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Can’t anyone here play this game?

Spring training and early presidential politics have some striking similarities

Kari Lake, former Republican candidate for Arizona governor, talks with House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., left, and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., after the National Prayer Breakfast in the Capitol Visitor Center on February 2, 2023.
Kari Lake, former Republican candidate for Arizona governor, talks with House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., left, and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., after the National Prayer Breakfast in the Capitol Visitor Center on February 2, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the 2023 baseball season is about to start when the 2023-2024 presidential race is getting under way.

Many of us cover presidential politics like a sporting event, and most fans — of politics and baseball — start off with unrealistic views of how well their teams will perform when spring training ends.

And this year, there are plenty of rule changes — about how quickly pitchers need to begin their windups, how large the bases are, where infielders may position themselves, how many pickoff attempts are allowed and what hoops voters must jump through to cast their ballots.

And, if you step back and watch the political parties and political hopefuls, you might just find yourself asking “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?” which was the title of a book written by journalist Jimmy Breslin, about the 1962 expansion New York Mets, who lost 120 games.

Both the Republicans and Democrats often look as if they haven’t a clue how to play the game.

After underperforming in the 2022 elections, many Republicans find themselves doubling down in their support for former President Donald Trump, including former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and other MAGA Republicans.

That also goes for a pragmatic conservative like New Hampshire governor/possible presidential hopeful Chris Sununu, who wants to move on past Trump but says he will vote for the former president in 2024 if Trump is the GOP nominee again. Ultimately, Sununu will put party ahead of country.

Forget the party’s poor showing in 2022 and the way it turned off crucial swing voters, including many suburban women. 

Forget Republicans’ net loss in the Senate when most early handicappers expected a net gain — and GOP control of the Senate after the 2022 elections.

And forget about the party’s statewide defeats (for governor and other important statewide offices) in crucial states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. 

Many Republicans are willing to step into the batter’s box with the same MAGA mentality they exhibited in 2018, 2020 and 2022, seemingly ignoring past results.

For many of these Republicans, they’d rather toss RINO Republicans off their team than welcome them and improve their prospects of winning a few more games.

What were the people who organized and attended CPAC thinking when they looked at the midterm election results and decided that Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump, Jr., Nigel Farage, and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., were just what the Republican Party and the conservative movement needs in 2023 and 2024?

It’s a little like when the Yankees traded four prospects in 2021 for Joey Gallo, a one-time home run hitting outfielder who now has a career .199 batting average. (That average was still higher than his .160 batting average for 2022, including his stint at the Dodgers last fall.) Who thought that Gallo was the right answer to any reasonable question?

Across the political aisle are the Democrats, who have their own problems (which are not nearly as severe as the GOP’s).

They “control” the Senate and have the White House, but they can’t do much over the next two years because the GOP controls the House. 

Sure, President Joe Biden can talk about his accomplishments during his first two years in office, including the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted in 2021 and the climate, tax and health care law known as the Inflation Reduction Act enacted in 2022. But voters aren’t giving him particularly high marks for the job he has done so far, and there is no reason to believe that they suddenly are going to give him high marks for legislation enacted last year or the year before.

Of course, Democrats have no obvious alternatives to Biden, but that only emphasizes the weakness of the current vice president of the United States.

And then there is the Democratic House leadership, which is almost entirely new. Will the new leaders be able to keep progressives in line, as former Speaker Nancy Pelosi did? Or will House Democrats fracture over their differences with Biden, including his plan to sign a bill to overturn D.C.’s new criminal justice law?

Biden, himself, is not an unadulterated asset if he runs for reelection, as he says he will. He is 80 years old and not getting any younger. In a matchup against Donald Trump, who is 76, Biden still has the advantage, but against anyone else, the current president has flaws that Republicans can exploit.

Finally, there are the voters.

I suppose I should feel sorry for them because they may face a replay of the 2020 presidential race. But it’s partially their fault that we are in the current political mess that we are in — a mess with fewer pragmatists and bridge-builders in Congress and more ideologues/MAGA types who think every issue is their way or the highway.

Of course, spring training may tell us a lot about how strong teams are and who has the advantage. But right now, you won’t go wrong expecting two years of wild pitches, fielding errors, and strikeouts from both the red and blue teams, who’d rather replay the last few games of 2020 than prepare for a new season.

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