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 TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' 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 BidenUkrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' Warren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll 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 SandersWarren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll The polls are asking the wrong question Sanders unveils plan to eliminate Americans' medical debt MORE and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll Warren avoids attacks while building momentum Sanders unveils plan to eliminate Americans' medical debt 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 PressleyDemocrats blast HUD for removing LGBT language from grant competition Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Omar asks Twitter what it's doing in response to Trump spreading 'lies that put my life at risk' MORE (D-N.Y.) Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarGOP Senate candidate said Republicans have 'dual loyalties' to Israel Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Omar asks Twitter what it's doing in response to Trump spreading 'lies that put my life at risk' MORE (D-Minn.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibMarkey fundraises ahead of Kennedy primary challenge The Hill's Campaign Report: De Blasio drops out | Warren gains support from black voters | Sanders retools campaign team | Warning signs for Tillis in NC Omar says she hopes Netanyahu not reelected 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 ClintonUkrainian official denies Trump pressured president The Memo: 'Whistleblower' furor gains steam Missing piece to the Ukraine puzzle: State Department's overture to Rudy Giuliani 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 ObamaKrystal Ball tears into 'Never Trump' Republicans Sanders campaign announces it contacted over 1 million Iowa voters Iowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats 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?”