Democrat candidate power rankings by Stu: June 6th edition

This edition features a brand new number two, a big mover in the top five, and the biggest drop since we started the power rankings.

In case you're new here, read our explainer about how all of this works:

The 2020 Democratic primary power rankings are an attempt to make sense out of the chaos of the largest field of candidates in global history. Each candidate gets a unique score in at least thirty categories, measuring data like polling, prediction markets, fundraising, fundamentals, media coverage, and more. The result is a candidate score between 0-100. These numbers will change from week to week as the race changes.

The power rankings are less a prediction on who will win the nomination, and more a snapshot of the state of the race at any given time. However, early on, the model gives more weight to fundamentals and potentials, and later will begin to prioritize polling and realities on the ground.

If you're like me, when you read power rankings about sports, you've already skipped ahead to the list. So, here we go.

See previous editions here.

24. Mike Gravel: 15.3 (Debut)

The month Ronald Reagan moved into the White House, Mike Gravel left his last government job.

He was a Senator from Alaska from 1969-1981, where he was known for his anti-war efforts and attempts to implement direct democracy. The latter is what led a couple of teenagers to attempt to draft him into the 2020 race. When I say "draft," I mean "ask him once on social media."

Gravel fought for something called the National Initiative, which would allow state style ballot initiatives to be passed on a federal level. What could possibly go wrong?

He is probably best known for one of the strangest political ads in history during his Presidential run in 2008. Entitled "Rock," the commercial begins with Gravel staring into the camera for well over a minute. Then it gets really boring. He also was a self-described "womanizer" which you might think makes him a perfect fit for the VP slot for Joe Biden— however, he's been critical about "Joe Biden's creepiness around young girls."

Gravel is 89 years old, making him one of the youngest candidates in the field.

23. Wayne Messam: 15.8 (Previous: 20th / 13.4)

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A full 3% of Americans have a positive opinion of Wayne Messam.

Admittedly, that sounds bad.

Coincidentally, it also is bad.

The good(?) news is that another 8% know who he is. Unfortunately, all of them have a negative opinion. Messam is the Mayor of Miramar, FL, which is actually larger than South Bend, IN — the home of Pete Buttigieg. That strikes me more as a point against Buttigieg, but we'll count it in Wayne's column for now.

And hey! He's out of last place!

22. Eric Swalwell: 20.2 (Previous: 17th / 20.2)

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Swalwell has navigated his desperate quest for attention in campaign form with little success so far, which is unsurprising. (Even his parents are Trump voters, and it's not yet clear if they will vote for him.)

Candidates like Elizabeth Warren have rejected town halls on Fox News, but not Swalwell. He would love to have a town hall on Fox News. It's just that Fox News doesn't want him.

Running for President is hard.

21. Marianne Williamson 20.6 (Previous: 19th / 17.1)

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"I'm deeply grateful to the many people who expressed early support for my candidacy. Today we reached an important milestone and we can go full steam ahead from here."

This is the sort of thing you say when you've accomplished something major in a campaign. Marianne Williamson said it after this: "We just hit 1% in our 3rd poll!"

It's a microcosm of the bizarre nature of the 2020 Democratic primary experiment, but in theory, this feeble showing in the polls may be enough to get Williamson on the debate stage.

It's on that stage where she is sure to shine, as she explains the narrow logical pathway of her worldview. She is a self-described "capitalist with a conscience" but also seems to admire socialism: "What's supposed to scare me about socialism, the free health care or the free college?"

Usually, it's the 100 million dead in a century. But, when you find out how much that "free" health care and college cost, they can get pretty scary too.

20. Seth Moulton: 21.5 (Previous: 16th / 20.6)

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"America is not a socialist country." Sure, this statement used to be entirely uncontroversial (like, way back in 2018). But, Seth Moulton is saying those things in 2019, in a Democratic primary, which seems almost disqualifying. It's hard to imagine a path towards success for someone with this opinion, unless maybe your last name happens to be Biden.

"There are elements of our party that are going too far toward socialism." True enough. But, it's a little like saying "There are elements of this orange juice that are going far too close to oranges."

Warning: The orange juice is made out of oranges.

19. John Delaney: 21.8 (Previous: 15th / 20.3)

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John Delaney is probably one of the most moderate candidates in the field. He is even selling himself this way, arguing "to beat Trump, we need a moderate."

It's an interesting window into the state of the Democratic party. If the introduction of a $4 trillion global warming tax and spend scheme makes you moderate, what makes you a liberal?

18. Tim Ryan: 24.3 (Previous: 14th / 20.7)

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Tim Ryan was elected as a pro-life Democrat. Now he's thanking NARAL and Planned Parenthood for convincing him that some babies just shouldn't be alive.

Essentially, your local drive-thru abortion hut won the moral reasoning battle against the Pope, which is an interesting decision for a Catholic: "I believe my faith supports my position because to me being Catholic, to me being Christian, to me following the teachings of Jesus is about being compassionate and an open-hearted toward people who you shouldn't be judging."

Someone should tell Ryan and his other deeply religious Democratic colleagues that judgment of behavior is actually pretty central to faith in general.

Religion may be a lot of things, but it is not about being "open- minded." The foundational book of Christianity is most famous for its list of "commandments."

"Thou shalt…or shalt not, whatever you want to do…let me know." -Exodus 20:9024325 or something.

17. Bill de Blasio 24.9 (Debut)

No one loves Bill de Blasio more than… well, no one loves Bill de Blasio. After his announcement, the New York Post ran the headline "Everyone Hates Bill."

Bill de Blasio is essentially a socialist, but that's not why New Yorkers hate him. They're fine with the left-wing craziness. They just want someone who can at least do his job half as well as he promotes himself.

De Blasio is so disliked in New York that even left leaning publications like New York Magazine admit they struggle to find one person who actually supports him for president. He begins his run with the highest unfavorables in the entire field, an amazing accomplishment considering his late entry into the race.

If you want to find something positive for Bill, it probably comes in the form of cash. As Donald Trump used to describe business life in New York, he would routinely donate to Democratic politicians he didn't like, because it helped grease the wheels for his company. De Blasio will likely get a considerable amount of cash from people who hate his guts, but realize that a hefty "donation" is a great way to get favorable treatment from a powerful socialist.

