Hello, dear PPFA readers. I’m happy to announce the continuation of what I mentioned at the end of December: we’ve on the verge of another month of readership growth! So make that five consecutive months of increased readership. Plus, email subscribers are slowly climbing. Thanks for reading and spreading the word! (Of course, thanks to the bloody ancient Romans, we follow a month that has a healthy 31 days with one that has a paltry 28. The streak is in danger. I’m counting on you.)
On to this week, where there are three developments in presidential politics:
1. To no one’s surprise and progressives’ delight, Bernie Sanders is making another run at the Democratic nomination. He is without question the preferred candidate of progressives, and progressives are a strengthening influence on the party. They hate special interests, corporations, and inequality, and they love Bernie Sanders. The Democrat-when-convenient will re-register with the party in the hopes that he can build on his surprising success from 2016.
Four years ago, his greatest advantage in the primary was the same as Donald Trump’s in the general: the opponent. Hillary Clinton was the most disliked Democratic nominee in polling history. Outside of the Democratic establishment and minority constituencies first won over by her husband, liberals in the party sensed this unlikability and looked for anywhere else to turn. The others — Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Roger Chafee — never got any traction, but Sanders had an undeniable authenticity to his career-long passionate attacks against the establishment, a group with which lots of voters had lost patience. Since the Clintons represented the establishment, Sanders was a natural alternative and his numbers climbed. (Months later, of course, the same Clinton weaknesses were exploited by Donald Trump in the general election, partly thanks to Sanders softening wounds that Trump gashed open.) Helping his bid was the first two voting states, Iowa and New Hampshire, which were tailor made for him. Clinton’s strengths lay in moderate and minority Democrats, but Iowa and New Hampshire have among the whitest and most liberal Democratic voters in the country. He basically tied in Iowa, dominated in New Hampshire, and then we had a closer primary than anyone expected.
But 2016 this is not. There is no singular opponent against which he can rally all said opponent’s detractors. Instead, we’re headed toward the largest field in electoral history. For the Democratic left, he’ll compete with Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard, and others. Competing for working class whites will be tougher with Joe Biden and Sherrod Brown in the field. Millennials will be drawn to Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg. He’ll continue to struggle with minorities, a group that (aside from the aforementioned young voters) resisted him and now see themselves in Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Julian Castro. And, of course, we know he rankles establishment Democrats to no end, and they’re likely to turn to life-long Democrats instead of one who only joins the party when convenient and throws stones at it otherwise.
For these reasons, I think he’ll struggle in the primary and finish out of the top three. (More on that soon!) His best chance is to hope he can pull a 2016 Trump: a greatly divided field rewards candidates with high polling floors. If he can just start with 12 to 15 percent support this summer, that should be good enough for top-two polling status, a center debate podium, and people to buy in again. Iowa and New Hampshire are still first, so a couple strong finishes will get him into Super Tuesday with a decent shot against a dwindling field. For these reasons, he should be considered among the top four or five favorites for the nomination.
Still, I think a couple stronger Iowa candidates will bump him down, and then his Granite State Cage Match (TM) against Elizabeth Warren will limit his upside there as well. After that we’re looking at Nevada (Castro/O’Rourke country) and South Carolina (Harris/Booker/Biden).
Oh, and he’ll be 79 years old on election day. Some pretend it doesn’t matter to voters that he’d turn 80 in his first year on the job, but surely it’ll have an impact on some percentage of voters, and every little bit can make a difference in this mammoth field.
Odds for the nomination: 10/1
Planetary classification: major planet
2. We already have our first withdrawal from the race, and it happened in a strange way. I wrote about Richard Ojeda a couple weeks ago. He was the Army Major turned West Virginia state senator who voted for Trump in 2016 and finished like 50 points better than any recent Democrat in his state senate and U.S. Congressional races. He declared for the race directly after the 2018 midterm election, and then a couple weeks ago he resigned from the West Virginia state senate to focus on the presidential bid. Then, citing discomfort accepting donations for a candidacy he recognized wouldn’t go the distance — an uphill battle that couldn’t have surprised him — he withdrew from the race just 11 days later.
That’s what we in the business call a real head-scratcher.
3. Finally: on Friday I will have a probably lengthy prediction post for the 2020 Democratic Primary. This Sunday, believe it or not, will mark one year until the Iowa caucuses. I want to make a laughably early One Year Out prediction for the race. You are then advised to go bet heavily against this prediction.
I hope to see you then!