The Democrat Presidential hopeful list is already long and it is expected to grow longer yet. The contenders are fueled by the prospect of running against Donald Trump in the general, a contest which any Democrat has an excellent chance of winning.
The President’s approval numbers typically range from the high 30s through the mid 40s, with only rare outlier polls ever venturing above the 50% mark. What has held him steady at that level is the public perception of a strong economy. If, as many economic indicators suggest, there is a significant slowdown in the U.S. economy in the near future, his re-election chances will be in significant danger.
The core Republican base has diminished since the choice of Trump as nominee, but what remains is fairly devoted to the President. Many of them don’t believe he is in any danger of losing, despite the existing polls and the loss of Congressional seats. This makes them even more vulnerable.
Democrats see this, and are lining up in the mirror image of the Republican primary of 2016. There are other obvious parallels.
The “establishment” wing of the party is lining up behind Joe Biden in the same way that the Republicans stood for Jeb Bush. The “activist” wing is supporting Bernie in the same way that Republican activists rallied for Scott Walker. Alternate “activist” groups continue that trend… Marco Rubio would be Elizabeth Warren; Ben Carson, Beto O’Rourke. At this point in the Republican Primaries, Trump wasn’t even enough of a rumor to be a punchline to a joke and Cruz, his final competitor, was consistently polling at less than 5%.
Biden is a dominant force in the Democrat party right now. His eight years as VP to a popular President and his prior decades in politics gives him name recognition, a positive impression on their core voters and access to most fundraising or intelligence operations that aren’t already committed to one of the other many contenders. Even without officially announcing, he leads the polls.
Bernie is the secondary force. His strong showing against Hillary Clinton greatly boosted his name recognition and allowed him the coveted “backup quarterback” slot after Hillary’s ignominious loss to Donald Trump. The complaints about Hillary which many Berners had – that she was too unpopular and had too many skeletons in her closet to win, even against a multiple-bankruptcy liar in the midst of a felony fraud case – were borne out, without them having to face the uncomfortable question of whether an outright socialist could win against anyone in a country that continues to pride itself on freedom and whose elderly population greatly outvotes its youth.
The assumption that these two are going to be the final contenders, however, seems unwarranted… and, for the Republicans, dangerous. Biden’s drawbacks are many. He has a history of gaffes including off-color jokes and incomprehensible rambling. He has been investigated for improper political actions regarding his childrens’ business dealings. He has lingering accusations about sexual impropriety. While it is absolutely true that in each of these cases, the sitting President has a worse record, that only grants him some level of protection during a general election… not the primary. Biden may be knocked out by maneuvering from rivals and their supporters in various media outlets before he even officially declares.
Bernie, on the other hand, is justly perceived as being too radical for the mainstream of the Democrat party, a concern which will keep him vulnerable for as long as other candidates are in the race. He’s also an accused deadbeat dad whose long history of promoting socialism left him vulnerable when the Russian meddling efforts revealed a coordinated attempt to boost his candidacy over Hillary Clinton’s.
Also important, in today’s Democrat culture: both are “old white men”. As their activists proselytize about their various choices, it’s difficult to ignore that elephant in the room… especially when said elephant is being used as a handy grouping mechanism to demonize all Republicans.
There’s nothing wrong with focusing attention on both Biden & Bernie. They are the two current front-runners, by polling. But ignoring the rest of the field at this stage in the primary is foolish, and it’s asinine to focus attention on outliers like AOC instead merely to keep the base incensed. The other candidates deserve scrutiny, because if no third-party or independent fields a strong campaign and especially if the economy falters, they may have the chance to win not just a primary victory but a Presidential one. Destroying the political career of an early front-runner does little toward winning a general election… as evidenced by Scott Walker and Hillary Clinton.