16. Steve Bullock 27.7 (Debut)

On paper, Steve Bullock could be a strong Democratic candidate for president. He's one of a few governors around the country that fit a very popular profile: in a deep red state, he's a Democrat, but tries to be seen as a "sensible" one. Larry Hogan, Republican from Maryland, has the same approach from the other side.

Bullock ran for governor of Montana with promises of streamlining the regulatory system, fighting prescription drug abuse, tax refunds, protecting the coal industry, and the baby sister to America first— "hiring Montanans first."

This approach had Bullock win reelection in a red state that Trump won by over twenty points. He was also the 4th most popular governor in America with an approval rating of 66%, with only 19% disapproving.

However, there are plenty of hints that Bullock is no moderate. He blocked multiple bills to restrict late-term abortion, supported DACA, supported net neutrality, and is deeply in the pocket of the unions, including wanting to force unwilling participants to pay dues until it was ruled unconstitutional.

Policies aside, Bullock seems to lack a certain je ne sais quoi. If you don't speak French, it's kind of hard to describe why, but basically most people find it difficult to pay attention to him.

Bullock is trying to sell moderation with a wink. The idea that one can sound moderate to get elected, then run the country as a relatively strong progressive, similar to the package he delivered to Montana. In the era of "shout your abortion," it seems like a difficult message to connect with primary voters.

Maybe there's a VP window for Bullock, but if you do want the moderation with a wink approach, it's unclear why you wouldn't just go with Biden at the top of the ticket.

15. Andrew Yang 28.3 (Previous: 12th / 27.1)

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Andrew Yang continues to have the highest buzz-to-poll results ratio in the race. This is partially because of his embrace of issues well off the normal path of politicians. I.e., pennies must go!

Yang does have some legitimate credibility when it comes to our governments pathetic technology infrastructure and is capable of talking about issues like AI, cryptocurrencies, and probably Fortnite. He's embraced meme culture and has a way of going viral that eludes other candidates who try way too hard to do it (see Booker, Cory and Gillibrand, Kirsten.) Unfortunately, you can't tweet yourself into the White House. (Most of the time.)

14. Michael Bennet 28.8 (Debut)

Michael Bennet grew up in Washington D.C. and went to a high end prep school and is currently serving as a U.S. Senator from Colorado. A political outsider, he is not.

He was appointed to the Senate in 2009 and went on to a somewhat surprising victory over Ken Buck in the Tea Party wave election of 2010. He's a Democrat from a purple state that outperformed Hillary in 2016. And it's not the worst thing in the world for his candidacy that his little brother is the editorial page director of the New York Times.

But Bennet is one of a handful of little known, unremarkable, pseudo-moderates in this race that have no chance to win unless Joe Biden slips his hand up a female moderators skirt in the middle of a debate.

The best part of Bennet's candidacy is the fact that he was born in New Delhi, India. Who's ready for another cycle of the media highlighting every random Facebook users posts about birtherism! I know I am!

13. Tulsi Gabbard 28.8 (Previous: 13th / 25.9)

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The Las Vegas shooting was just a distraction for the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Russia didn't hack the DNC.

The Parkland shooting was a false flag.

Pizzagate is real.

Bill Cosby was framed.

Is this a grouping of opinions from Alex Jones? Well, probably yes, but they also happen to be the views of the biggest online fundraiser for Tulsi Gabbard.

As pointed out in her candidate profile, Gabbard is a bit of an odd bird as a Democratic option for president. But the main reason for her support among conspiracy theorists and racists like David Duke, seems to come back to her role as supporter and excuse factory for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

Tulsi was able to get herself on the Joe Rogan podcast, which has brought a lot of attention (along with no poll number increase) to her campaign. While there, she mentioned her affection for South Park—the Human Centipede episode in particular.

However, Gabbard does not endorse turning people into human centipedes, that we know of...as of this writing.

12. Jay Inslee 30.4 (Previous: 11th / 30.4)

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Jay Inslee is trying to branch out from his single issue climate change campaign.

Forget sanctuary cities, Jay wants sanctuary states. He's also signed a public option add on to Obamacare in Washington, which was part of Obama's original plan. (Also, not part of his plan was an individual mandate, but I don't see many Barack originalists in the Democratic party on that point.)

Inslee has hit the magical 65,000 donor level to get him into the debates, but has made as much of an impact in this race as his favored amount of carbon emissions: zero.

11. John Hickenlooper 32.0 (Previous: 10th / 32.0)

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Is John Hickenlooper a moderate? He wants America to think he is… but he wants Democratic primary voters to know that he isn't.

"You can have progressive ideas, but you have to present it to them in a moderate way."

This is a very typical Democratic politician approach, or at least it used to be. Today, Hickenlooper couldn't avoid being unmercifully booed for daring to say that socialism isn't the answer… when it comes to beating Donald Trump. In other words, you can have the terrible ideas, but don't tell everyone about it.

Hickenlooper's CNN town hall did beat Beto's town hall in the ratings, which unfortunately says more about Beto's failure than it does about Hickenlooper's success.

10. Julian Castro 34.5 (Previous: 10th / 35.7)

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I usually write these things in order from worst to first, and it's always around Julian Castro where I have the same thought: I've been writing too long to just be at Julian Castro. However, this is a race in which some polls show 17 of the 24 candidates are at zero or one percent, allowing an enormous disappointment like Castro to still squeak into the top ten.

One bandwagon that Castro has jumped on is the "fight for $15"— an attempt to try to force McDonald's to pay its employees $15 per hour. Of course, there are plenty of high-end restaurants/coffee shops/political campaigns that cater to left-wing audiences that don't pay $15 an hour, but McDonald's seems to always be the target.

This is bizarre, considering McDonald's is known for its high-volume, low-margin business model, making it among the most easily damaged by higher minimum wages. It, also, already has technology available to have kiosks replace workers, which can easily be more widely distributed.

Of course, the "fight for $15" is much more about grabbing attention than helping workers. Now, I'm hungry for McDonald's.

