Only a President Biden would rid us of the Trump era

Looking ahead to 2020, one question is uppermost in the minds of Democrats: Who can beat Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE? A recent Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Democrats prioritize vanquishing Trump when making their primary decisions; only 39 percent say issues matter most. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California MORE calls the forthcoming contest a “battle for the soul of this nation.”

This dynamic has powered Biden’s candidacy. Polls show him to be the most competitive Democrat versus Trump. As Biden’s wife, Jill, recently told primary voters: “I know that not all of you are committed to my husband. . .but I want you to think about your candidate, his or her electability, and who’s going to win this race.” Forty-nine percent of Democrats say Biden has the best chance to defeat Trump; just 12 percent and 6 percent respectively give the nod to Bernie SandersBernie SandersButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California On The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings MORE and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Following school shooting, Biden speaks out: 'We have to protect these kids' MORE

Although Democrats prioritize winning, it may matter more to Republicans who beats Trump and what that would mean. The Democratic race is quickly becoming a three-person contest among Biden, Warren, and Sanders. Others may emerge, but the passage of time makes this extremely unlikely. The three contenders have different strengths. Biden stresses electability; Warren and Sanders say the next president should pursue major structural changes.

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These messages resonate with different audiences. Warren and Sanders have significant leads among young voters and those who label themselves either very liberal or liberal. Biden has large advantages among voters aged sixty-five and older and among African-Americans.

Donald Trump’s profound political weakness makes the 2020 Democratic nomination especially valuable. Today, only 29 percent say they will definitely vote to reelect Trump; 41 percent definitely will not do so. 

Who becomes president matters. As Alexander Hamilton once said, “Every vital question of state will be merged into the question, ‘Who will be the next President?’”

For Republicans, Hamilton’s query has particular relevance. If it’s a President Warren or a President Sanders, GOP opposition will quickly coalesce. Trump has been quick to brand both as socialists, saying: “Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country.”

Moreover, he has trademarked Representatives Alexander Ocasio-Cortez (D-Mass.) , Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Justice Democrats official denies that progressives struggle with electability The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race MORE (D-N.Y.) Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy Omar renews claim Stephen Miller is a 'white nationalist' amid calls for him to step down MORE (D-Minn.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy Sanders: Fighting anti-Semitism 'is very personal' MORE (D-Mich.) as symbols of today’s leftward-leaning Democratic Party, tweeting: “The Democrats were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them. That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel, and the USA! Not good for Democrats!”

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National surveys show a relatively close race. Biden beats Trump by 7 points; Sanders, 5; and Warren and Trump are tied. But an inside look at the polling shows Sanders and Warren doing less well than Biden among independents, Midwesterners and non-college educated voters. Sanders beats Trump by 8 points among independents; Midwesterners, +2 points; and noncollege educated, +1 point. Warren does worse: independents, +1 point; Midwesterners, -3 points; noncollege educated, -8 points. Biden fares far better:  independents, +8-points; Midwesterners, +5 points; and noncollege educated, + 3-points.

Each of these constituencies was crucial to Trump’s 2016 win.  He beat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' DOJ watchdog won't let witnesses submit written feedback on investigation into Russia probe: report What are Republicans going to do after Donald Trump leaves office? MORE by 5 points among noncollege educated voters; 4 points among independents; and won the crucial Midwestern states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa.

The smaller Warren and Sanders margins among these crucial voters point to a razor close finish. Such a result would cause Republicans to see it as a rejection of Trump, not the party’s conservative policies. Unlike 2012, there would be no intraparty reflection. Instead, Republicans would denounce either Sanders or Warren as modern-day socialists.

But a Biden win – thanks to those crucial independents, Midwesterners and noncollege voters – is unlikely to produce immediate Republican opposition. Biden has never been tagged as a socialist, and his moderation is in line with another popular Democrat: Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhat are Republicans going to do after Donald Trump leaves office? Krystal Ball: Patrick's 2020 bid is particularly 'troublesome' for Warren Deval Patrick: Biden 'misses the moment' in 2020 campaign MORE. Under a Biden presidency, Republicans would be more likely to undergo a period of self-examination. Moderate Republicans could find their hitherto silent voices, and Donald Trump would fade even more quickly into oblivion.

John Kenneth White is a professor of politics at The Catholic University of America. His latest book is titled “What Happened to the Republican Party?”