Our Monthly Update on 2020 — A Long Hot Summer for Democrats
Author: Greg Valliere
July 11, 2019
DEMOCRATS NOW FACE A TRIFECTA OF WOES: Nasty in-fighting between House progressives and Nancy Pelosi; a growing perception that their agenda is too radical and way too expensive; and the realization that of their 23 presidential candidates, only one could beat Donald Trump, and that’s hardly assured.
FACING THE UNTHINKABLE: The Democrats we’ve talked with in recent days are in a deep funk. They face a president who looks weak in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa — enough to give the Democrats an Electoral College advantage — but we hear increasingly from Democrats who are stunned to realize that their party’s lurch leftward has given Trump a plausible path to re-election; the question we hear almost daily is “who can beat Donald Trump?” Which brings us to our monthly update on the 2020 race . . .
DISSATISFACTION WITH THE TWO DOZEN DEMOCRATS RUNNING has prompted party insiders to re-double their efforts to rally around Joe Biden, who generates little enthusiasm and plenty of anxiety. Only Kamala Harris is seen as a serious threat to him, but insiders worry that Harris will face withering scrutiny if her campaign surges.
OUR MONTHLY UPDATE, below, usually lists the Top Ten candidates — but we can’t find ten who have a chance.
7. The field: There’s no traction that we can detect for Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, etc. The winnowing process has begun with the withdrawal of Eric Swalwell; another dozen candidates will be gone by Thanksgiving. One wild card in the long-shot category is billionaire Tom Steyer, who can self-fund, but he’s a protest candidate, not a plausible president.
6. Julian Castro: He got good reviews in the first debate and should stay in the race well into the primaries, winning a decent chunk of Hispanic voters. Definitely on the VP short list.
5. Bernie Sanders: He’s got money but no momentum. Sanders, 77, is clearly trailing Elizabeth Warren in the progressive lane, and he continues to generate antipathy from party insiders because — lest we forget — Sanders isn’t a Democrat, never has been.
4. Pete Buttigieg: He also has money and a very loyal following. But the articulate mayor has racial problems back home and at 37 years old seems to be a few years years away from looking like a plausible president.
3. Elizabeth Warren: We hear from many Democrats who have learned to respect her but they worry that she’s far too polarizing to win the presidency. Warren is doggedly running, energetic and passionate about her progressive agenda. It’s far too early to count her out.
2. Kamala Harris: Her ambush of Biden last month won her as many detractors as fans. Party insiders are leery of her, concerned that the vetting process won’t be pretty. But they take Harris very seriously; she has money and sharp elbows. A major concern is her ambiguity on policies — is she a progressive or a moderate? No one seems to know.
1. Joe Biden: Party leaders think Biden has righted the ship, starting with an animated interview with Chris Cuomo last week on CNN. Biden knows he’s in a donnybrook and has elevated his game, but the jury is out on whether he can unify this fractious party. He obvious advantage: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa; he could win at least three of these states.
BOTTOM LINE: We’ll get fresh clues late this month when the Democrats hold more debates, but for now we think the party’s biggest challenge is convincing centrist voters that they haven’t veered too sharply to the left. Trump has plenty of ammunition, and now it’s up to Biden to convince voters that he can steer a more moderate course.
BUT AS PELOSI KNOWS, that’s a huge challenge, because the party’s angry base is sick of moderates, starting with Biden, the 76-year-old establishment candidate who’s good for a gaffe a week (Trump is also, but his base adores him). The nomination is Biden’s to lose, but if the best he can do is run as a more likable version version of Hillary Clinton, that may not be enough.
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