9. Kirsten Gillibrand 36.7 (Previous: 9th / 38.1)

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Kirsten Gillibrand is not good at this. One of many examples: she was asked during her Fox News town hall why she flip-flopped from pro-gun to anti-gun after leaving her conservative district for the more liberal audience statewide.

Her answer was to explain that her previous district was more conservative and wanted more gun rights, but the state as a whole was not.

That was the accusation against you. It's not supposed to be the same as your excuse.

When asked what gun policies would have stopped the recent shooting in Virginia Beach, she said we should "stop being beholden to the NRA." This quality analysis wouldn't get you an internship under a low-level editor at Think Progress, but somehow she's a Senator and running for President.

But if you think that's bad, look at her fundraising. "Gillibrand raised less money from small contributors in her first quarter as a presidential candidate than she had in six of the eight previous quarters when she wasn't running for president."

I continue to believe that Gillibrand will drop out long before Iowa casts a vote.

8. Amy Klobuchar 41.9 (Previous: 8th / 45.1)

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Klobuchar's campaign hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire so far. That's the bad news. The good news is there isn't a long list of gaffes on the campaign either. (Bonus! She hasn't abused any underlings on camera!)

This formula probably isn't enough for her to compete for the nomination, and she claims the third largest point drop from our last power ranking.

But this news is not entirely terrible for Klobuchar either, who is likely still a top tier VP candidate. She's been working on entirely controversy-free legislation like securing tax breaks for Gold Star families. If she can look competent in the debates, show some gravitas, and not light an interns torso on fire in front of gasping kindergartners, she might be fine.

Klobuchar's best path to success continues to be avoiding mistakes and hoping Joe Biden wins the nomination.

7. Cory Booker 51.6 (Previous: 6th / 54.9)

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Cory Booker is your white knight, ladies.

Swoon.

Cory wants you to know that men are the problem, which is why he wrote an open letter to all men. The topic? How men need to fight alongside women who are facing new restrictions in their moral crusade to make children more available for expiry. How can a society possibly demand women to endure "lengthy 72-hour waiting periods?" (Yes, it's a real quote. You see, 72 hours sounds long. Three days sounds short.)

Booker wants to heal our divisions about abortion by… what else?... creating yet another government bureaucracy. All hail the "White House Office of Reproductive Freedom."

There is some stunning evidence that voters seem to like Booker, challenging the virtue of democracy, and perhaps our civilization as a whole.

6. Robert Francis O’Rourke 52.8 (Previous: 5th / 60.2)

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Beto's campaign is falling apart. His 7.4 point drop from our previous power ranking is the largest drop since the rankings began.

However, a high-profile launch, followed by a complete fizzle does not always mean the death of a campaign. John McCain's 2008 run began the same way, even leading to a mass firing of campaign executives before relaunching and capturing the nomination.

But McCain was a well-known D.C. power player with massive name recognition and political connections. O'Rourke is essentially a viral video about Colin Kaepernick and a travel blog to find himself wrapped into an Irish guy pretending to be Hispanic.

O'Rourke doesn't have to win to give himself a future in politics (as we've already seen), but he does need to avoid complete embarrassment. This is something he should keep in mind next time he decides to live stream his own haircut.

5. Elizabeth Warren 53.4 (Previous: 7th / 45.3)

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It shocks (and pains) me to say this, but Elizabeth Warren is having a little bit of a moment. Her 8.1 point rise leads the field in this edition of our rankings, and she has created a nice little niche for herself. She's claimed the progressive high ground on policy, with her somewhat effective but twice as annoying "she has a plan for that" mantra. In another era, the idea that a politician has a way for government to be involved in every aspect of your life would show up in an opposition commercial. But today the left eats it up.

To be clear, none of them have actually read any of these proposals. And they all rest on an impossible to pass, completely unenforceable, and almost certainly unconstitutional wealth tax on the rich.

But her combination of a furious technocratic pace, along with her individual outreach to voters (Elizabeth Warren called me!) has lifted Warren out of her self-imposed gaffe-a-thon and back into a serious contender.

We now estimate that Warren has a 1 in 1,024 chance to win the presidency.

4. Kamala Harris 65.9 (Previous: 3rd / 68.6)

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If you're going to make a massively misleading statistic one of the cornerstones of your campaign, you should probably understand how the statistic is calculated.

Kamala Harris is supposed to be one of the intelligent options in the Democratic field, but at times, one is amazed at her ignorance of basic facts.

Literally anyone who has studied or debated the gender pay gap is familiar with the massive problems with the statistic. It simply averages all women working and compares it to all men working. It doesn't account for experience level, choice of industry, education level, and so on.

Harris said to Stephen Colbert "In America today, women on average are paid 80 cents on the dollar of what men are paid for the same work." She then doubled and tripled down on the "same work" aspect of the claim. It is most certainly not a measure of different pay for the same work. We should also note that, of course, Harris is paying women in her campaign less than men. But you probably guessed that one already.

This isn't about the gender wage gap, which can be easily explained in the book 'Why Men Earn More,' for example. It's more of a study of the early disappointment of the Harris campaign. She just occasionally blurts things out that make you crinkle your forehead.

Another example: "Very few people can get by and be involved in their communities or society or in whatever their profession without somehow, somewhere using Facebook." This was said in an explanation about regulating Facebook as a utility. But about a third of adults don't use Facebook at all. One could not say the same about electricity, water, or sewage.

These are minor examples of a potential larger issue. Harris needs to know what she's talking about a little more often. To quote Tim Malloy of Quinnipiac polling, "I don't know why she's not caught fire. But she hasn't."

3. Bernie Sanders: 67.2 (Previous: 2nd / 68.3)

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Most people who follow politics realize that Bernie Sanders is a Democratic Socialist. But, the democratic primary has brought his pro-communist and anti-American views of the past into a new light. This has left many Democrat friendly media sources to discover that conservative media has pretty much been correct all along. The New York Times wrote about his past support for communist governments in Central America, including the Nicaraguan Sandistas.

"The Times shows that Sanders went well beyond mere opposition to funding the war. He wrote to Sandinista leaders that American news media had not 'reflected fairly the goals and accomplishments of your administration.' On a visit to the country, he attended a Sandinista celebration at which the crowd chanted, 'Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die,' and complained that American reporters ignored 'the truth' about Nicaragua's government, telling a CBS reporter, 'You are worms.'"

