Tuesday's Debate: Centrist Anxiety On Full Display...

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The Democratic field's centrists spent Tuesday's debate working through their status anxiety.

New Republic - October 16, 2019

"In truth, Democratic moderates and progressives fundamentally disagree about the scale of the problems facing the country—and the planet—as well as the solutions they require. Tuesday night’s debate was a reminder that the tensions present in discussions of healthcare, or climate change, or the basic structure of the economy will be sustained not only through the rest of the primary but well into the next Democratic administration—and that the obstacles to passing ambitious legislation will be not just provided by Republicans. Haughty and bitter moderate Democrats, all just as miffed as Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Biden seemed to be Tuesday night that the party is moving away from them, will pose their own challenges."

It’s getting more difficult by the day to remember the vigor with which former Vice President Joe Biden jumped into the presidential race earlier this year. One of the important documents of that moment in the spring was a piece in Politico Magazine by Bill Scher titled ”Did The Left Misread the 2020 Democratic Primary?” To a not inconsiderable number of pundits, an obvious answer was taking shape, just a few weeks into Biden’s candidacy. “He has dominated the polls since he entered the race last month,” Scher wrote. “Before Biden announced, he was at a measly 29 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, only 6 percentage points ahead of progressive favorite Bernie Sanders, who not all that long ago looked like a genuine co-front-runner. Since then, Biden has surged to 40 percent, kicking Sanders down to the mid-teens.”

Scher went on to explain that the threat of Trump’s reelection had made most of the primary electorate “more cautious and less radical,” a mindset favorable to Biden and at odds with assertions that a large share of Democrats were hungry for ambitious policy change. “It’s indisputable that such a faction exists among Democratic primary voters,” he wrote. “But if the left is wrong about its breadth, it will take more than a good clapback tweet for them to figure out what to do next.” In New York magazine, Jonathan Chait agreed. “Perhaps it was the party’s intelligentsia, not Biden, that was out of touch with the modern Democratic electorate,” he wrote. “The conclusion that Biden could not lead the post-Obama Democratic Party is the product of misplaced assumptions about the speed of its transformation. Yes, the party has moved left, but not nearly as far or as fast as everybody seemed to believe.”

This was a premature assertion for a variety of reasons, the simplest of which being math. The initial spike in Biden’s support following his announcement leveled off by mid-June, at which point polls clearly showed that the combined constituency for the race’s progressive standard bearers, Sanders and Warren, was as large or larger than Biden’s—without even counting the supporters of formerly moderate candidates who had taken from the 2016 election no small amount of encouragement to move leftward, such as Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. 

We have seen since that Warren’s progressivism has neither prevented her from broadening her base of support within the primary electorate, nor from taking the lead from Biden in a growing number of polls. Sanders, in third place, remains very much in the hunt having raised more money than any other candidate. Biden, by contrast, is lagging in fundraising and, it was reported Tuesday night, has only about $8 million in cash on hand. Even his advantage in perceived electability among Democratic voters seems to be waning, thanks perhaps in part to Hunter Biden and the Ukraine situation. The rest of the field’s moderates have failed to build any meaningfully large constituency and some have been forced to move substantially left on issues including healthcare and climate change to keep themselves relevant within the Democratic policy discourse and within public view. ...
Read full report at New Republic

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