Support the candidate you like best

This from Paul Waldman is so spot-on and so needed right now:

If you talk to the reporters who are following Democratic presidential candidates on the campaign trail, they’ll tell you that, while the race is extremely fluid and voters express interest in lots of the candidates, the one generating the most passionate excitement is unquestionably Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Yet in most polls she comes in second or third, close to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) but still well behind Joe Biden.

Why? Here’s a New York Times report that summarizes it well:

Few candidates inspire as much enthusiasm as she does among party voters, too, from the thousands who turned out for her speech at the Iowa State Fair last weekend to the supporters in this western Iowa city who repeat her catchphrases, wear her buttons and describe themselves as dazzled by her intellect and liberal ideas. …

These Democrats worry that her uncompromising liberalism would alienate moderates in battleground states who are otherwise willing to oppose the president. Many fear Ms. Warren’s past claims of Native American ancestry would allow Mr. Trump to drown out her policy message with his attacks and slurs against her. They cite her professorial style and Harvard background to argue that she might struggle to connect with voters from more modest circumstances than hers, even though she grew up in a financially strained home in Oklahoma.

And there are Democrats who, chastened by Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, believe that a woman cannot win in 2020.

What follows are a bunch of quotes from voters attesting to how much they love Warren but worry that other people might not like her. [emphasis mine] And so we witness the vicious cycle of ”electability,” one almost immune to facts and experience, in which both savvy journalists and ordinary voters convince themselves that general elections are won by candidates who don’t turn off the mythical average voter, achieving that majority appeal that can be heard when the electorate cries as one, “He’s okay, I guess. I mean, could be worse.”

Like President Mitt Romney. Or President John F. Kerry. Or President Al Gore…

There are a whole set of unspoken assumptions at play when we call a particular candidate “electable.” First, we assume that an electable candidate is one who can reach across the middle to persuade not just independents but people who belong to the other party. That leads journalists and pundits — people who are deeply immersed in politics and have a clear understanding of ideological differences — to conclude that ideological moderation is what makes someone electable, as opposed to charisma or persuasive messaging or anything else.

Next, we assume that to be electable, a candidate will have to appeal to a voter with a particular demographic profile. And who is that voter? After the approximately 12 trillion “In Trump Country, Trump Supporters Support Trump” articles that have been published in major news outlets over the past 2½ years, we’ve come to assume that the voters who matter to electability are middle-aged white men in the Midwest. Appeal to them, and you’re electable; if you’re not the type of candidate we think they’ll be attracted to, you must not be.

What nobody suggests is that electability might be a function of getting your own party’s voters excited and engaged. That’s despite the fact that we’ve seen one election after another in recent decades in which a candidate who excited his party defeated a candidate whose own voters were lukewarm about their nominee. Barack Obama was not electable by any of the standards we’re applying to the 2020 candidates, but he won twice, and by substantial margins. Donald Trump was not remotely electable, but he won, too.

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The 2020 Democratic presidential nominee will be…

Somebody from among Biden, Booker, Harris, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg.  Those are the 6 strongest candidates now among donors (really nice post on the Party not deciding from SMOTUS) and I would be genuinely surprised, though definitely not shocked if the nominee were not from among these six.  And, of these, I personally give Biden, Harris, and Warren the best chance.  I really think Booker’s got a real chance to come on (wishful thinking, maybe) and Buttigieg continues to impress people.  And, actually, I probably should not include Bernie, as I really don’t think he’ll be the nominee, but, there’s a chance.

Anyway, the larger point is that primaries are really so volatile and, largely unlike general elections, the events of the campaign actually matter.  General elections are so shaped by economic factors, presidential approval, and partisanship, that there’s just not much room for much else, other than the occasional, but rare, Comey letter or Access Hollywood tape.  But what these candidates say in debates (as filtered through the media), the things they do that draw themselves attention (or lead to them getting ignored) will matter.

A tweet earlier this week from elections analyst extraordinaire, Sean Trene, really captures it:

Short version, political science tells us that the ultimate nominee is very likely to be from among this current top group, but no real basis to say who it will be.  What these candidates do and say and how the media covers it will play a huge role in who wins this nomination.  Anybody who says, “well, based on x, y, and, z, the nominee will surely be XXX” is full of it.  We just can’t know now.  And that’s the fun of it.  And, if you think back to 2016 there was a whole bunch of stuff that fell just right for Trump in terms of his competitors, how they fared in various states, etc., and it is not hard at all to craft an alternate scenario where he was not the winner.

So, who do I think it will be?  Not Biden.  I think eventually his campaign will fall under the weight of the fact that he’s really just not a good candidate.  I actually think it will be Warren or Harris because they are both good at this.  But Booker’s my dark horse right now to really pick up when Biden fades.  But, I could be totally off.  We’ll see…

 

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