NEW YORK – As one of the few pundits who correctly called the 2016 election for Donald Trump, it would be wise to rest on my laurels rather than risk another prediction, one that might turn out wrong.
But how would that be fun? Let the 2020 political prognostications begin!
The arithmetic of the 2016 Republican presidential primaries is repeating itself on the Democratic side in 2020: a big field of candidates, one of whom commands a plurality by virtue of name recognition — which implies higher “electability” — while his 20 or so opponents divvy up the rest of the single-digit electoral scraps.
The Trump 2016 dynamic will probably play out the same way when Democratic delegates are counted at the 2020 convention. But the outcome in November 2020 is likely to be the opposite: Trump gets re-elected.
Here’s how I see it playing out.
In 2016 there were 17 “major” (corporate media-approved) GOP presidential candidates. Famous and flamboyant, Trump consistently polled around 30 percent throughout the primaries. That left his 16 relatively obscure rivals to fight over the remaining 70 percent. Considering that 70 percent divided by 16 comes to 4.4 percent, his runner-ups Ben Carson (14 percent), Ted Cruz (9 percent) and Marco Rubio (9 percent) outperformed the field. Yet Trump’s lead was too big. They couldn’t catch him.
Twenty-four Democrats are running in 2020. Here again, we have one really famous guy — it’s hard to get more famous than former vice president of the United States — plus the rest. In this contest, the odds of an upset are even longer. Joe Biden polls at around 38 percent, significantly better than Trump did. The remaining pie slice is smaller than Carson, Cruz, Rubio, etc., and gets chopped up into even more pieces.
Next comes Bernie Sanders — the early front-runner, now number two — at about 18 percent, with Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg each getting about 8 percent. (62 percent divided by 23 equals 2.7 percent.) Although Sanders is suffering from his failure to follow my advice to move left, it’s also easy to see why progressives suspect another Democratic National Committee conspiracy to screw him.
“Having many candidates is a standard Democratic Party tactic to draw down support for any insurgent candidate,” writes Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, a candidate for Congress from south Los Angeles. “When it was just Bernie versus Hillary, all the anti-Hillary Democratic voters had to go somewhere, and they all went to Bernie. But now Bernie’s votes will be split with progressive icons like Warren and Gabbard, as well as with progressive-sounding corporate politicians like Buttigieg, Harris and Biden.”
Here I will insert my standard disclaimer that the elections are an eternity away, that things can and will change, you never know what will happen, blah blah blah.
But as things stand at this writing, Biden will probably take the nomination unless he dies or there’s a new scandal.
After the summer 2020 conventions, the 2016 scenario diverges from 2020.
I tend to discount “blue no matter who” and “anyone but Trump” chatter from centrist Democrats who argue that this president is such a threat to everything good and decent about the world that everyone must set their personal preferences aside in order to vote the bastard out.
Besides, many of the people who urge unity have no credibility. They voted for Hillary Clinton, but if Sanders had been the nominee they would not have turned out for him. Progressives weren’t born yesterday. Tired of 40 years of marginalization, they turned a deaf ear to the Clintonites’ self-serving unity pleas, boycotted the general election and denied Hillary her “inevitable” win.
And here’s the thing: They don’t feel bad about it.
If anything the schism in the Democratic Party between the progressive majority (72 percent) and corporatist centrist voters has widened and hardened over the past three years. Both sides are intransigent: Clinton’s voters accuse Sanders’s boycotters of handing the White House to Trump; Sanders’s supporters point to polls that consistently showed he, not Clinton, could have beat Trump. Progressives are still angry that the Democratic establishment cheated Sanders out of the nomination last time. News that they’re doing the same thing now has enraged them.
That includes progressives who plan to vote for one of the other progressives or progressives-come-lately. By any measure, Biden is not progressive. He’s No. 1 in the polls but far behind the aggregate total of his progressive opponents. (I omit zero-policy candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg and centrists like Amy Klobuchar from my back-of-the-envelope calculations even though their support includes some progressives.) The party is ramming Biden the corporatist down the throats of Democratic primary voters using classic divide and conquer.
It will work. The Democrats will emerge from this nomination fight even more divided than the last cycle. Like the Mad Queen at the conclusion of “Game of Thrones,” Biden will inherit the ruins of a party he destroyed.
Trump goes into 2020 stronger than ever. Republicans are unified. Democrats look like fools for the debunked Russiagate fiasco and like wimps for refusing to try to impeach him. The economy looks strong. If the president lays off Iran, we’ll be relatively at peace. In the Rust Belt swing states it’s not just Republicans who like his trade wars. Abortion will not motivate as many voters as liberals hope.
At the same time, Biden is the worst candidate in the Democratic field, even worse than Clinton. Some progressives voted for her because of her history-making potential as first woman president and her role trying to make health care policy. Biden offers nothing like that for progressive voters. He’s a warmonger who voted to kill a million people in Iraq. He’s against Medicare for all. He undermined Anita Hill, pretended to apologize years after the fact, and then took it back. And he’s just another old white man. No one is excited about him.
Only one thing can defeat Trump: a unified, enthusiastic, progressive front. Biden’s rivals should pick one of their own, drop out and pledge to campaign for him or her. OK, two things: Biden should quit for the good of his party. Of course neither of these will happen.
I predict that Trump will win bigly.
Ted Rall is a writer and political cartoonist.