These Democratic candidates should drop out now

Joe BidenJoe BidenAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Volatile presidential polls spark new round of anxieties British Bookmaker: Warren has replaced Biden as Democratic primary favorite MORE survived the second round of Democratic presidential debates, but it became more apparent that more than half the 24-person field is irrelevant and should get out, the sooner the better.

The former vice president was repeatedly under attack on health care, criminal justice, immigration and abortion. He stumbled sometimes, but overall was sharper than his mediocre performance in the first debate a month ago.

This won't assuage fears of mainstream Democrats that the 76-year-old Biden may not be up to the challenge of a protracted primary fight and bitter battle against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump watching 'very closely' as Portland braces for dueling protests WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Are Democrats turning Trump-like? MORE. Still he was sufficiently engaged to probably maintain his front-runner status entering the critical post-Labor Day political cycle.

ADVERTISEMENT

The most intense exchanges were with his nemesis from the last debate, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Volatile presidential polls spark new round of anxieties Conservative commentator rips Shapiro over criticism of people with multiple jobs MORE of California, over multiple issues, especially health care. This time, however, he dished out as much as he took. And Harris was on the defensive for part of the evening, including over her newly released health care plan which calls for “Medicare for All,” while preserving some private insurance.

This, as in the debate the night before, underscored the dominance of leading contenders: Biden, Harris, and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Manufacturing shrinks, raising questions for Trump Volatile presidential polls spark new round of anxieties MORE of Massachusetts and Vermont's Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersVolatile presidential polls spark new round of anxieties GOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' British Bookmaker: Warren has replaced Biden as Democratic primary favorite MORE. It seems impossible for most of the others to gain any traction at this point.

Of course all the second- and third-tier candidates have every right to run and stay in. For most of them, however, the main purpose may be to boost speaking fees, get a cable television gig or someday regale their grandchildren.

The winnowing process will be facilitated by a higher threshold to qualify for the next debate in September — at least 130,000 individual contributors and higher ratings in polls. These rules are set by the Democratic National Committee. 

In a large field, there often are three phases before primary voting and caucuses start next February. First, the obvious also-rans drop out; that probably will be early fall. Then a few months later, the futility and lack of support winnow out a second batch. That would leave up to as many as half a dozen in the top tier to seriously compete in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire.

ADVERTISEMENT

While there’s always a natural winnowing, quite a few candidates could save us all the trouble (and another two-night debate marathon) and drop out now.

Some of those who should soon disappear have credentials — Govs. John HickenlooperJohn Wright HickenlooperThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down MORE from Colorado and Jay InsleeJay Robert Inslee13 states file lawsuit over Trump 'public charge' rule Harris unveils plan to combat domestic terrorism 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally MORE from Washington state have substantive achievements, but they simply aren't resonating. Former Maryland Congressman John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyPoll: Nearly 4 in 5 say they will consider candidates' stances on cybersecurity Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment Head of flight attendants group claims 'broad support' for 'Medicare for All' among union members MORE has scored points critiquing left wing initiatives, but he has campaigned in all 99 Iowa counties for two years and has nothing to show for it.

At this point there is no longer a rationale for the candidacies of New York Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandSteve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination The Hill's Morning Report — Recession fears climb and markets dive — now what? King incites furor with abortion, rape and incest remarks MORE; members of Congress Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Head of flight attendants group claims 'broad support' for 'Medicare for All' among union members 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally MORE (D-Ohio), Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur MoultonNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment 2020 Democrats urge Israel to reverse decision banning Omar, Tlaib visit 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally MORE (D-Mass.) and Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment The US can't seem to live without Afghanistan 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally MORE (D-Hawaii); entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangVideo of Andrew Yang dancing to the 'Cupid Shuffle' in South Carolina goes viral The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Poll: Support for Sanders among college students reaches highest level since April MORE; spiritual self-help author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment Biden, Sanders, Warren support dips in new poll MORE; New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape CNN to host de Blasio, Bullock town halls MORE and hedge fund billionaire Tom SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally The Hill's Morning Report - Trump lauds tariffs on China while backtracking from more MORE.

If they stay in the contest, they will remain peripheral.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegVolatile presidential polls spark new round of anxieties British Bookmaker: Warren has replaced Biden as Democratic primary favorite The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE — who has been slipping lately but has an enthusiastic base, and last quarter, raised more money than any other Democrat — will likely remain in the race with the top four of Biden, Harris, Sanders and Warren.

ADVERTISEMENT

Of the others, about a half-dozen are either long shots to crack that top group or are adding to the debate. They include New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker who, while far back in the polls, had an impressive performance at the Detroit debate; former Obama Cabinet member Julián Castro; former Texas Congressman Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeHillicon Valley: O'Rourke proposal targets tech's legal shield | Dem wants public review of FCC agreement with T-Mobile, Sprint | Voters zero in on cybersecurity | Instagram to let users flag misinformation O'Rourke proposes holding tech platforms accountable for hate speech The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE, the biggest disappointment of the campaign so far; Colorado Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape The Hill's Morning Report — Recession fears climb and markets dive — now what? Hickenlooper expected to end presidential bid on Thursday MORE, who also had a strong showing last evening; Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPoll: Nearly 4 in 5 say they will consider candidates' stances on cybersecurity The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment MORE of Minnesota; and Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockBullock mocks Trump with online tool to determine if Greenland is for sale CNN to host de Blasio, Bullock town halls Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment MORE.

Sure, this is subjective. Yet it's possible to see each of them involved in the dialogue this autumn. For example, Bullock, a late entry, more than any other candidate can cite success in a Republican or red venue.

Of those who are major players, Sanders and especially Warren dominated the first debate this week. They doubled down on their expansive and expensive proposals for a government-run heath care plan — though Warren was vague on the funding — brushing aside a barrage of criticism from other candidates.

This was, however, the first concerted assault on their single-payer plan that would eliminate almost all private health insurance. This would affect, for example, a number of generous health care benefits negotiated by unions.

Organized labor is skeptical about the Sanders-Warren proposals. Because some unions in their coalition, like the nurses, are vocal proponents, top union leadership has been largely quiet. But the Biden-backing International Association of Fire Fighters union broke this week to say directly it would "find it difficult to support any candidate" who wants to eliminate the option of private plans. Labor sources said other unions are likely to weigh in. 

Barring something unexpected, like a surprise scandal or health problem, the next six weeks should be rather quiet. It will engage in full force after Labor Day — with a less unwieldly field.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.