Young Eric Swalwell’s decision to end his quixotic presidential bid, making him the first Democrat who made the debates to do so, is one of those rare occasions where a politician didn’t wait too long to pull the trigger on ending an embarrassing campaign.
The fact that the California Congressman was registering as an asterisk on CNN’s poll might have been the coup de grace. But it’s not like anyone had been clamoring for him to run for the presidency to begin with. Swalwell was a candidate who had no real constituency, who ran a Seinfeld-esque campaign about nothing, and who lacked a lane in the Democrats’ traffic jam of a presidential primary.
In a party preoccupied with identity politics, he was just a straight white guy without the experience or chops of Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, and without an angle.
A man who joined the race with just two bullets to fire — his youthful vigor and his opposition to gun violence — leaves the presidential campaign trail with a whimper, not a bang.
I was on CNN when Swalwell announced his campaign for president. My immediate response (after his remarks) went like this: “I felt like this was the poor man's Pete Buttigieg… the hard scrabble, white privilege background of working a paper route―I don't know [how it] is going to stand up in this field. And I just wonder why he's running now.”
Then, I turned to the one issue that he might make his own. “The one reason he may actually be running is he is championing this gun control argument.” Perhaps, I suggested, his candidacy could at least elevate the issue and make it part of the debate. During his one and only presidential debate, Swalwell contributed to pushing the idea of an “assault weapons” buy back--an idea that gained some purchase among his Democratic adversaries.
Still, this moment was overshadowed by Swalwell’s more high-profile contribution to the 2020 Democratic debate: Attacking Joe Biden for being old. "I was six-years-old when a presidential candidate came to the California Democratic Convention and said, 'It's time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans,’” Swalwell said. “That candidate was then-Sen. Joe Biden. Joe Biden was right when he said it was time to pass the torch to a new generation of Americans 32 years ago. He's still right today.”
Aside from Swalwell’s probable misrepresentation of Biden’s remarks, this cheap shot was a convenient move for the young representative. It was also indicative of a political party that increasingly prioritizes identity—though evidently not his identity—over experience.
That’s why the 38-year-old desperately clung to the only card there he had to play: his relative youth.
But, deep down, he must have known that this was not enough. Not in 2019. Not when he was trying to apologize his way into a fight against a man who never apologizes for anything.
In a desperate attempt to rationalize why, in a diverse field, Democrats should nominate him, Swalwell seemed to pander by promising to pick a female running mate--and to apologize for his own immutable characteristics, tweeting that: “I may be ‘another white guy,’ but I know where there are gaps in my knowledge or my experience and I know when to pass the mic.”
As many others noted, if Swalwell really wanted to pass the mic, he should have stayed out and cleared a path for a woman of color to win the Democratic nomination instead of trying — however unsuccessfully, to get ahead of them.
Speaking of which, Swalwell said when he entered this race that he would give up his House seat, before backtracking. If he does try to hold on to it, he’ll need to either push out or defeat 31-year-old city councilor Aisha Wahab, the first Afghan-American elected to office in the country and who announced her plan for Congress back when “another white guy” said he was leaving his seat.