Sanders "…at times crossed over from mere opposition to American policy to outright support for communist governments." This isn't from the Blaze. It's from New York Magazine.

"Any politician is going to frame issues selectively, but Sanders is presenting a spin on the controversy so selective it completely fails to convey any of the points relevant to the controversy."

Ouch.

It's getting harder to see Sanders actually winning the nomination, given what seems like a ceiling in his support. The thinking goes, why pick Bernie, when you can get Bernie's policies in a much more attractive package from almost anyone else in the race?

The answer may come down to how dumb, uninformed, and oblivious the primary voters are… at least, according to NBC news:

2. Pete Buttigieg 68.8 (Previous: 4th / 62.9)

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It's completely shocking to see the mayor of South Bend, Indiana at number two in a 24-candidate field. This is a guy that 31% of Democratic primary voters have still never even heard of.

In fact, I had recently been under the impression that the Buttigieg bump had started to fade away. But the numbers say what they say, and Mayor Pete has pushed himself all the way to number two in our rankings.

The first time we ran these numbers, Buttigieg had a candidate score of 30.8, now he's at 68.8. He's moved more than any other candidate, and it's not even remotely close.

Why?

Given this is a Democratic primary, one would be committing a crime against the obvious if we didn't note that identity politics are playing a role. But Buttigieg is an obviously smart, well-spoken candidate that plays well in this particular moment.

In short, he's the polar opposite of Donald Trump—in demeanor, in age, in his interest in hooking up with female supermodels from the Eastern Bloc.

Buttigieg gives Democrats exactly what they're looking for—a candidate to signal to everyone around them that they're more tolerant, more intelligent, more reasoned, and just generally better than those Neanderthal Republicans.

He's basically a Prius in the form of a candidate.

1. Joe Biden 82.3 (Previous: 1st / 78.8)

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Saying that Joe Biden is the "leader" or the "favorite" in this primary doesn't really do him justice. Biden is in a tier by himself. Sure, he continues to hold massive leads in the polls, but perhaps more importantly, those leads are affording Joe the ability to execute the perfect Joe Biden game plan.

1. Run away and hide in the polls

2. Run away and hide in real life

Biden has near universal name recognition and access to the very valuable 2012 Obama campaign voter list. He doesn't have to be seen in public to lead the polls. When he does have to show his handsome face, he's on prompter, and he's keeping his hands to himself.

Most analysts don't think that Joe Biden will simply cruise to a 20-point victory. He will be challenged by someone as this race gets closer. He will be forced in front of cameras. He will say that television was invented in 1593, and he will inhale the follicles of a passing pre-teen. We all know this--and more--will happen at some point in this campaign.

The question is, does Joe have enough in the tank to protect this lead? Can Joe defend himself over what will be uncovered from his political past?

For instance, video emerged of Joe Biden joking about "panty raids" that he once participated in. Can a party constantly talking about male privilege nominate a candidate who once stormed female dorms, only to steal their undergarments?

The fact that Biden made the comments in the 80s, about the 60s, while in his 40s, does not exonerate him.

It somehow makes it even more creepy.

Ryan: Making of an Ant Queen

Photo by Kevin Ryan

The embattled, Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning author Liu Xiaobo wrote that "Life is priceless even to an ant."

An ant colony can only survive for a few months after the death of its queen. On average, queens live 10 to 15 years. Some, up to 30 years, one of the longest insect lifespans, hidden deep within the colony, protected, unable to use her wings because she's a little bigger than she used to be.

Plus she's very busy.

The majority of ants are female. Wingless, sterile worker ants. They build nests, they forage, they hunt.

Theirs is a far briefer life than the queen's, ranging from a few weeks up to a year. But they see more of the outside world than any other ant.

The bigger they are, the farther they travel. And they release pheromones along the way so that they have a trail home.
Drones — winged male ants whose primary function in life is to mate with the queen — die after mating and rarely make it out of the colony.

Then, there are the soldier ants. They protect the colony and attack.

To quote philosopher Bertrand Russell, "Ants and savages put strangers to death."

They go on raids.

The attacking colony rarely loses, so most colonies flee as soon as an invasion begins. But they sometimes remain and fight.
Ants on both sides of the battle die in droves.

Henry David Thoreau describes an ant battle in Walden: "On every side they were engaged in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear, and human soldiers never fought so resolutely."

If the attackers succeed in overtaking a colony, they pillage the eggs. Some are eaten, fed to larvae. But others become victims of slave raiding. Meaning that the victors return home with their enemy's unborn, feed them, nurse them. Then, when the eggs hatch, the victors force them into slavery.

Often, the slaves even develop an allegiance to the colony which ransacked their home and enslaved them. They'll even help raid other colonies and either die pointlessly or help with the seizure of the next generation of slaves.

Sometimes, however, the slave ants rebel.

In the words of Persian poet Saadi, "Ants, fighting together, will vanquish the lion."

Flying ants, both male and female, leave the colony to form another colony. Once they find a suitable place, the males's wings fall off and they mate to their death. Then one or more of the females becomes queen.

*

It felt odd, any time I sat with a roomful of media, a few hundred journalists from all over the world, as they simultaneously, silently, decided "Yep, that's newsworthy. We should hammer that."

It wasn't like everyone turned to each other and said, "Let's agree on the narrative."

It was an energy.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Like in Houston, at the third Democratic Debate, after Biden misused the word "record player," you could hear chatter spread through the room, people muttering the words "records" and "record player."

In Houston, the media watched the debate from a gymnasium around the corner from the auditorium. So I could contrast the crowd's reactions with the media's reactions.

Nearly every time, there was a disparity between the two. The media were more relaxed — during the debate at least. The audience enjoyed any mentions of identity issues. There were a lot. But the media barely reacted at all.

This was a good thing, probably.

*

It's impressive to see how politicians force their stump speeches into a new form, depending on the context. How they say it like an epiphany.

That night brought the opposite for the ever-fledgling Kamala Harris. I could not believe it. Was this the same woman who'd made Iowa hers, just a little over a month ago?

All night, she was so loyal to the tactic she'd premeditated that she didn't realize it wasn't working, like she kept putting on a puppet show on some busy sidewalk.

