Leading Democratic presidential candidates. Photo: REUTERS

It’s too late to turn back now. The 2020 presidential campaign is underway, which means the American people are about to have their second, mass out-of-body political experience.

By now, most of us have become accustomed to the psychological dislocation of Donald Trump. But how to explain the Democrats? Ten Democrats will be onstage in Houston Thursday evening for another antic three hours of paying obeisances and tribute to the party’s left wing.

There is an air of weirdness around the party’s candidates. One explanation for how it got so crazy is that after Hillary Clinton ’s loss in 2016, many Democrats concluded that the realities of presidential campaigning had shifted, that the only way one can command the attention of the media and electorate is to act “like Trump.” Which is to say, be anything but normal. Lucky us.

While it’s understood by now that Mr. Trump routinely issues outrageous claims to keep the fact-checkers’ union employed, the Democratic candidates’ lurch into fantasy during the CNN town hall on “the climate” was something to behold. The only thing missing was a Texas cattle auctioneer to conduct the bidding.

Elizabeth Warren bid $3 trillion to save the planet, and Beto O’Rourke upped that to $5 trillion. Andrew Yang matched his $5 trillion and Julián Castro raised the bid to $10 trillion. Naturally Kamala Harris matched his $10 trillion. Then Bernie Sanders, God love him, blew away the bidding with $16 trillion, which he said would “pay for itself.”

Sen. Harris, under pressure from Sunrise Movement climate activists and their allied CNN “news” anchor, blurted in quick succession that yes, she’d ban fracking, red meat’s gotta go and certainly plastic straws, though at this point, her brain wilting, she said, “I’m going to be honest: It’s really difficult to drink out of a paper straw—like, if you don’t gulp it down immediately, it starts to bend, and then the little thing catches it. So, we gotta kind of perfect that one a little bit more.”

It is virtually impossible to have a conversation with a Democrat older than, say, 40, who doesn’t go into eye-rolling over this slate of candidates. Most of the nation’s Democrats hold political beliefs that run rightward to the horizon from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and most likely would agree the sanest thing said in that climate town hall’s seven hours came from Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar: “I think you’ve got to be honest with people about how you’re going to get the money and what you’re going to spend it on, or it’s going to be really hard to bring along those people that we need to win in the middle of the country.”

Oh, them. She means all the millions of blue-collar workers whose jobs are in some way connected to energy production, and who will re-elect Mr. Trump if their alternative is a Democrat nominated by the Sunshine Movement.

But Sen. Klobuchar’s polling support among Democrats is, at most, 2%. For many Democrats, that makes their default choice Joe Biden, the party’s front-runner and, they hope, the choice of every voter of any party affiliation who believes that four more years with Donald Trump would be intolerable.

With Mr. Trump’s approval rating stuck permanently in the low- to mid-40s, and 57% thinking the country is headed in the wrong direction, one would expect Democrats to be buoyant. Not the nonactivist Democrats I talk to. They’re depressed.

They like Mr. Biden, but it’s striking how many don’t think he’ll make it to the nomination. And if he falters, for them there is no Plan B unless Mr. Biden (or in their dreams, the sainted Barack Obama ) were to throw his support to one of the “normal” Democrats at the bottom of the standings—Sen. Klobuchar, Sen. Michael Bennet, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock or perhaps an undeclared candidate such as Ohio’s left-leaning but blue-collar Sen. Sherrod Brown. History’s most reluctant dark horse, Michael Bloomberg, might even re-emerge in a post-Biden vacuum.

Their frustration is born of the belief that a “normal” Democratic candidate should be able to beat the increasingly mercurial Mr. Trump. It’s a plausible scenario, but what really depresses many Democrats is the expectation that a normal candidacy isn’t going to happen.

It won’t happen because the Democratic left holds the commanding heights of politics now—traditional and social media, whose combined powers of candidate intimidation (as CNN’s climate groupthink proved) seem impossible to overcome. Building out from this “base,” the Democratic left thinks it has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to win the presidency.

Any such victory won’t have much to do with the beliefs or policy preferences of the electorate. Instead, the progressives—again with the Trump 2016 campaign as their model—will turn the election into a spectacle. They’ll make it a bullfight. The incumbent president is the bull. They’ll let the picadores of the press enrage and enervate him with barbs until the raging bull stumbles into defeat before the relentless Elizabeth Warren. It could happen.

Write henninger@wsj.com

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