Election 2020

Come Together. Over John Hickenlooper?

The former Colorado governor enters the presidential race, for no particular reason anyone can see.


Hickenlooper campaign

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who yesterday announced that he is seeking the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination, may be best known nationally as the guy who opposed marijuana legalization in his state but ultimately decided it was not the disaster he feared it would be. If that does not seem like much to be excited about, neither does anything else in his background, accomplishments, or list of positions.

"I don't think John has at all defined why he is running," a Colorado political strategist told The New York Times. "There are very few people I know who wake up and want to go caucus to support a raging moderate." That is the opinion of a "longtime friend," so you can imagine how Democrats who do not have such warm feelings toward Hickenlooper are reacting.

Hickenlooper does have more executive experience than the other Democratic contenders—as a two-term governor, mayor of Denver for eight years, and cofounder of that city's Wynkoop Brewing Company. "I'm running for president because I believe that not only can I beat Donald Trump, but that I am the person that can bring people together on the other side and actually get stuff done," he said on ABC's Good Morning America yesterday. "The division is keeping us from addressing big issues like climate change and the soaring costs of health care."

In case you thought Hickenlooper was winging it, that is actually his campaign slogan: "It's time for our nation to come together & get things done." Hickenlooper's vague appeal to consensus and technocratic competence is reminiscent of Ross Perot, but without the compelling quirkiness—although he does contend in a campaign video that he is well-prepared to take on Donald Trump because of his experience standing up to bullies who picked on him because he was "a skinny kid with Coke-bottle glasses and a funny last name." Hickenlooper says "standing tall when it really matters is one of the things that really drives me."

In addition to climate change and health care, Hickenlooper plans to stand tall on gun control. "We beat the NRA by enacting universal background checks and banning high-capacity magazines," he brags. Those "universal background checks" are far from universal and cannot reasonably be expected to have much of an impact on mass shooters, who typically do not have criminal or psychiatric records that would disqualify them from buying guns, or on ordinary criminals, who can easily avoid background checks. And given how quickly magazines can be switched, Colorado's 15-round limit on magazines is not likely to have a measurable impact on mass shootings, let alone more common forms of gun violence.

Those positions, in any case, do not distinguish Hickenlooper from his Democratic rivals. He sounds a bit more centrist than some of them do on health care (he has declined to endorse "Medicare for All"); on the environment (he is a former oil industry geologist who supported fracking in Colorado); and on trade (he supported the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership while opposing Trump's tariffs).

Hickenlooper's main selling point, I guess, is that he is more pragmatic than the other Democrats. "I'm running for president because we need dreamers in Washington, but we also need to get things done," he says in the campaign video. "I've proved again and again that I can bring people together to produce the progressive change Washington has failed to deliver."

Hickenlooper: He'll get things done. Progressive things. Mostly. As long as Republicans agree. Come together.