Events in American politics follow predictable trends, and the Democratic party was set to do poorly in 2020. But still, there was no need for the Democrats to implode as dramatically as they are now doing.
The outcomes of US presidential elections are easy to predict.
There have been 31 elections since the political system settled down into its modern pattern in 1896. Twelve of them involved an incumbent running for re-election who did not belong to the same party as his predecessor. The incumbent won 11 times out of 12.
Eight times, an incumbent who did belong to his predecessor’s party ran for re-election. If said predecessor had died in office, the current incumbent was re-elected (4 times out of 4). If the predecessor had not died in office, the incumbent was not re-elected (also 4 for 4).
In an open election with no incumbent running, the incumbent’s party is at a disadvantage. If the previous election was decided by a margin smaller than 10 percent (in the popular vote) then the incumbent party will lose (6 times of 6). If the margin was bigger than 10%, it could go either way.
Occasionally, an outgoing president manages to get someone from his own party elected as his successor. This has happened three times in the last 124 years, with Roosevelt/Taft, Coolidge/Hoover, and Reagan/Bush. In every case the first man was a widely popular president who won re-election in a blowout. Granted, you can be popular in the middle of your presidency and still fail to get keep your party in the White House after it’s over, like Eisenhower and Johnson did. But if your re-election margin is narrow, then defeat the next time around is guaranteed.
That is how I predicted the outcome of the 2016 election. Barrack Obama had been re-elected by only a 3.9 percent margin in 2012; hence, the Democrats lacked the necessary enthusiasm to win again four years later, and Donald Trump became president.
For the same reason, I am predicting that Trump will be re-elected in 2020. Granted, the pattern on this one isn’t quite as certain: the re-election record for presidents who don’t belong to the same party as their predecessor is only 11 for 12. But the one guy who managed to buck the trend, Reagan with his victory over Carter in 1980, was a skilled orator with a lot of crossover appeal running during an economic meltdown. The Trump economy, on the other hand, is doing fine (in the short term, that is, which is all that matters for these purposes) and the Democrats are going to learn the hard way that you can’t win back Trump’s voters by calling them racists.
Beginning, therefore, with that end in mind, it was entirely to be expected that the Democrats would be having a pig of a year in 2020. Though I must admit that I was surprised at how quickly and how badly it has gone for them.
On the first day of this year, I predicted that Joe Biden would be the Democratic nominee for president. Biden was leading in the polls at the time, and I felt certain that the corporate elites and the media would do whatever it took to keep Bernie Sanders out of snapping distance. And the media did pull out all the stops to attack Bernie, but it wasn’t quite enough.
Biden got trounced in Iowa and New Hampshire, finishing in 4th and 5th place, respectively, and Bernie is now on top of the nationwide polls. Granted, Biden isn’t quite finished: he’s still in second place nationwide and leading in South Carolina. This is because black people, who are his best demographic, are badly underrepresented in the two states that voted first.
But still, Biden just had a very bad fortnight, and there’s no way forward left for him that doesn’t lead through a brokered convention. Meanwhile, the one candidate with almost as many votes as Bernie is Pete Buttigieg.
Buttigieg has virtually no chance of being the nominee. Outside of the early states where he’s been campaigning the most, he polls at around 11 percent. He is young and inexperienced, has almost no support among blacks, and is hobbled by his homosexuality. (There are still a lot of old Democrats who came of age in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s and are privately turned off by the idea of a homosexual president).
In short, the Democratic party is in chaos. Bernie Sanders is in the lead, but he only got 26 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, which is the smallest share with which any candidate has won that state’s vote since the beginning of the modern system in the 1970s. Also, beginning this year, all Democratic primaries are now proportional representation, so 26 percent of the vote translates to about a third of the delegates (since some candidates didn’t clear the threshold to get any). In short, unless the field thins out really fast, the Democrats are headed for a brokered convention.
The field is unlikely to thin out fast, and a big part of that problem is the man who huge ego has contributed mightily to the breakdown of the establishment wing of the party, namely, Michael Bloomberg.
Late last November, less than three months before the voting began, Michael Bloomberg decided to buy the Democratic nomination, in much the same way that he had already bought the New York mayorship for about $200 per vote. Because the filing deadline had already passed for the early states, he figured he would have to skip those primaries, and the debates too, and just drop himself right into the middle of the contest on Super Tuesday on the strength of his gargantuan add buys.
There is no way in the world that this is going to work. Yet when Bloomberg looked at Donald Trump, he probably said something like, ‘if that man can become president because he’s so rich, then I should be able to do the same thing, because I’m richer.’
The only problem with that is that Donald Trump didn’t buy the presidency. He spent less money in 2016 than Hillary did. He won anyway because people liked him.
Bloomberg doesn’t have that advantage. To begin with, while Donald Trump’s voters usually admired his wealth, the Democratic base don’t like rich people. Granted, Democratic politicians are owned by the same monied interests as Republicans, but they still have to make a show of hating billionaires. It’s hard to do that if you’re a billionaire yourself.
And unlike Trump, Bloomberg doesn’t have a unique and inspiring platform to set him apart from his competitors. His policies are no different than those of Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Warren, or any other center-left Democrat. He just expects his add buys to make up the difference.
That’s no way to put together a winning coalition. But it will help Bernie Sanders, because every time an establishment candidate collects some votes without reaching a state’s 15 percent threshold, more delegates are going into the Bernie column.
Perhaps the Democrats in Congress should have foreseen that their choice of grounds on which to impeach President Trump was ill-advised. Perhaps they should have realized that parading their own front-runner’s history of graft in front of the nation wouldn’t help them in the upcoming election. But they didn’t, and now they have to deal with the consequences.
Personally, I think that Bernie Sanders is the best candidate the Democrats have. I have already explained why I find the distinction between socialist and non-socialist Democrats to be irrelevant (hint: once in office, they all tend to move the country in the same direction) and I prefer Bernie over the competition because I think that, besides Gabbard who is pretty-much out of the running by now, Bernie is the Democrat who is the least likely to start any new wars.
Come convention time this July, chances are that Bernie will be in the lead, in terms of delegates, but will not have a majority. The Democratic establishment will then have to make a choice: either swallow their pride and release their delegates to vote for the weakened but still viable Bernie Sanders, or else give the nomination to someone else, leave most of their base feeling cheated, and go down in an epic defeat in November.
In summary: presidential elections follow fairly predictable patterns, and the Democrats had a bad hand this time to begin with. Nevertheless, the fact that they’re bungling it as dramatically as they are is their own fault.