Wednesday, February 12, 2020


Jonathan Chait says the Biden campaign has been "a disaster for liberalism and the Democratic Party."
Biden’s candidacy almost single-handedly stunted the growth of every other center-left alternative. Cory Booker ran the Freaks and Geeks of campaigns — praised by critics, but never registering with the broader public. Booker might well have attracted Biden’s constituency, before low polling forced him off the debate stage and out of the race.

Michael Bloomberg held off running for president because he initially believed Biden would secure the same ideological niche. Only after it was apparent to Bloomberg that 2020 Biden was not the 2012 version of Joe Biden did he join the race — too late to compete in the first four states and make the debates that would have played a crucial role in vetting him.

Amy Klobuchar only surged in February, at the New Hampshire debate, when Biden had disappointed in Iowa and it dawned on many voters that he might not make it.

And only now are Bloomberg and Klobuchar — along with Pete Buttigieg, who has won a sizable niche with well-educated white voters that he seems to have difficulty expanding — beginning to try to consolidate the party’s center-left vote. If not for Biden, a mainstream liberal Democrat might well have begun to consolidate support of a party Establishment that is not looking for a candidate who will embrace wildly unpopular policies and a wildly unpopular socialist label while emphasizing transformative economic change in the midst of the best economy in a generation.
I don't want to get distracted addressing Chait's characterization of Bernie Sanders and his supporters -- but I'd like to point out that Sanders might have been the beneficiary of a decision by Biden not to run.

Recall the results of a Reuters-Ipsos poll conducted last summer:

At that time, Sanders was the second choice of Biden supporters, a result replicated in Nationscape polling conducted in the fall:
... in surveys from Oct. 17 to Nov. 13, 35 percent of Biden supporters list Sanders as their No. 2 choice, and 29 percent list Warren. Only 9 percent list Buttigieg.
Elizabeth Warren was the second choice of Biden supporters in other polling conducted in the fall:

But Morning Consult's current polling says that Sanders is the top alternative for Biden supporters, at 28%, five points ahead of Mike Bloomberg.

It's my impression that Biden voters have just been looking for someone a lot of other people will vote for in a race against Trump. Early in the contest, when Biden and Sanders were the best-known candidates, Sanders was the top alternative; when Warren was at or near the lead, she was the favorite alternative; and now it's Sanders again, along with Bloomberg, who's all over TV and who portrays himself as a can-do guy and potential winner in very effective ads.

Maybe if Biden hadn't run, Bloomberg would have swooped with a gazillion dollars' worth of ads before Iowa and New Hampshire. Then he could have come off as the tough guy who can take on Trump. But he might not have run, or he might have shot to the top, then suffered the backlash that he seems on the verge of experiencing right now.

I'm skeptical that the field as it existed apart from Biden would have automatically yielded an alternative to Sanders. Other than (briefly) Warren and Kamala Harris, no candidate seemed like a sure winner, which is what voters wanted. Voters seemed to have doubts about all the women after 2016. Many of the men -- Buttigieg, Booker, O'Rourke, Castro -- appeared green and callow. The older centrists seemed dull, dull, dull. Sanders might have appeared to be the best alternative just because he acts like a potential winner, and is sold that way by his fan base.

We can't run an accurate simulation of the race without Biden. It's quite possible that it would have been just as dissatisfying to moderates as what we have now.

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