Against all odds, and against all of their poorer instincts, the Democrats went and found a way to learn from the mistakes of the GOP in 2016. Faced with the real possibility that their most extreme candidate would run away with the nomination while all of their safe bets dragged each other down, the Democrats actually cleared out the field and unified behind one person. At this time four years ago, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich each refused to stand aside for the good of the party, and they found out what happens when everyone snitches in the Prisoner’s Dilemma.
Until the first weekend of March, the Democrats were making a beeline for the same fate. Admittedly, it’s not at all clear that Bernie would make a worse opponent for Trump than Biden would. But most Democrats certainly believed he would, and so they changed course.
Trump was licking his chops over Bernie, setting up his dream fight against the specter of 20th-century totalitarian socialism. Now he’s likely to face a moderate candidate from a popular administration, with enough experience to promise a steady hand and reliable leadership both at home and abroad. All the things that Trump himself doesn’t have, and everything that the majority of Americans have missed in the White House for these past three years.
But how bad is it for Trump really? He’s talking like he can’t wait to face Biden. Maybe he knows something we don’t.
On the contrary, he’s missing a few things that are obvious to the rest of us. The first and the most important is that primary voters tend to be fairly representative of the people who show up to vote in the general election. The issues that motivate people at the end of a campaign are the same issues that motivate them at the beginning. There are many more people voting in the general, but they’re the same kinds of people.
If Biden ends up being the Democratic nominee, this is going to make it very hard for Trump to win, because the people who voted for Biden on Super Tuesday are the same people who delivered the victory to Trump in 2016. They’re members of the Obama coalition, plus the suburban moderates who went for Trump in 2016 but swung back to the Democrats in the 2018 midterms. And Biden brought them out in numbers far exceeding those from the 2016 primaries.
Trump’s path to victory, such as it was, depended crucially on taking back those suburban voters once again in 2020. He had no other strategy, other than driving massive turnout from his base and getting the swing voters back on his side with appeals to a healthy economy. If those voters are turning out for Biden now, something major has to change, or Trump’s one shot at re-election has already been closed off.
What could possibly be big enough to bring the suburbs back to Trump? The economy was already humming when they left him. At the moment it’s teetering on the brink of a full-blown recession. Whether that happens or not, if the highest stock market averages in history were not enough to keep those voters on Trump’s side, it’s hard to imagine another rally big enough to bring them back before November.
What about the coronavirus itself? Can Trump use the fear of sick foreigners to rally voters behind him again? Not likely, because by far the biggest political takeaway of this epidemic so far has been the mismanagement we’ve seen from the Trump administration. Voters hate the way Trump is handling this crisis — the last thing he should do is draw further attention to it.
Put coronavirus aside for a moment. Easier said than done, at this particular moment. But there’s a lot of time left before November. Even if this crisis goes on for six months, it’ll still be old news by Election Day. Here’s hoping it comes and goes much more quickly. But as of now, there’s too much uncertainty to predict how it will affect the race. And it feels wrong to want something so serious to have an impact either way.
Could a foreign war be enough to unite Americans behind their President, in sufficient numbers to give him another four years in office?
If you’re rooting for American deaths overseas to help your side win an election, are you even an American at all? But Trump already tried this too, and it didn’t bring back the suburban voters.
Trump’s last hope would be that the entire progressive wing of the Democratic Party decides to stay home, as a punishment for beating back the Bernie Sanders revolution a second time. Here are three easy reasons why that will never happen.
- Bernie is committing to a less divisive primary strategy this time. He’s already promised he would concede before the convention if Biden finishes the primary season with the most delegates.
- There is a high likelihood that two liberal Supreme Court justices will be ready to retire before the end of 2024. Not even the most tragically rage-consumed Bernie Bro wants to give Donald Trump a chance to put a 7–2 conservative majority on the Court.
- The Bernie Bros withheld their support from Hillary in 2016 partially because they had convinced themselves that Trump would not be worse than Hillary — and that was only because they had never seen Trump in action. There’s no chance of making the same argument about Trump and Biden in 2020.
Trump will put on a brave face, and he’ll sling plenty of insults. But on the inside he should be very afraid. Biden has won the early primaries decisively enough that it’s already more or less over for Bernie, and that probably means it’s over for Trump. The only other thing that could slow Biden down is dementia — but that’s a wild card for Commander Covfefe as well.