker lives here in Athens -- his wife manages the 40 Watt Club in town -- and I remember, right after we moved, us all going to the holiday parade downtown. It was William's first parade, and he was as into it as a two-year-old could be. Toward the end, a pickup truck coasted down the route with a band playing in the back. It was Cracker, playing "Eurotrash Girl." It did make me think I would enjoy this new town.

Have a wonderful weekend, all. Be safe out there, and good to each other.