At one point, she declared, proudly, "We're not talking about Donald Trump enough."

The most talked-about man in the world, perhaps in our country's history.

In five weeks, she became an entirely different candidate. Her latest version resembled a Xanax-fueled stepmom. It was like she was transforming into Joe Biden.

She kept laughing at her own jokes. And the entire media room cringed every time.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Amy Klobuchar's pre-formed jokes and half-zany dad jokes fell short every time, too. Most of the media saw Klobuchar's long rants as a chance to chat with a neighbor or jet off to the nearest bathroom, which was likely a locker-room full of plastic flight containers and padded camera cases and journalists who curse like sailors.

During the debate, the press was stoic. So if a candidate got a reaction from them, it carried a certain authenticity.

They laughed at things that the audience ignored or disliked or didn't notice. In part because the audience didn't do a whole lot of laughing. But the media laughed like professionals laugh. In-jokey and staid yet ready for anything unexpected.

They loved it when Booker said the thing about "Let me translate that to Spanish … 'No'." And Yang's opening handclaps. As well as Pete Buttigieg's reaction to Yang's raffle.

The biggest laugh of the night in the media center, surprisingly, was when Yang said, "I am Asian, so I know a lot of doctors."

*

Early scientists believed that ants adhere to a complicated hierarchy, which biologist E O Wilson compared to the Hindu caste system. The idea was, ants and humans have a lot in common, and ants belong to a society divided by class and determined by labor.

In the Wealth of Nations, father of capitalism Adam Smith wrote: "It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of the division of labour, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people."

Ants have been organized into colonized societies since the Cretaceous Period, 140 million years ago, when dinosaurs still dominated the Earth. All of that changed 74 million years later. Which was about 66 million years ago. When a comet slammed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula, resulting in the KT mass extinction.

80 percent of all plants and animals died. The ash and dust and debris polluted the air, blocked the sunlight, transforming the Earth into a dark, frozen wasteland full of asthma.

Insects, carrion-eaters, and omnivores all survived. Any purely carnivorous animals starved to death, while mammals and birds fed on insects and worms until the earth repopulated itself with more animals that could be eaten.

The K-T Mass Extinction ushered in a new era of life. Species that had lived in constant retreat from predators were suddenly able to form more elaborate purposes.

After these lifeforms thrived for tens of millions of years, certain mammals started to become vaguely humanlike.
Early humans popped up about 300,000 years ago.

Meaning, ants have existed for 140 million years, which is 139.7 million years longer than humans.

For reference, if you counted to 300,000, it would take you roughly three-in-a-half days. To get to 140 million would take about four-and-a-half years.

Humans only began developing language about 100,000 years ago.

Yet we're the ones with libraries and governments and ABBA and iPhones. What did ants have? Other people's sugar?

*

Before the debate, I wandered out of the gymnasium and onto bustling sidewalks with makeshift security fencing on each side. And hopped over the massive yellow tubes that belonged in E.T. and pumped cold air into the building. Past dozens of police and security, through an elaborate weave of temporary checkpoints and wires bigger than a fire hose.

On the street, I passed a group of six-or-so teenagers flipping DELANEY signs around like those cardboard "WE BUY GOLD" banners which actual people bob around while dressed as Elvis or Lady Liberty or a Banana.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

The sun cast a delightful orange over Houston, glitter in the humid air.

Those kids were having a blast with those signs. Laughing so hard they had to stop occasionally and slap their legs.

On the other side of the fence, some of the most powerful people in the world were readying for battle, and these kids could not have cared less.

*

The protestors had gathered just outside the gates of the campus entrance.

Far as I could tell, it was me and no other journalists present. The rest of the media were in the gymnasium, preparing for the debate or networking or already on-air. Once they got into the media center they stayed put. For many reasons, I assume.
The air collapsed under a wave of heat unique to Houston.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Gnarled blockades served as borders on both sides of the street. Locked into steel fencing, flanked by rows of police cars with their lights on but their sirens off.

Worse than the humidity, and more intense, was the energy bouncing out of the protestors on Cleburne Street. The opposite of suction energy, shoving out with tension and panic and elation.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up" blared from a Bluetooth speaker. I envisioned a slow zoom from above, beginning with the top of my head and rising, up and up and up. Drawing in the greater scene. Up past Trump's message-board plane. A panorama of city, then county, then state, capturing the topography and nuance of each snapshot of nature.

The higher the camera rose, the more I resembled an ant. One more wingless worker or obedient soldier rushing from place to place on a mission.

And when you got far enough above, you saw the colony that each of us belongs to.

Then it shrank like a passing bobsled, and Earth itself resembled an ant.

The scale of it is daunting.

For thousands of years the sky has filled humans with romance and humility and wonder. A restive impulse that strikes when we gaze up at the moon, the stars, the galaxy, the quiet.

But at ground level, I was a man in the throes of a great human drama. And my job was to document it as neutrally as possible.

The 120-odd protestors on the south side of the street spilled onto the sidewalk and into a lawn, and they chanted as the Trump plane groaned overhead.

They were crowded together, and they were all fighting for different causes. Lots of contradictions under the same banner.
Next to a group of Beto supporters with pro-choice t-shirts, several women chanted

We.
Want.
A pro-life.
Dem.

Chaos itself occupied the south side of the street. The protestors weren't sure how to handle it. So they chanted and sang and probed for the problem. Like so many tiny creatures hauling an orange slice.

Across the street, facing that horde of supporters, two men gripped pro-life signs.

They were the counter-protestors. Their barricade was far wider than needed. The grass around them looked sad, like the trail a dog makes along the fence when it wants to escape.

Behind the two counter-protestors, a mini-bus covered with photos of aborted babies, tangled fetuses, severed and indistinguishable chunks.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Photo by Kevin Ryan

I squinted and gasped and felt downright unwell.

Two days earlier, my wife and I found out that she was pregnant with our first child.

At the very moment I stared at images of tiny human shapes contorted and grey, our baby was the size of a pea.
A few weeks later, we'd see its heartbeat pulsing like a strobe.

I'm not making a statement on abortion. That's not my job as a journalist.

