Tuesday, September 3, 2019

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If It Is Biden’s Race to Lose, Will He?
The conventional wisdom congeals hard on a holiday weekend, as political reporters and pundits survey Joe Biden’s polling lead.
As for the rest of the Big 5, as reflected in a half dozen 2020 Democratic nomination fight stories:
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are seen as dividing the progressive vote and having trouble demographically expanding their support.
Kamala Harris is barely mentioned in some of the stories, and, when she is, her faded poll standing is what is highlighted.
Pete Buttigieg is a hot candidate in the Hamptons, and is using friend-to-friend contact to try to become a hot candidate in Iowa, which is, uhm, more important.  But his survival is cast as wholly dependent on a Biden collapse.
The press is writing everyone else off.
This congealed convention wisdom says that Biden is filled with flaws –and/but all frontrunners are filled with flaws– and he is seen as a familiar presence thought most likely to win a general election, Democrats’ top priority.
For a good distillation of the view of the Gang of 500, read Eugene Robinson’s Washington Post column.
For a good distillation of the view of all the other campaigns, read Mark Leibovich’s New York Times story on Biden’s self-acknowledged extraordinary ambivalence about running for and being president.
Here are remarkably similar “state of the race” pieces from Politico, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and Reuters.
Their shared conclusions: Biden is meaningfully ahead; no one is a clear and present threat to him; time is almost running out to stop him; the crowded field works to Biden’s benefit; Biden has made gaffes galore and faced numerous controversies, but those haven’t hurt him much with real voters; Biden’s demographic support is broad; the September debate could change things, but it probably won’t.
My take: All those conclusions are correct. And with few exceptions (such as Hillary Clinton in 2008), when Democrats have an initial clear presidential frontrunner, that person typically wins the nomination, although usually after facing some serious turbulence.
There is one main reason to believe that Joe Biden will not be the nominee. If he goes into 2020 with the lead he has now, he can’t afford to lose Iowa or New Hampshire, since the lack of fervor among his supporters means that what is sustaining him is perceived electability.  A single loss would lead to political bleeding that would be hard to stop.
Past frontrunners of both parties have fought back from losses in either Iowa or New Hampshire, but I think that will be difficult for Biden to do.
So, here’s my current, real, bottom-line, all-you-need-to-know take: There will be a lot of sound and fury between now and February. Biden might blow himself up before then.  Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or one of the other Big 5 might find a way to surge by then.  But as of now, if Biden wins Iowa and New Hampshire, he will be the nominee. If he loses either one, on the current trajectory, he is toast.
In other news:
*Despite President Trump’s repeated assurances, Bloomberg says the September U.S.-China face-to-face trade talks are not set up.
A pair of Wall Street Journal stories suggests the trade war is hurting the world economy and American small businesses.
My take: As long as the data remains mixed, the White House will be dealing with a poisoned media environment that emphasizes the negative economic storylines over the positive. That is an extreme danger to the consumer and business confidence that has helped fuel and sustain economic growth.  There is no Bob Rubin figure in this administration who can talk up the economy with high credibility.
Halperin’s Seventh Rule of Politics: No president should serve as his or her chief economic spokesperson.
*The New York Times’ expert team of Sanger and Broad quote a gaggle of experts asserting that the recent North Korea missile tests are a real problem, despite the president’s attempts to play them down.
My take:  Like with the trade fight against China, Donald Trump is finding that using a different strategy than his predecessors to try to solve a long-standing problem doesn’t guarantee success.  The president acts like he has the leverage in the relationship with Kim Jong-un (just as he does with Xi), but it increasingly appears that more of the leverage is on the other side.
*West Virginia’s Joe Manchin is expected to announce Tuesday whether he will run for his old job as governor.
Top sports story: Rafa into quarters as Tiger fist-pumps in approval
Top business story: FedEx, UPS jockey with Amazon as tech giant expands into shipping
Top entertainment story: China’s Summer Box Office Edges Up, Reaches $2.45 Billion
Big Four
Pete Buttigieg flexes campaign muscle in Iowa, plans to open 20 offices in 20 days, have nearly 100 Iowa staff.

Who can beat Trump? Iowa union members tell presidential candidates that’s No. 1 issue.

New Hampshire
Democrats face long odds in overriding vetoes.

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