Politics

Ambitious Booker Brings Spartacus Zeal to 2020 Race

He's a showman who's long had his eye on the next higher office. He'll fit right in the field.

Lewis Morris · Feb. 5, 2019

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker joined the growing Democrat presidential field on the first day of Black History Month last week, surprising no one with his announcement. The ambitious politician has enjoyed a rapid rise up the ranks, spending virtually his entire career focused on the next rung of the career ladder.

Booker is considered a significant candidate for the Democrats, which frankly doesn’t say much for the motley crew that is so eager to displace President Donald Trump in 2020. Booker entered politics straight out of law school, winning election to the Newark City Council in 1998 by beating a four-term incumbent. He rose to mayor in 2006. It was his second attempt to unseat powerful local pol Sharp James, who was mayor for 20 years.

Coming from an affluent northern New Jersey suburb, Booker promised to revitalize Newark, a city that was the poster child for urban failure and corruption. People quickly warmed to Booker’s words, but they soon discovered that his deeds came up short. He faced numerous accusations from constituents and the press that he was treating Newark as nothing more than a stepping stone for higher office. Indeed, as his term went on, he spent less and less time in his adopted home city.

Booker made a national name for himself with speeches and public appearances. He appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2010 with then-Gov. Chris Christie and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to announce a $100 million initiative to boost Newark’s schools. Zuckerberg fronted the cash to create a foundation to attract more money to the effort, and Booker used a legal loophole to keep donations and high-profile donors secret.

But the foundation was a flop. Academic performance among Newark students didn’t improve, and $20 million of the money raised went to consultants and public relations. Another indeterminate chunk went toward filling teacher wage gaps to placate powerful public-sector unions.

This wasn’t enough to stop Booker from winning a second term as mayor. He had his sights on bigger things, though. After deciding not to challenge Christie for governor in 2013, he went after the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the illness and death of Frank Lautenberg.

Booker came into the Senate with the proclaimed intent of being bipartisan, and he earned the trust of some Republicans for his efforts. But at some point, after praising Mitt Romney’s work in the private sector during the 2012 presidential election, Booker was taken aside by the Democrat leadership and schooled about the nature of politics in the Capitol. Since then, Booker has been a proud member of the obstructionist wing of the Democrat caucus, which includes every single member of the Democrat Party.

Like his partisan colleagues, Booker has been in overdrive attempting to stymy the Republican agenda since Donald Trump became president. He’s attracted a lot of press because of it, drawing comparisons to Barack Obama for his oratorical skills. He loves to hear his own voice like Obama, too, which has already presented some problems. “Booker is a very inspirational guy but sometimes he can get carried away and we saw that with his ‘Spartacus’ moment on the Judiciary Committee during the Kavanaugh hearings,” mused Obama’s former adviser David Axelrod.

Booker laughably equated himself to the Roman slave who led a rebellion against his captors when he made public several documents during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings last year. According to Booker, the documents were classified and contained a “smoking gun” that would bury Kavanaugh. It turned out that neither was true.

Booker had a chance to walk back the moment recently on ABC’s hyper-partisan gabfest “The View.” Token Republican Meghan McCain asked him about the Spartacus moment, and Booker doubled down, proclaiming that it was one of the proudest moments of his political career.

Double down. Deny mistakes. Talk often and listen rarely. Ignore facts and refute every single item that comes from the opposition. Booker does it all. He ought to do well among the Democrat presidential contenders.

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