Democrats' worst scenario: Nominating an uncompetitive far-left candidate

Democrats are headed for a worst scenario: Nominating an uncompetitive far-left candidate. Doing so would amplify their 2016 debacle, when Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Even the Post Office is political now | Primary action tonight | Super PACS at war Should Biden consider a veteran for vice president? Biden leads Trump by nearly 40 points in California: poll MORE helped Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary MORE win. So far, it looks like Democrats could do 2016 one better — for Trump, not themselves. 

According to RealClearPolitics’ latest average of national polling on the Democrat contenders, the results differ almost imperceptibly from its average just prior to the first Democrat debates. The top eight have not changed positions and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Biden offers well wishes to Lebanon after deadly explosion MORE still leads Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE (I-Vt.) by roughly 2-to-1. Changes to individual candidate totals are also relatively minor: Biden and Sanders have dropped by roughly 1 point each, while Warren has gained almost 3 points. 

Yet, within these small changes, big repercussions loom for the Democrats. 


Consensus holds that Biden had a bad first debate, but a better second one. Still, he is going backward. More importantly, the establishment Democrats he represents are too. Prior to the first debate, the establishment (represented by Biden, Bullock, Delaney and Hickenlooper) collectively had 33.2 percent support; it is now at 32.2 percent. That means other establishment Democrats did not capture Biden’s lost support.  

It was not only establishment Democrats who fell, “undecideds” did too. Prior to the first debate, the RealClearPolitics’ averages did not account for 11.8 percent of Democrats; now that figure is 10.6 percent. 

While the establishment and undecideds shrank, the left of the Democrats’ field — everyone but “the establishment four” — have gained. Prior to the first debate, the left already held a collective 55 percent of support. Now, they hold 57.2 percent.

These trends point to several conclusions. 

Effectively, there is no establishment candidate but Biden, and his support is not growing. Were there a viable Democrat establishment, it would be logical any supporters he lost would go to another candidate: They are not. Biden’s loss is also the establishment’s loss.


Nor are other Democrats seeking to compete in this space — despite this side of the field being uncrowded. Instead of candidates on the left looking to come here and pick up Biden’s supporters, they are staying on the left — and the establishment’s supporters are coming to them. The undecideds are too. 

If two debates have not changed the leftward dynamic of the Democrat contest — but instead, reinforced it — it begs the question: What will?

Despite saying that beating Trump was the top priority, and that Biden was best positioned to capture the moderates needed to do so, Democrats clearly want a nominee from their left. 

As candidates on the left drop out, as they surely will, there is no reason to believe that their supporters will go to Biden — much less any of the other establishment nonentities. Biden is the only establishment alternative and he is weakening, not gaining. 

Nor are undecideds likely to look in Biden’s direction, because they have not thus far. Their early ennui makes perfect sense. Biden is entirely “known”; he is the most known candidate in the field. Yet, even with a confusing crowd on the left and no other competition in the establishment, Biden is not gaining them. There is a stronger argument that the left’s crowd is the reason for undecideds’ indecision than for a lack of information on Biden.  


Democrats may need an establishment candidate to maximize their chances of beating Trump, but they clearly do not want one. One look at 2016 shows how hard they are making things for themselves.

According to 2016 exit polling, Clinton won 52 percent of moderates, yet still lost. Clinton was the quintessential establishment Democrat. How then is a Democrat from the left likely to attract even as much center support as Clinton did? Arguably, Democrats will need to attract more — perhaps significantly more as Trump does even better with conservatives this time. 

To external view, Democrats’ debates have changed nothing; internally they show that everything is changing. It is debatable whether the remaining debates, or actual voting, will change things. What is not debatable is that Democrats are bent on changing themselves. 

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.