The State of the Race: Democrats In Despair?

I and many others have been saying for a long time that the Democrats don’t have an adequate presidential candidate this year. Events in Iowa and New Hampshire have tended to confirm that assessment.

I first described Joe Biden as a “dead candidate walking” in mid-October, when he was leading the national Democratic polls and, as I recall, ahead of President Trump in some polling. This is Biden’s third presidential campaign. The first two were bad, and this one is embarrassing. Jonathan Chait reminds us that in Biden’s three presidential campaigns, he has never once finished higher than fourth in any primary or caucus. It is time to discreetly draw the curtain on Biden’s 2020 effort.

It was only a few months ago when we said that the Democratic nomination was Elizabeth Warren’s to lose. She has lost it. Her decline seemed to begin with the unraveling of her “Medicare for all” plan, but I think it actually goes deeper than that. As of six months ago, most voters probably knew nothing about her false claim to being an Indian and the role that claim played in her academic career. As she has gotten better known over the course of the campaign, her ethnic fraud has likewise become more widely known, in large part due to President Trump’s mockery.

A second factor is probably even more important: Warren is a harridan. It should be no surprise that few people want to be lectured at by her for the next four years. It came out today that Warren has cut back on her advertising spending in both South Carolina and Nevada. Her campaign isn’t quite as dead as Joe Biden’s, but it is on life support.

Bernie Sanders has a loyal following, mainly among the young and ignorant. But he hasn’t been able to expand that following beyond the base he had four years ago. More likely, his support has contracted. He went from 60% in the New Hampshire primary four years ago to 26% this year–and that was against Hillary Clinton, not Pete Buttigieg. Sanders’ age, his recent heart attack, his unabashed extremism (which still hasn’t been aggressively exploited by his opponents), the enmity of the Democratic establishment, and his lack of support among African-Americans all tell against him. It would be fun to see Sanders as the Democrats’ nominee, but if he can’t score over 25% in the states that on paper are most favorable to him, it isn’t going to happen.

Pete Buttigieg has performed relatively well in both Iowa and New Hampshire, which I think reflects the desperate state of the Democratic race. “Mayor Pete” has a basic problem: he is utterly unqualified for the presidency. Barack Obama at least warmed a Senate seat briefly before launching his presidential run. Buttigieg can’t even say that. As a former mayor of a small city, he is vulnerable to the sort of attack that Joe Biden launched in New Hampshire. It didn’t help Biden, but similar attacks by others will hurt Buttigieg, badly. The obvious fact is that Buttigieg is in the race only because he is gay. No one imagines that, absent that fact, anyone would consider him a plausible candidate for the presidency.

I don’t consider Michael Bloomberg much of a threat, either. He has one thing going for him: money. Unfortunately for Bloomberg, money, beyond some reasonable level, is not a very important factor in presidential politics. Just ask Hillary Clinton. Bloomberg is Donald Trump without the likability and without a comparable record of achievement. Moreover, his path to the nomination is clouded by his history as–of all things!–a Republican. There was a time when he was even pro-law enforcement, a scandal in today’s Democratic Party. And Bloomberg endorsed George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004. Does anyone seriously think the Bernie Bros will turn out for him?

So who is left? I still think Tulsi Gabbard would be the Democrats’ strongest general election candidate, but she is 1) patriotic, and 2) not a hater. She even wished Rush Limbaugh well when he announced his cancer diagnosis. So there is no risk that the Democrats might nominate her. Tom Steyer hasn’t dropped out, unlike Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick, but he has shown zero ability to attract votes, which is the whole point of being a politician.

That leaves Amy Klobuchar, who disappointed in Iowa but came on strong in New Hampshire. It is always dangerous to predict based on a process of elimination, but I think the nomination is now Amy’s to lose. (Heh.) She is smart enough and far left enough, while at the same time preserving the aura of moderation that made her popular in Minnesota. She has some problems, of course. So far, she has demonstrated little ability to appeal to minority voters, and, never having been close to the front of the pack, she has not yet been subjected to much criticism. Suffice it to say that weaknesses will begin to emerge.

Still, I think Klobuchar is now the Democrats’ most likely presidential nominee. Some Democrats still hold out hope of a deus ex machina like Michelle Obama entering the race. It isn’t going to happen. The good news is that I don’t see any way Amy Klobuchar (or any other Democrat in the race) can beat President Trump. His record is just too strong. So in the background, you can hear the cheers beginning to echo: Four more years! Four more years!

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