Joe Biden versus Elizabeth Warren may be the ultimate primary battle

Joe Biden versus Elizabeth Warren may be the ultimate primary battle
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To analyze the Democratic debates, you need to shed all conventional wisdom. My prediction system, “The Keys to the White House,” which has accurately forecast the outcome of every presidential election since 1984, including 2016, shows that conventional punditry has zero predictive value. The only way that a challenging party like the Democrats can help themselves in a nomination is by choosing a charismatic inspirational candidate such as Barack Obama in 2008 or Ronald Reagan in 1980.

To start with, strike the word “electability” from your political vocabulary. In an exchange on CNN, Michael Smerconish delivered the conventional wisdom that the Democratic primary contest is “all about electability.” Yet, even astute pundits like Smerconish and smart party leaders have no clue about who is truly electable. The Democrats believed they had anointed electable, experienced, and qualified candidates with Michael Dukakis in 1988, Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

What those candidates have in common is that they lost. Do not believe that the Democrats have to stop their infighting to beat Donald Trump. Recent history proves that tough primary struggles only hurt the White House party, which has responsibility for governing, not the challenging party. The Republicans won back the White House in 2016 despite a brawl among more than a dozen primary contenders. The Democrats claimed victory in 2008 after the bruising battle between Obama and Clinton.


Finally, New York Times columnist Thomas Freedman is dead wrong when he says that the Democrats must choose between progressive policies that appeal to their base or beating Trump with a moderate nominee. Ideology and issues are in fact terrible predictors of election results. At this point during the 1980 cycle, advisers to President Carter had assured him that the charming prospective Republican nominee Reagan was much too extreme to win a general election. Yet, Reagan won the popular tally in 1980 by almost 10 points and secured 91 percent of the electoral vote. Four years later, Democratic nominee Walter Mondale led Reagan on most issues in the polls but won only 13 electoral votes.

Under my prediction system, six negative keys are needed to defeat the White House party. President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE is down only three keys due to the midterm losses, lack of foreign policy success, and his appeal to a narrow slice of the electorate. If the Democrats grow a spine and vote for articles of impeachment, that would topple a fourth key, the scandal key. With Trump still two keys short of a defeat, the nomination of a charismatic candidate and the turning of another key against him could be essential to a Democratic victory next year. Other keys could still fall if the economy turns sour, Trump faces a serious Republican primary challenger, a major third party candidate emerges, or the country suffers a disaster abroad.

Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Hillary Clinton tears open wound with her attack on Sanders MORE has emerged with the most inspirational appeal. She is passionate, feisty, and smart. Moreover, she will not take any guff from Trump. Among the front runners, Joe BidenJoe BidenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump says impeachment lawyers were 'really good' MORE is a solid and credentialed candidate who fared much better in the second debate than in the first debate. But he still seemed shaky at times and fits the model of similar losing Democratic candidates. Bernie Sanders had inspirational appeal in 2016, but Warren has now outshined him. Harris showed strong potential in the first debate, but this time around the other candidates, particularly Tulsi Gabbard, put her on the defensive and she did not respond well.

Biden will retain considerable support among voters, especially African Americans who will likely comprise at least a quarter of the Democratic primary electorate. My prediction is that this will ultimately become a race between Biden and Warren. My advice to voters is to ignore traditional notions of electability and vote for the candidate that they believe in.

Allan Lichtman is an election forecaster and distinguished professor of history at American University. Follow him on Twitter @AllanLichtman.