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Trying to Prop Up Marianne Williamson


First it was some irony bro podcasters trying to use her to clear the field for Bernie. Now, it’s Megan McArdle:

New Hampshire may be the Granite State, but it appears to have a wee soft spot for long-shot presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. The best-selling self-help author garnered 1.5 percent support in a new Democratic primary poll by St. Anselm College.

The juxtaposition between the “New Hampshire loves it some Marianne Williamson” and the data she cites is, ah, quite jarring. 1.5%? Yes, in that poll she’s marginally ahead (although not outside the margin of error) of Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker, two more serious candidates who nonetheless are quite obviously not going to win the nomination. OTOH, this poll puts here a point behind Amy Klobuchar, who will not be the nominee, and more than 3 points behind Andrew Yang, a quasi-joke candidate who will not be the nominee. And this is the more favorable of the two recent New Hampshire polls for Williamson. This surge in support is completely imaginary.

One can sketch a path for Williamson to the presidency, though it’s a narrow, meandering one through remote mountains and high cliffs. Her sort of metaphysical spirituality has a distinguished pedigree in American culture, and as Norman Vincent Peale and Joel Osteen could attest, the deity she invokes — a cosmic grandparent, affectionate and undemanding — appeals across the political spectrum.

She’s also a celebrity. Especially in a divided field, celebrities can sweep to an unexpected victory thanks to name recognition and unimpeachable outsider credentials, as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump all did.

Leaving aside Ventura, who was running for statewide office, to compare Schwarzenegger, Reagan and Trump as if all “celebrities” are the same is ludicrous. Schwarzenegger and Trump were far bigger names, and Reagan had a long, prominent association with the conservative faction of the GOP before becoming governor. Williamson is unknown to more than half of the Democratic primary electorate, nestling right around the likes of Tom Steyer, John Hickenlooper, and Seth Moulton:

Most Democrats have no idea who Williamson is, and those that do are more likely to think of her unfavorably than favorably. WHO WILL STOP THIS CELEBRITY JUGGERNAUT?

To compare Trump, a genuine reality TV star with a remarkable ability to generate coverage, with Williamson, a minor Oprah guest and self-help grifter who has mostly been ignored, is ridiculous. This is how Trump won the Republican nomination (and ultimately the presidency):

Trump was getting disproportionate media coverage even days after announcing. That’s real celebrity power! It also has…nothing to do with Marianne Williamson, an afterthought in media coverage.

With some difficulty, one can then imagine Williamson’s gripping and unconventional debate performances earning her a plurality in a crowded primary field. That would retrace Trump’s path in 2016 — one reason it’s unlikely, because Democrats are forewarned. But Williamson has some of Trump’s other strengths: no inconvenient record of unpopular political decisions to explain, no political relationships yoking her to an ossified party consensus, no policy experience.

This assumption that Republican and Democratic primary voters are the same lacks…any basis at all. Most importantly, Trump’s (phony) unorthodoxies gave him an edge in the Republican field because Republican views on economic policy are unpopular even among Republican voters. The Democratic Party consensus is popular with Democratic voters, however much McArdle wishes it was not so. And Democratic primary voters aren’t as anti-intellectual as Republican ones either.

Yet we should note that in one respect, Williamson is the only true anti-Trump to emerge thus far. The core of Trump’s campaign was rage: at the foreigners, the media and the Republican establishment who had collectively destroyed American greatness. Appalled Democrats went on the debate stage last month and offered us instead . . . rage at the Republican establishment. Along with bankers and pharmaceutical executives and Trump himself, who loomed larger on the stage than any actual candidate.

The targets might be different, and some of them are better, but the promise is essentially the same: Vote for me, and I will smite the unrighteous with fire and brimstone. Then I will deliver their ill-gotten gains unto thee.

Only Williamson declined to fight the enemy on the ground of his choosing. She exuded an ineffable, almost otherworldly positivity, even when attacking multinational corporations or Trump. “So, Mr. President, if you’re listening, I want you to hear me, please. You have harnessed fear for political purposes, and only love can cast that out. . . . I will meet you on that field. And, sir, love will win.” If the United States is truly hungering for something different from the past few years, then Williamson should win in a landslide.

Right — Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump as just flip sides of the same coin, and rage against the unpopular racist in the White House and powerful interests is really just the same as “send her back.” Yeah sure.

Anyway, we can now be even more firmly confident that Williamsonmentum isn’t happening.

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