Opinion | Democrats’ Baffling 2020 Mess


I also keep seeing and hearing statements along the lines that the party should be ashamed of the way things are turning out, that the party failed. While an official party entity, the Democratic National Committee, indeed set criteria for the debates — which had to have some criteria — there’s otherwise no committee of elders or secret cabal that decrees which candidates prosper and which don’t.

Besides which, as Eric Levitz observed in New York magazine, Harris “boasted the enthusiastic support of Hillary’s donor network and supporters, warm relations with Obamaworld, and the sympathies of a broad range of Democratic lawmakers in the nation’s largest state and beyond.” Levitz added that when Harris ended her campaign on Tuesday, she trailed only Biden in the website FiveThirtyEight’s tally of important endorsements; that Booker has more such endorsements than Sanders, who is far ahead of him; and that Klobuchar has more than Buttigieg, whom she distantly trails. So if the party is fellow Democratic politicians of note, it’s hardly driving the direction of this contest.

We in the media aren’t driving it, either, though there’s constant carping along those lines. We’ve always been fundamentally responsive, bestowing coverage based on established interest, and we’re more responsive than ever in this digitized age of sophisticated, real-time measures of precisely what our audience does and doesn’t turn to. We give you a tide of Warren in part because you thrilled to the earlier trickle. We serve you oodles of Buttigieg because we’ve noticed your appetite for it.

Another questionable assessment of this primary is that “electability” is crowding out candidates who don’t fit some safe profile. Yes, many Democratic voters tell pollsters that choosing the candidate most likely to beat Trump is their top concern. Yes, there’s evidence that such an impulse is leading some voters away from candidates of color.

But if “electability” emphatically ruled the day, wouldn’t at least one of the three current or former governors already gone from the race — John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Steve Bullock of Montana and Jay Inslee of Washington — have fared better? Governors are frequently touted as the best candidates, and they account for four of the past seven presidents.

If “electability” ruled the day, would Biden’s stiffest competition be coming from a 78-year-old democratic socialist who recently had a heart attack (and just placed first in a California poll), a 70-year-old former Ivy League law professor whom Trump delights in calling “Pocahontas” and the 37-year-old gay mayor of a small Indiana city?

There’s a lot to this primary that’s more complicated than meets the eye, a lot that explodes assumptions. According to the polling so far, voters aren’t drawn to candidates whose demographic profiles overlap with theirs. Biden’s support from black Democrats in a national Quinnipiac poll late last month was more than eight times what Harris’s or Booker’s was. He and Sanders do exponentially better among Latinos than Julián Castro does. Sanders, not Buttigieg, has the advantage among Democrats under the age of 35. And many gay Democrats have rejected Buttigieg as inadequately progressive and even insufficiently gay.


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