In the house party that is the Democratic presidential nomination, Martin O’Malley is the guy who shows up uninvited, drinks all the beer, and whines because no one wants to talk to him. His fellow wallflowers Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee had the good sense to drop out after the first Democratic debate, when everyone made it abundantly clear that they were not welcome. However, O’Malley persists, oblivious to the bouncers in the corner making throat-slitting gestures at him.
Much in the same way that Webb represented the Democrats’ historic working-class Southern White base, Martin O’Malley represents the “New Democrats” that came to prominence during Bill Clinton’s administration. After the Left spent most of the eighties in the political wilderness, the New Democrats realized that they needed to augment their cultural Marxism with a dollop of law and order rhetoric in order to win elections again. Clinton was able to win two terms in office because he hid his radical left machinations (e.g. Hillarycare) with a pro-death penalty, “tough on crime” image.
While Clinton was from Arkansas, the real homeland of the New Democrats is the big cities of the coasts and Midwest. Mayors like Richard Daley of Chicago and Ed Koch of New York were popular because they did lip service to progressive causes while simultaneously keeping the potholes filled and the evildoers in prison. Martin O’Malley was fashioned in the same mold: prior to his election as Maryland’s governor, he served as the mayor of Baltimore, where his “law and order liberal” administration helped inspire the critically acclaimed TV show The Wire.
Unfortunately, O’Malley couldn’t have come along at a worse time. The Obama administration’s idea of supporting the Democrats is to stir up race war for votes—which almost makes sense, since #BlackLivesMatter appears to have hijacked the Democratic Party—rendering O’Malley’s brand of tough-on-crime Leftism as fashionable as bell-bottom jeans. Between Hillary Clinton running away from her husband’s New Democratic presidency and Bernie Sanders getting the party’s Left wing fired up, they’ve sucked all the oxygen out of the room, leaving O’Malley to asphyxiate in the corner.
The Martin O’Malley campaign stop in Sioux City that I attended on Friday was by far the saddest campaign event I’ve been to yet, and this is coming from someone who’s been to a Jeb Bush rally. O’Malley is probably the most likable guy running for president, but his campaign feels like the Wehrmacht during the last months of Stalingrad. I wouldn’t have even wasted gas on it had I not already been in Sioux City for the aforementioned Jeb event.
I showed up to the gig around 6:30; it was held in the reception room of an acupuncture clinic. There were maybe five attendees and a smattering of volunteers. The walls were covered in hand-drawn signs with slogans such as “Martin O’Malley for Farmers” and “America Needs New Leadership,” because he apparently can’t afford to have real signs printed. Was this a presidential campaign stop or a PTA meeting?
Moreover, as it turns out, the purpose of the event was to try to get us to do O’Malley’s campaigning for him. One of the volunteers handed us instructions on “phone banking,” calling up random people and pleading with them to caucus for O’Malley on Monday. Given the already incestuous nature of the event—the twenty-some-odd people who eventually came all knew each other—I kept wondering if they were gonna try a Deliverance stunt. We were in “Sewer City,” after all.
O’Malley himself dropped in 20 minutes late—despite one of the volunteers’ claims that he’s the only presidential candidate who shows up on time—and delivered his stump speech. His upland Southern accent, folksy demeanor, and delusional sunniness made him come off like Gomer Pyle (both the character from The Andy Griffith Show and the fat guy in Full Metal Jacket who shot R. Lee Ermey in the chest). I half-expected him to say, “This is my campaign. There are many like it, but this one is mine.”
O’Malley’s few fans appeared to be culled from the remnants of the Democrats’ White working-class base, and they support him because they think Sanders is too extreme and they dislike Hillary for her corruption. In fact, prior to O’Malley’s appearance, two grizzled Teamster-types were discussing the latest developments in the Clinton email scandal. I was also seated next to an old lady wearing an “I’m Proud to Be a Democrat” button that looked like it was produced by the Walter Mondale campaign.
The campaign stop was particularly sad because Martin O’Malley is probably the most normal of all the presidential candidates. Sure, his politics are pretty much the same as Hillary’s, but the man himself is a likable, ordinary doofus. You could easily see him spending his weekends playing fantasy football, drinking Bud Light, or playing guitar in an AC/DC cover band (and in fact, the guy does front a Celtic rock band).
It wouldn’t shock me if Martin O’Malley dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses, or sometime in the next month. Even as he tried to lift his supporters’ spirits by saying that polls “don’t matter,” his anemic ground game tells the real story. All his optimism and folksiness can’t compensate for the fact that he’s playing to an audience that has left the arena.