A far too premature take on the 2020 Democratic primary

As we approach the 2018 midterms, primary season is preparing to consume the news cycle for the next year and a half. Candidates are beginning to make trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, and announcing that they will “take a hard look” at running. It’s like 2016 never ended.

Now for the first time, we have an idea of who Democrats want to be their next President. CNN ran the numbers

Two immediate takeaways: Biden is polling surprisingly high above other 2020 hopefuls and Bernie Sanders is polling surprisingly low. This is despite coming off a hard fought 2016 primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, in which he lost by only 12 points and took 43% of the vote. One would expect Bernie Sanders to command a larger share of his former primary base and yet he seems to have lost nearly 70% of his former support.

There are two very reasonable explanations to this.

First off, for many, Bernie was a protest vote. In contrast to Clinton, he was seen as independent from Big Money™ and unapologetically Progressive. They were frustrated with the swamp establishment ethos of Clinton, and while they might not have been overly enthused with Bernie, it was a way to demonstrate how angry they were.

But more consequential is that the Democratic Party has moved Left since 2016, and Bernie has lost his monopoly on Progressive positions. At the time that he ran, single-payer healthcare and universal free college were fringe Democratic positions that Clinton failed to embrace wholeheartedly. Now looking at the pack. Booker, Harris and Warren have all, for example, embraced Medicare-for-all plans and have their own suite of Progressive legislation. Cory Booker has suggested a Job Guarantee program that would give every person a government sponsored job if they wanted one (if the pilot program is successful). Elizabeth Warren has offered a suite of corporate reform bills, suggesting that corporations should have to disclose their exposure to climate change liabilities and that workers should make up 40% of corporate boards. Kamilla Harris got very close, without saying the words, that ICE should be abolished.

That leaves Bernie with very little room but to move Left, or stay put with his current positions and hope that his 2016 momentum carries him to success. The latter might be a good strategy. And as one Twitter user lays out, Bernie occupies a vertical of Progressive candidates who probably command a similar set of voters. If Harris were to drop out or decline to run, it is realistic to imagine that her former supporters would become Bernie voters, not Biden voters. Thus, if Bernie can fend on challengers from his camp, it is realistic to expect that he will have a realistic shot at the Presidency. I am cold on Biden’s ability to enthuse voters.

But the field, no matter the theoreticals, is still wide open. This same poll, done in 2006 shows just how meaningless these early polls are. Obama ended up beating Hillary Clinton, and both Al Gore and John Kerry ended up not running.


Ultimately, a successful Democratic challenge to Trump will require a candidate who can siphon off former Trump support, or keep his voters home and not at the polls. Historically, this has been accomplished by running a .Moderate candidate (a la Bill Clinton). While the reception (on Twitter at least) for Biden 2020 has been lukewarm, he has a proven base and a track record of appealing to the very same blue collar workers that Hillary Clinton lost to Trump in 2016. Just something to keep in mind