Saturday, August 10, 2019

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The State of the Democratic Nomination Race

Friday night in Iowa, at the annual Wing Ding dinner, with the state’s key Democratic activists and many national reporters in attendance, nearly two dozen candidates for president gave boiled down versions of their stump speeches. 

Not one of them tried to explicitly make a dent in Joe Biden’s lead – or even tried to make news. 

Some of them gave better talks than others, but none used the moment to shake up the race. 

I watched the whole event.  It was so devoid of news that even the Iowa and political press could barely be bothered to file stories on it – and many of those pieces that were published led with the moment of silence for the week’s gun victims or with the mere fact of the dinner — rather than with anything the candidates said.

What deterred the rivals from grabbing the spotlight, seizing the moment to shake things up? Some combination of

1. Feeling it is “too early” to take bold steps.  It is no longer too early.

2. Feeling Joe Biden will self-destruct without any of his rivals facilitating that process.  That can no longer be taken for granted.

3. Feeling the heat from elite and grass root Democrats over backlash to the circular firing squad behavior in the debates.  That is a tricky dynamic to navigate but it won’t get less tricky in the fall or winter.

4.  Feeling they don’t want to be in league with Donald Trump, who lashed out at Biden again on Friday.   That is a tricky dynamic to navigate but it won’t get less tricky in the fall or winter.

5. Feeling that aggressive political rhetoric (besides barbs aimed at Donald Trump) would be inappropriate at the end of a week in which the nation was in stunned mourning after the shootings in Texas and Ohio.  That makes sense.

6. Feeling (realistically) that none of the candidates have the raw political skill to pull off a paradigm shift simply via their own words delivered from a stage.  That is a problem for both winning the nomination and beating the incumbent.

My take: If these dynamics continue to restrain the other candidates from even talking about Biden, let alone attacking him, he in theory could coast to the nomination. But the lack of passion for his candidacy remains its Achilles heel.

It is not the case that on the current trajectory, only Biden can be the nominee, any more than Hillary Clinton was a sure thing in 2008. 

As of now, with no outside intervention, Elizabeth Warren could take the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.  Any candidate who pulls off those twin wins would be very difficult to head off.

Consider:

New York Times: “Asked in private conversations who would win the caucuses if they were held this month, the vast majority of Iowa Democratic officials and strategists say it would be Ms. Warren.”

New York Times, on the Wing Ding dinner: “This year, Mr. Buttigieg, Senator Elizabeth Warren …won the strongest reception from the audience.”

Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders or some other contender outside the Big 5 could still make a series of moves to clear a path to the nomination. 

But as of this weekend, only Biden and Warren can take the crown in Milwaukee without bending the current arc.

The State of Beltway Efforts to Pass Gun Laws

Two reasons to be skeptical about any new provisions being signed into law.

The New York Times on Trump’s warm-cold-warm-cold history on backing gun restrictions.

Politico on John Barrasso, the Senate’s #3 Republican, pouring a lot of cold water on the prospect of the upper chamber acting on any new gun measures.

My take: Even if the president and Mitch McConnell decide to push for background check measures, it is highly unlikely that the Senate would pass the legislation already approved by the House. That would mean either a conference committee or the Democratically-controlled House passing whatever the Senate produced.  Those seem like unlikely prospects as well.  McConnell’s refusal to bring the Senate back into session looks like it will stand. September is a long way off.  Momentum perishes in the heat. 

The guns debate of August won’t mean a thing unless Donald Trump makes this issue his arm-twisting, detail-focused, single-minded obsession when Labor Day comes around.  Barring an intervening event, it is very hard to see that happening.

In other news:

Latest news on Hong Kong protests here.

Latest news on North Korea short-range ballistic missile launches here.

Latest news on Jeffrey Epstein here.

Top sports story: What we learned in Friday’s preseason double dip
NFL.com

Top business story: Trump still has plenty of ways to escalate his China trade war
Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: Donald Trump blasts Hollywood for ‘racist’ films
Variety


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