It's more my admiration for the impeccable depth of life. The timing. How messages and symbols confront us all the time, with unmatchable creativity.

Because there I was, literally in the middle of two opposing factions. Again. In the divide. Tangled into so many dichotomies. Life and death. Freedom and oppression. Order and chaos. Activity and stagnation. Creation and loss. Art and nature.

And I had once again remained in the middle.

This brought me tremendous satisfaction. It signified personal and journalistic success.

It was also a bit ridiculous.

As a reporter, I never wanted to pick a side. I already had a side. My side was America, and Ireland. My side was humanity.

My side was life.

New installments of this series come out every Monday and Thursday morning. Check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak.Not to act is to act."
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The cost of discipleship can be daunting and few people are willing to sacrifice and stand in the face of evil to do what they know God is asking of them. The "Bonhoeffer Angel Award" is awarded to someone with the vision and courage to act when others only talk, to dig in and listen to the whisperings of the spirit when others turn a deaf ear. It is only fitting the inaugural award go to the visionary founder of Mercury One, Glenn Beck.

The award was presented by the Board President of Mercury One, David Barton and CEO of the Nazarene Fund, Tim Ballard. There was a touching video tribute as well including the likes of Penn Jillette, Senators Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Joe Liberman, Congressman Loui Gohmert and Rabbi Daniel Lappin.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE:

Glenn will be hosting the annual Operation Underground Railroad gala Saturday, November 2nd with keynote speaker Tim Ballard. If you are able to join us, tickets are still available and donations of all sizes are welcome.

Summer is ending and fall is in the air. Before you know it, Christmas will be here, a time when much of the world unites to celebrate the love of family, the generosity of the human spirit, and the birth of the Christ-child in Bethlehem.

For one night only at the Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, on December 7th, join internationally-acclaimed radio host and storyteller Glenn Beck as he walks you through tales of Christmas in the way that only he can. There will be laughs, and there might be a few tears. But at the end of the night, you'll leave with a warm feeling in your heart and a smile on your face.

Reconnect to the true spirit of Christmas with Glenn Beck, in a storytelling tour de force that you won't soon forget.

Get tickets and learn more about the event here.

The general sale period will be Friday, August 16 at 10:00 AM MDT. Stay tuned to for updates. We look forward to sharing in the Christmas spirit with you!

Ryan: Donald Trump goes to Dallas

Photo by Sean Ryan

Donald Trump leaned into the rostrum like a bartender. He loved to rile his patrons.

"They. Wanna. Take. Your Guns. Away," he said, in his trademark staccato.

They stomped and hollered, 18,000 strong in the American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Mavericks, on a Thursday in October, and another 5,000 people waited outside, desperate to join.

"At stake. In this fight. Is the survival. Of American democracy itself," he said, then went off-script. "Don't kid yourself, that's what they want, they are destroying this country, but we will never let it happen, not even close."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Here it was a few weeks from Halloween, with more autumn in the air each day. And 23,000 people roamed Dallas in costumes. All dressed up like American flags. They were happy. You could feel it all around.

It was ice-cold in that arena, but I had my bulky tan Carhartt jacket. It had been an hour since I chuffed down a travel-sized Crown Royal and some Sativa gummies, and I felt an unerring contentment.

Photo by Sean Ryan

So my eyes shot wide when Trump jerked his hand toward the media pool for the third or fourth time that night and dealt a few jabs, and the audience hissed.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Every time it happened, I struggled to keep from laughing. Not in a condescending way. Neutral amusement. The drama of this wild setting full of energized people, the stadium lights, the narrative in motion. Hero versus Bad Guy.

Next minute they were cheering again. Because Trump told them about his plan to bring jobs back to America. It was just a matter of overcoming so many evil forces. But, he assured them, he was the only man who could guide us.

He listed off the enemies. The media, obviously. China, Obama, Democrats, Socialism, politicians, ISIS. I gasped, "Oh shit, I forgot about ISIS!"

*

There were five of us at the rally representing BlazeMedia. Writer Samantha Sullivan, cameraman James Baier, producer John Ruggio, and photographer Sean Ryan, my father.

James plays on the drumline at Mavericks games, so he gave us a proper tour of the arena, all the long passages and gaping walkways and cramped stairwells.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Then we prowled around outside, looking for protests.

It was a different world out there on the street. A nun in diabetes socks strolled past MAGA vendors by the W Hotel. Valet spots crowded with Secret Service vehicles.

Photo by Sean Ryan

An all-women Pro-Trump county/rock band chanted on the massive stage, where, an hour later, Fox News live-casted. We were the only media outside, besides the odd cameraman tip-toeing through the curving rows of Trump supporters in line.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Samantha conducted man-on-the-street interviews. Nearly every time we walked away from someone we'd just interviewed, the people around them said a version of, "Now you're famous."

*

There were a dozen merchants selling Trump merchandise outside the arena, at least a dozen. One of them told me that they travel to all of Trump's rallies. From his cart, a flag billowed with the words "2020: Make Liberals Cry Again."

Photo by Sean Ryan

As we followed the curves of the snaking line, I overheard a drunk man in his dark tan blazer exclaim, "All right, I'm gonna get us on television again."

We flashed past thousands of faces, thousands of people, driven to be there, standing in line. And happy no less. Blatant under the red-winged sky with planes that float silently, graceful and astounding.

Photo by Sean Ryan

A young woman strolled down the street with a sign that read, "I might be gay, but I'm not stupid."

She told us her story. Her message was compassionate. Her face was relaxed.

Photo by Sean Ryan

A little further down, plumes of smoke rose from a group of protestors with signs that said "We Vape We Vote.""Are you guys protesting Trump," I asked one of them.

"No," he said, "we all have different opinions about Trump. Not really worried about that. Right now we just want to protest the new vaping laws."

Photo by Sean Ryan

*

At 7:44 p.m., "Proud to be an American" came on and Trump emerged from the guts of the arena, strolling through the tunnel like Michael Jordan. Game 6.

Some people teared up, placed a hand over their eyes or their heart. Others nodded for too long, as if they couldn't believe what they were seeing. Was that really him up there?

