Democratic handwringing hits new highs over 2020

Democratic handwringing hits new highs over 2020


Democratic bed-wetting over the 2020 primary has reached a previously unseen level.

Fear that the party doesn’t have the candidate to win is an evergreen aspect of the modern presidential race. In just about every presidential contest in recent memory, there have been moments of existential fear among Democrats.


But the worry this time, when the party will nominate a candidate to take on President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE in an effort to end his time in office at one term, are like nothing seen before, say Democrats.

 “This is like the Democratic bed-wetting of past cycles except everyone evidently drank a gallon of chardonnay before they went to bed,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale.

He said Democrats are pulling out their hair like never before because they want to learn lessons from Trump’s 2016 victory, and a fair number of big party donors are not “the best gauges of how the public will see things versus the people in their own social circles.”

The New York Times crystalized the fears in a story earlier this week about “anxious” Democratic donors wondering if the party would be better served with a new candidate, such as 2016 nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton to start new podcast Centrist Democrats insist Sanders would need delegate majority to win President Trump is weak against Bernie Sanders in foreign affairs MORE or former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergBloomberg: 'I'm going to stay right to the bitter end' of Democratic primary race The Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Bloomberg defends Muslim surveillance policy post-9/11 MORE.

“You can count on the sun rising, an ironic Trump tweet from 2012, and Democratic bed-wetting over our field of presidential candidates,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer. “But the fears this year are greater because the stakes have never seemed so high.”

Democrats are worried that former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary Sanders holds 13-point lead in Fox News poll MORE is a weak candidate whose age is showing. They fear Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBloomberg: 'I'm going to stay right to the bitter end' of Democratic primary race The Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Sanders holds 13-point lead in Fox News poll MORE (D-Mass.) could be an easy target for Trump, and that her policies might be too progressive for many voters.

Oprah WinfreyOprah Gail WinfreyGiuliani asked for post-9/11 mayoral election to be canceled so he could stay in office: book Gayle King accepts Snoop Dogg apology, says it was never her intention to add to pain over Bryant's death Snoop Dogg apologizes to Gayle King in Kobe Bryant flap: I was 'disrespectful' and 'overreacted' MORE — once mentioned as a potential candidate herself — begged Disney CEO Robert Iger to enter the race, according to The Washington Post.

“The problem is our party is polarized and there isn’t someone who appeals to everyone and there isn’t that one person who people know can beat Trump,” said one major Democratic donor. “There isn’t a Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina The Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders top target at CPAC Obama warns against 'unauthorized use' of his image to mislead voters in cease-and-desist letter MORE. There’s Joe Biden, who is far from perfect, and there’s Elizabeth Warren, and I just don’t think she’s electable. 

The Democratic Party has a history of incessant worrying when it comes to presidential elections, some say for good reason.

Democrats won the popular vote in 2000 but saw nominee Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GorePush for national popular vote movement gets boost from conservatives Mellman: Should the majority rule? 'Where's your spoon?' What we didn't learn in the latest debate MORE fall to his Republican challenger, George W. Bush, in the electoral college by 537 votes in Florida — and a fight over hanging and pregnant chads.

In 2004, they thought then-Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryDemocratic insiders stay on the sidelines in 2020 race 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents John Kerry: Democratic debate 'was something of a food fight' MORE (D-Mass.) would defeat Bush only to see him lose in another close election.

After eight years of a Democratic president in Obama, they suffered the biggest upset in modern presidential history with Clinton’s loss to Trump, even as their candidate again won the popular vote. 

“There is a culture of feeling like victory is going to be snatched, and that colors a lot of the thinking of the chattering class,” said Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas, who worked on Clinton’s campaign in 2016.

Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said the current mood of the party is most reminiscent of 2004.

“Democrats were very eager to prevent a second Bush term so the stakes for the right candidate felt intense,” Zelizer said.


Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was an early front-runner, but Democrats ended up backing what was seen as a safer choice in Kerry.

Nothing makes Democrats more anxious than thoughts of a second Trump term.

“For as long as I have been a Democrat, I remember my fellow Democrats saying that every election was the most important in their lives,” said former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump on US coronavirus risks: 'We're very, very ready for this' The Hill's Campaign Report: Gloves off in South Carolina Why Mike Bloomberg has a shot MORE (N.Y.) who served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “But this year, with Donald Trump, Democrats know it’s not rhetoric but reality. 

“There’s a sense that Trump’s reelection is not just an existential threat to Democrats but to democracy itself,” Israel said. “The high stakes have heightened Democrat’s anxiety about getting this right. It explains the polling that consistently show Democrats preferring a candidate who can beat Trump to one who shares their ideology.”

 Petkanas said nervous Democrats should just “get over it.”

 “Poll after poll shows that the top tier of the Democratic field are all beating Trump nationally and in battleground states,” he said.

 Vale said that Democrats don’t need a new candidate, saying if voters don’t like Warren, Biden or Sanders, “we’ve got plenty of more options for you without naming corporate CEOs who actually have no chance of beating Trump.”

Zelizer said the party is currently suffering from “no sense of confidence and a great fear of the future.”

“As a party, Democrats are more divided than the GOP,” Zelizer said. “There is more variation, which generates more fears about voters potentially splitting away from the nominee.”

There’s also one more factor.

“We don’t know what’s coming given how far Trump will go to win,” he said.