Where We Are
Late Tuesday, as I was pondering national and Iowa polls showing Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren surging, and Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders falling, I got a series of text messages from a wicked smart Democrat with no horse in the field.
The messages read as follows:
“So, Bernie is dead but he doesn’t know it yet. Biden has some serious vulnerabilities. I’m downgrading him significantly.”
“What odds would you give Bernie of getting the nomination at this point? Warren and Harris are both higher in my view.”
“And the debate hurt Biden more than the polls are showing right now. [Harris] cut an artery and he is slowly bleeding out.”
“KH has stepped up at impact moments (announcement / Kavanaugh/ debate).”
Let’s take these thoughts in turn and advance them:
1. Bernie is not dead, but he is in serious trouble. Warren is beating him on issues and momentum; Buttigieg outraised him in the second quarter. Sanders’ horrid debate performance got little attention because Biden’s horrid performance had more impact on the race. Bernie’s campaign team cannot force him to have a second act, which he needs. I overestimated his capacity to hold onto a good share of his 2016 supporters.
2. Biden does indeed have some serious vulnerabilities, which I have written and talked about at length since before he entered the race. In fact, he hasn’t even scratched the surface on all the ways his candidacy and campaign skills are highly problematic (and not just for 2020). His chances should indeed be downgraded significantly. On paper, he should still be considered the frontrunner. But presidential elections are not run on paper.
3. I still give Sanders about a 14% chance of being the nominee, because he could win a bunched up Iowa and then fight his way to a plurality of the delegates. But he is losing support from his previous demographic base, not expanding his support into the areas he was so weak in against Hillary Clinton. Is he “deader” than Biden? He is.
4. Warren and Harris do indeed now have a better chance for the nomination than Sanders. More on that in a moment.
5. Biden IS in more peril than this round of polls suggests. He will likely soon be passed by Harris and perhaps Warren. At that point, many of the bundlers and establishment types, who were for him with as much enthusiasm as one would have for an anchovy pizza from a vending machine, will take their leave. A campaign shakeup would be useless because the problem is not the staff (although there ARE some staff problems there). The problem is the candidate.
6. Harris DID have a great announcement event and has excelled at some Senate hearings. And Warren has had her boffo moments too. But Harris’ dealing with questions about private health insurance and about her record as a prosecutor and as California’s attorney general, and Warren’s attempt to deal with questions about her heritage, suggest we should not be too quick to jump to the conclusion that these two surging candidates will be immune from fumbles and flubs when the spotlight burns brighter/harsher. Which, after some additional momentum-fueled days of positive coverage, it most surely will. They will both have their days (weeks?) in the barrel, and nobody (NOBODY) can say now how they will perform when their time comes.
7. Never in the history of the Republic have two leading women presidential candidates battled it out for the nomination of either party. That would be momentous. Would they drop opposition research on each other? Attempt to cut each other down with scathing debate one-liners? Run negative ads against the other one? Will Harris feel pressured by Warren and the base to move more to the left, or will she see an opening with Biden’s fall to become the center-left favorite? Or can she somehow do both?
8. Can Buttigieg or anyone else crash this party? As I wrote yesterday, Iowa is the most rational route there, but the Gang of Four, even with a weakened Biden and a weakened Sanders, are going to take up a lot of space in the Hawkeye State caucuses. We shouldn’t rule out Mayor Pete until we see what he gets in return for spending his 2nd quarter money, and how much he raises in the 3rd quarter. And in the spirit of eternal possibility and patience, we should hold open the chance that someone else could leapfrog over the others now at 0%-3% and get in the hunt. But it is very, very unlikely at this point.
9. The fact that in the span of a month, the field has been scrambled so that the order of likelihood of being nominated is now (1) Harris, (2) Warren, (3) Biden, and (4) Sanders should remind us all that there are many more twists and turns coming. There has never been a nomination contest in either party quite like this. Humility is called for. Even in morning tip sheets.
10. And we must all once again remember the wise words of Chairman Haley Barbour: In politics, nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems. Although, this morning, things are looking very bad for Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. The same is true for them as it is for Warren and Harris: if they want to win the nomination, they are going to have to be prepared to fight for it, smartly and relentlessly, for many months to come.
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In other news:
Government Report: Conditions on Mexican Border Are Grim
My take: We are a better country than this. Forget the politics (and there are a lot of politics on both sides). Fix how children are being treated now. It is the only moral thing to do.
Trump Uncharacteristically Quiet About Democrats’ Border Cave
But others are talking.
Read what Barack Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the Washington Post about the unanimous position of the Democratic presidential contenders from Debate 2 on immigration decriminalization:
“That is tantamount to declaring publicly that we have open borders. That is unworkable, unwise and does not have the support of a majority of American people or the Congress, and if we had such a policy, instead of 100,000 apprehensions a month, it will be multiples of that.”
My take: The president will be saying much the same thing, more colorfully, come the general election. The Wall Street Journal ed board has figured this out too.
Census Citizenship Question Dropped
My take: Rare decision to quit, not fight, shows some Wizard behind the Trump Oz curtain decided the politics of their quest was not smart. Find the Wizard, and we can understand why.
Trump to Hold Rally in North Carolina on Day of Mueller Hill Appearance
My take: Of course.
Trump Campaign and RNC Raise Record Coin
My take: It is important to focus on how presidential campaign money is spent at least as much as on how much is raised. A lot of the re-elect’s cash is quietly going to general election voter modeling, giving the incumbent a huge head start.
Top sports story: USWNT outlasts England, will head to World Cup Final
Top business story: More than 80% of S&P 500 firms have slashed their expected earnings
Top entertainment story: Summer box office numbers continue to disappoint as companies and audiences pivot to streaming
John Delaney holds 100th presidential campaign event in N.H.
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