Even a few of the police had that resplendent look.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Trump walked the stage. He clapped and waved. He waited till the end of the Lee Greenwood song to speak. The audience cheered as he braced the podium and said, "Thank you." And they kept cheering. He waited. 20 seconds or so. But the applause kept going, so he turned around and clapped some more and waved and smiled that certain way he smiles.

*

"I am thrilled to be here," he said, "deep in the heart of Texas." And people cheered even louder than before, because Texans love Texas. "Where we just opened a beautiful new Louis Vuitton plant."

Life in America was now constantly surreal. Donald Trump, who actually became President, was talking at a packed rally. In a basketball arena. About the opening of a factory. For a luxurious French fashion brand. In Keene, Texas, population 6,400.

*

Trump peeked at one of his teleprompters. Grinning halfway. Then he jabbed his finger into the air, aimed it at the media section, and said "They're worse now than they ever have been," his shoulders raised and hands gesticulating. "They're crooked as hell. They're worse now than they've ever been. They're crooked."

Photo by Sean Ryan

His supporters booed. Jeered.

They pointed their fingers. They hocked.

A "CNN sucks" chant whispered down from a corner section on the 3rd level, but it never caught on. The audience's hissing tactic worked better anyway. No words. Words were the problem.

*

There was a musicality to Trump's sentences. He started with clipped phrases spoken in couplets. Then he let the words slide into an almost freeflow.

Photo by Sean Ryan

He would start on-script, "The radical Democrats want to destroy America as we know it. They wanna indoctrinate our children." Then, halfway through the next sentence, he would pivot into an aside, spoken in vernacular.

"And teach them that America is a sinful nation, you see that happening all the time. And I know it from personal experience. What they want to teach your kids, not good. They come home, 'Mommy, daddy, this is what I learned,' and you're going 'Oh, no, don't tell me. Let's get 'em into another school, fast.'"

*

Bleacher Report ranked American Airlines Center the 7th loudest arena in the NBA.

The crowd's reaction to Trump's comments about guns and the 2nd Amendment created one of the loudest sounds of the night, louder than Tina Turner's "The Best," which played about 8 times. Must have been 100 decibels. Some people were stuffing their ears with whatever fit.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Nearly every one of Trump's punchlines got an audience reaction.

I mean these folks were revved up.

I spoke to a lot of people that night. Not a single solitary one of them was anything less than kind.

Look, I might as well say it now. The crowd was more diverse than I'd expected. Race, ethnicity, age, sex. Probably less diverse than the demographics of the country. But that's to be expected. Every one of the events so far brought a completely different crowd.

Photo by Sean Ryan

What mattered most was how the candidates swayed any given crowd at any given place. What was different about a Bernie Sanders townhall at a Hilton and a Kamala Harris sermon at a Baptist Church?

Nobody was ever rude at any events. But nowhere was there as much excitement as at the Trump rally. It felt like a sporting event or a music festival.

Photo by Sean Ryan

More than anything, it felt like WrestleMania. Professional wrestling. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

So many times I looked around at the engulfed arena and thought, "This is WWE."

*

Especially when Trump told stories. The way he added both vitriol and triumph to his sentences. Turned them into journeys, much like the interwoven plot lines of a WWE drama, each scene and victory or failure leading to WrestleMania.

The more outrageous or scandalous the story, the better. The less believable, the more dramatic it became. Because all any of it had to be was compelling.

Photo by Sean Ryan

To be compelling was more important than to be literal or judicious. Supercharged with human drama. Betrayal. Contempt. Dalliances. Mockery. Danger. Love. Confoundment. Anxiety. Celebration. Occasionally even death.

All of it was WWE to the hilt. But it was also the polluted clouds in an otherwise sacred dream. Water and adolescence, all the magnets spinning and spinning. Each huff from the street. The reckoning of life, how maybe it could have happened differently but this is how it went.

*

He seemed to use a kind of operant conditioning on his audience, as if to make it easier for them to communicate in shorthand.

Fewer words, fewer, few.

Photo by Sean Ryan

For instance, here's his first mention of the media, at the start of the rally.

"Although the fake news back there, they don't wanna talk about it." That drew the boo's all right.

He leaned back, as if handing them the mic for a moment.

Photo by Sean Ryan

"They don't wanna talk about it." He stared at the media area for a few seconds, then squinted cartoonishly and lifted his palm over his forehead like he was blocking out the sun. Then he leaned into the podium, and the pitch of his voice rose. "Look at all those cameras, can you believe it? Look at all those red lights."

Then he pointed at the press pool. The cameras were set up directly across the arena floor, so when you watch it on video it's like Trump is bursting out of your monitor.

Photo by Sean Ryan

"Don't worry, I won't say anything bad about your network."

Then he — immediately — said something bad about the networks.

"Cuz' a lot of times I get ready to do a number on these phony networks and, you know, I see those red lights go off, off, off, off, off. They don't want their viewers to see, but that's okay. I'm not gonna say it tonight. I'm gonna say, 'You're legitimate media'."
Aside, "I don't actually mean that."

He grimaced.

Photo by Sean Ryan

"But you look at that," he said, pointing, then lifted his palm to his forehead again, like he still couldn't find the puny thing he was looking for. "That's like the Academy Awards used to be, it failed. You know why it failed? Because they came after us. That's why it failed. It failed because it had stupid people saying horrible things about us."

Then he pointed to his temple wiggling his finger, "Stup-id." Shook his head. "Stupid people. They are stupid people. And their ratings have dropped like a rock. And I love seeing it, I'm telling you. Love it."

He reared his head back.

"But no matter how. Hard. They. Try. They will fail. Because the people of Texas, and the people of America, will never. Surrender. Our freedom. To those people. Right there."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Later in the speech, he said much less, mostly variations of "and in the back you'll see the fake news." Repetition, a little briefer each time. Down to an occasional off-handed, "Those phonies in the back." Then, eventually, all he had to do was point, grimacing.

Two K9 police took stance in front of the grey barricade separating us from them, which amounted to separating us from ourselves.

*

Security at the rally was unlike anything I'd seen. An entire military apparatus that floated here from Washington D.C., subsuming downtown.

