In youth sports, each season ends up with participation trophies handed out so everyone feels like a winner. In the Democratic presidential campaign, I propose to hand out participation trophies at the beginning so the sure losers can get out of the race immediately, if not sooner.
At the moment, it's easier to make a list of the Democrats who are not running than the ones who are. The number of declared and likely contenders is fast approaching the usual attendance at the Romney family reunion.
For all but one or two of these ambitious individuals, the process will mean months of constant travel, awkward conversations, bad meals, forgettable speeches, humiliating attempts to raise money and finally crushing defeat. Most of them should act now to spare themselves, and us, that protracted pain.
A large number have as much business in a presidential contest as I do at a Chippendales audition. To the average voter, the names Jay Inslee, Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney and Jeff Merkley mean nothing today, and they will mean nothing this time next year.
If you are a complete unknown, you are wasting your time and ours to think you have a prayer of becoming president in 2020. I could provide a list of past failed candidates whom you resemble, but trust me, you wouldn't recognize them.
Donald Trump apparently inspired a host of people who think his elevation to the White House proves that anything can happen in a presidential contest. In truth, many things cannot happen in a presidential contest, and those things include the victory of Andrew Yang, Tim Ryan, Tulsi Gabbard or Eric Swalwell.
But you don't have to be an unknown to realize you would be doing the country a favor by excusing yourself. At 6 feet, 5 inches, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has a better chance of playing in the NBA than becoming president. But the same could be said of Eric Holder, who is just 5'11".
Beto O'Rourke is believed to be planning to run, and Stacey Abrams has heard calls for her to join the race. Let me just stop them there. Both showed considerable promise in their losing races for statewide office. But here's a simple rule: You have to win to get a shot at the presidency. If you lose, you don't ask for a promotion.
Yes, Abraham Lincoln lost an 1858 Senate race before gaining the Republican presidential nomination in 1860. I have news for these two: Neither is the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln.
In addition to the wannabes in the field, there are the has-beens, lingering long after their sell date. When Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg were born, Franklin Roosevelt was in his third term. John Kerry and Hillary Clinton had their chance, which will not come again.
The candidates who have a legitimate claim to be in the race are those with a combination of experience, achievements, political savvy and persuasive talent. In this category, I put Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, Sherrod Brown and John Hickenlooper. This assortment is varied enough in ideology, background, gender and race to satisfy almost any Democratic taste.
For the others to put themselves forward would only clog the track with distracting dilettantes. The problem resembles the confusion shoppers feel when they go to the grocery and are overwhelmed by the profusion of options.
Two candidates are better than one, and five may be better than two. But 10 or 20 are a traffic jam. All those minor candidates won't win, but they will make it harder for voters to sort through others to find the right one.
A friend of mine used to say she would rather be hit by a bus on her way to work than on her way home from work. These dreamers are going to have to face reality sooner or later. I suggest they do it now.
Steve Chapman is a columnist with the Chicago Tribune.