I live in what’s left of Maryland, a Democrat stronghold, and despite the migrant caravan of Democrat candidates, visible support is scant. A survey of bumper stickers would have Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as the top candidates because people refused to remove these losing candidates from their cars to avoid looking dumb. Otherwise support for any candidate is scant. I once saw a Cory Booker bumper sticker several months ago before a debate. I’ve seen a single Elizabeth Warren, and maybe two Joe Biden stickers. Biden is most likely to win Maryland this far out.
However the lack of enthusiasm among Democrats is not limited to anecdotal evidence. Polling data suggests that the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary are wide open with majority of voters undecided or fluid in their choice. Compare this to four years ago when Ted Cruz was building momentum against frontrunner Trump. It was known the Iowa Caucus would come down to Trump, Cruz, or maybe Rubio. And on the Democrat side, the enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton was raging. According to recent data, 40% of Iowa Caucus goers are firm in their choice. With 60% undecided or persuadable, the Iowa Caucus is undoubtedly to be won by whoever can have the most widespread organization and enthusiasm. But who can that be?
The same poll shows that Elizabeth Warren has the highest favorability at 70% followed by Pete Buttigieg at 68% and Bernie Sanders at 66%. So on one hand Democrats in Iowa like their options, on the other, they balance their priorities. Is the priority beating Trump or is the priority ideological. Majority in the poll said beating Trump. This bodes well for fluidity, as Trump has changed the conventions we knew about elections substantially, so Democrats are even less clear on a formula to beat Trump.
This struggle resembles the 2012 Republican Primary. The Republican voters prioritized beating Obama but struggled to find a candidate that could knowing that Mitt Romney could not. This led to Rick Santorum being the last desperate attempt to nominate a person to communicate a winning message. 2012 had the opposite problem where Republicans didn’t like their nominees all that much, but the anybody but Obama message was communicated, so Republicans nominated the closest thing they could to Obama.
Likewise, Democrats could similarly blunder by nominating Elizabeth Warren. It’s difficult to articulate that Trump’s a racist when Elizabeth Warren lied about her race to her own benefit, also difficult to call Trump a liar, nominating Warren. It’s difficult to argue that Trump abused power with Ukraine when your son was benefiting from your office, in regards to Joe Biden. The charge of racism is one Pete Buttigieg cannot make either. Bernie Sanders may come away cleanest when it comes to being free from the hypocrisy that stains the current Democrat field. But there are obvious reasons why America might are reluctant to undergo a Bolshevik Revolution. The other candidates don’t have a base. Who can win? A question no serious candidate has yet to answer, and this results in crippling the enthusiasm for most of the base.
Alternatively there is a sizable minority that wants a candidate that aligns with their belief with or without a strong case of beating Trump. Bernie Sanders likely wins this crowd given his past Presidential run and loyal base of support. Whereas, Pete Buttigieg, Champion of the Intersectionality Base, has some of this going for him as well because white guilt works on suburbanites. Joe Biden purely relies on the beating Trump narrative, and Elizabeth Warren is inbetween.
In 2016, where there was no incumbent President, we saw Republicans overwhelmingly reject the Establishment with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Democrats similarly battled with their own establishment. In 2008, Democrats were intense this time of year. The presence of an incumbent introduces standards for a Primary that curb certain political zeal. Instead of enthusiasm for political candidates and policy proposals, we have extra Trump Derangement Syndrome.
But politics without zeal is not a winning strategy against an incumbent. Ronald Reagan brought a sense of enthusiasm to one-term Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton had Ross Perot. Otherwise, incumbents have dominated the general election in the primary era. Polling shows that Trump is ahead of any of the candidates heading into the key swing states. And that doesn’t include the states Trump may put into play in 2020 like Minnesota, since incumbents have a tendency to win larger margins the second time around.
In 2020, elections are less about convincing “moderates” and more about rallying the bases to show up in droves. This would make base enthusiasm even more necessary in the general. The Democrats are mostly in favor of a negative message, as opposed to a positive one that wins general elections for first term presidents. So we must ask ourselves: does the quest to beat the incumbent curb vital enthusiasm necessary to win?
If so, then the Democrats are in trouble in November.