Two wax-shined helicopters hovered over the arena, unmoving, like geckos ready to snap on a fly. I'd never seen a helicopter float perfectly still like that. It was terrifying.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Secret Service everywhere. Different ranks. Outside were the Navy Seal types in body armor, hoisting MP5s with silencers. The Secret Service inside, nearest Trump, had the same jagged stare and well-trained unease. But they glided around in immaculate, boring suits, each with a gold square pin on the lapel. They either stealthed around in a blur or stood perfectly still like the Queen's Guard.

I'd been to the American Airlines Center twice before. A few years ago, for Kanye West's Saint Pablo tour, when he performed solo on the levitating stage. And last summer, to review a Shania Twain concert under the influence of LSD.

Oddly, the Trump rally was a mixture of both.

*

In nearby Grand Prairie, at the Theatre at Grand Prairie, Texas Democrat Beto O'Rourke held a competing rally. There were about as many people at O'Rourke's rally as people outside the Trump rally.

Obviously, Trump loved that. But, for good measure, he hurled a few Beto-jabs into his speech, referring to him as "a very dumb Democrat candidate for president."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Then he compared him to one of those wacky inflated dancing noodles you only ever see at used car dealerships.

Then he did an imitation of above-mentioned contraption. It was bizarre to see a President imitating a dancing noodle. But he didn't care what a President should or shouldn't do. He was the anti-Politician President. And his followers loved that about him.

Photo by Sean Ryan

"The flailer," he said. "Remember he was flailing all over the place? I said, 'Why is this guy hot? John Cornyn's gonna win so easily. Just like Ted Cruz won. He's gonna win. No matter what happened." Then he scoured, like a falcon in a painting. "In a few short weeks, [Beto] got rid of guns then got rid of religion. Those are not two good things in Texas to get rid of."

*

Stomping his balled-up hand, Trump said that his office, the Oval Office, was our office, too. The crowd roared. Some of these people had driven hours for the rally. There were farmers and truck drivers and teachers and nurses. A lot of people there had never had an office of their own, and here was the President saying his was theirs.

Trump is the hero of his stories. It's part of his success, and, I suspect, a useful defense mechanism. At first glance, his journey and his character are riffs on the classical literary model, a thirsty figure who gnashes through dangerous territory, down into the unknown, through death and onto rebirth.

Photo by Sean Ryan

But Trump is not classic in the slightest. He's nothing like Odysseus or Dante or Gilgamesh or Don Quixote. Instead, he is a postmodern antihero, like Clint Eastwood in "A Fistful of Dollars" or Tony Soprano or Beyoncé or Homer Simpson. In the summer of 2015, I asked a former professor to define postmodernism.

"Donald Trump," he replied. "He contains all of it. Chaos. Hyperreality. Lots of chaos. A constant sense of 'This is so surreal.' The rejection of tradition and assumptions. Rejection of divisions between high and low culture. Rejection of rules and styles and genres. Use of pastiche. Satire. Irony. Playfulness. Paranoia. Fragmentation. A total lack of boundaries."

*

Any time the place got quiet, some random person, usually near the rafters, hollered out phrases, and it just sound like the South Park rednecks saying "They took our jobs!"

To be fair, hecklers on the left don't sound much better.

*

A week earlier, at Trump's Minneapolis rally, protestors and activists formed a moshpit outside the Target Center, not too far from the Mississippi River.

Tensions in Minneapolis had been high, and as Trump was about to board Air Force One Mayor Jacob Frey insisted that Trump pay the $530,000 security fee in advance. A last minute effort to keep him out of Minneapolis.

In response, Trump tweeted that the "lightweight mayor is hurting the great police and other wonderful supporters. 72,000 ticket requests already. Dump Frey and [Minnesota Rep. Ilhan] Omar! Make America Great Again!"

Photo by Sean Ryan

Conservative networks reported that, after the rally, members of AntiFa attacked at least one Trump supporter. Moral panic or not, it didn't augur well for the next year.

The following day, Trump appeared in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The South. No army of AntiFa down here, not like in Portland or New York or Seattle.

AntiFa has a decent presence in Dallas, and a reporter friend of mine interviewed a group of them outside the Trump rally. But there were hardly any there. A dozen or so. Which is nothing compared to the tens of thousands of Trump supporters, coiled all through downtown Dallas with its neon green outline.

*

I worked as a soccer referee for years. So I've broken up countless fights, dealt with manic egos, endured adults prone to outbursts, taken every kind of verbal abuse, faced absolute mutiny. In these chaotic situations, when people around you are losing their minds, the two greatest solutions are kindness and humor.

*

Halfway through a sentence Trump stopped reading from the prompters, stopped talking, pivoted, beamed at the crowd, then lifted his hand.

The entire arena fell silent.

It was the captivating hush of the final moments of an important game, as the ball floats through the air toward the goal or net or end zone, and fate is no longer within our grasp.

Imagine being able to freeze an entire arena into abrupt silence with one tilt of your hand.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Trump was quarterback and they were the defensive line. He sang the melody and they hummed the backbeat. He was the skipper and they were deckhands. Although he seemed concerned that his supporters never felt belittled by this arrangement.

"[Democrats] come after me, but what they're really doing is coming after the Republican party. And what they're really really doing is they're fighting you, and we never lose."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Every time he dropped a line like that, the crowd erupted with the kind of visceral intensity usually reserved for good news and sports.

The man who Evil Knievelled into arenas and said he'd never be conquered.

The closing of his speech was like the ball-drop in Times Square. But instead of kazoos and fireworks it was the words "Make America Great Again."

"Four more years," people shouted, "four more years."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Then the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" blasted to life.

For some reason, one verse stood out more than the others.

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, "We're gonna vent our frustration
If we don't we're gonna blow a fifty-amp fuse"

In all that hissing and mania, all the flag-waving intensity — as the arena peeled and shook with the song and so many stomping feet — Trump looked in one direction, waved. Then another, and turned, waved. Until he had looked in every direction and waved.

Before he ducked out, he pointed toward the crowd one last time. A blaring sea of reds, blues, whites. A living representation of the American flag. All three colors boiling around under the Jumbotron and disco balls.

Little by little, people streamed into the aisles. They filed up the concrete steps, and out into a familiar chaos.

New installments of this series come out every Monday and Thursday morning. Check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com