Democrats have urgency, but no momentum

Democrats have urgency, but no momentum
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What the Democratic presidential race has is urgency. What it lacks is momentum.

None of the 18 Democratic candidates has been able to build increasing strength in the polls. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to provide update Monday on US response to omicron variant Restless progressives eye 2024 Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE has sustained a lead in national polls of Democrats. But Biden’s support has been slipping, not growing. There was a brief flurry of enthusiasm for Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenRestless progressives eye 2024 Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Biden eyes new path for Fed despite Powell pick MORE (D-Mass.) in the early states, but it has already faded.

The only candidate with momentum is President Donald Trump — negative momentum.

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After losing their majority in the House of Representatives in 2018, Republicans continued to lose in 2019 (Virginia legislature, Kentucky and Louisiana governors) — despite President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE’s personal pleading.

Trump told supporters in Kentucky on election eve, “If [Republicans] lose, the media are going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. You can’t let that happen to me!” It happened.

He pleaded with voters in Louisiana, “You’ve got to give me a big win, O.K.”  He got a big defeat.

The Democratic Party establishment is worried that Warren or Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersRestless progressives eye 2024 Key senators to watch on Democrats' social spending bill Five ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan MORE (I-Vt.) — candidates seen as too liberal to defeat Trump — will win Iowa and New Hampshire and gain momentum for the nomination.

A centrist candidate, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegRestless progressives eye 2024 GOP becoming a cult of know-nothings The massive messaging miscues of all the president's men (and women) MORE, has moved into the lead in Iowa. Buttigieg is a wunderkind. He’s young (37), a veteran and inexperienced in national politics. He’s also gay and married to another man. If Buttigieg were to become the Democratic nominee, Trump would never stop talking about “family values” (even though it boggles the mind to think of Trump, thrice married and a known womanizer, running on “family values”). Trump would resort to the Monty Python strategy: “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more, say no more.”

The Democratic party establishment doesn’t want to take a chance that the wrong candidate comes out of Iowa and New Hampshire with “the Big Mo.” What panicked Democrats was a New York Times-Siena College poll of six battleground states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina) that showed Trump with a slight lead over both Sanders and Warren among likely voters in almost all those states.

One Democrat came out slightly ahead of Trump in five out of the six battleground states — Joe Biden.

Biden does not fit the model of the establishment frontrunner. His fundraising lags behind that of Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg. He is not an inspiring candidate like Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden celebrates start of Hanukkah The massive messaging miscues of all the president's men (and women) 'Car guy' Biden puts his spin on the presidency MORE. Biden is running on urgency. He told a Democratic forum in Las Vegas last weekend, “The risk of nominating someone who wouldn’t beat Trump is a nation and a world our children and our grandkids wouldn’t want to live in,” adding, “I can beat Trump. I can beat him.”

Biden may not be the only Democrat running on urgency. Former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergThe economic challenges facing Jerome Powell and Joe Biden Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Democrats are sleepwalking towards electoral disaster in 2022 MORE is preparing to enter the race, but in an unconventional way. He will skip the early contests and use his vast fortune to blanket the airwaves in 14 Super Tuesday states, including California and Texas.

Bloomberg regards Trump with contempt. He told the 2016 Democratic convention, “I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one.”

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Bloomberg knows that, while a Democratic nominee does not have to be the most liberal candidate, he or she has to be acceptable to liberals. That’s why he has apologized to African-Americans for his controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy as mayor. “I was wrong,” he told a black megachurch audience in Brooklyn. “And I am sorry. I got something important really wrong.” Imagine Donald Trump saying that.

Bloomberg is not a retail politician who can relate to voters one-on-one like Biden. His style of government as mayor was elitist: Trust me — I know what I’m doing, and I know what’s good for you. Stop drinking sugary soft drinks. Don’t smoke in bars and restaurants…

It worked as long as things were going well in New York. Eventually, however, New Yorkers tired of Bloomberg’s elitism. One of them was Donald Trump, the self-styled populist. Trump said recently that “Bloomberg doesn’t have the magic to do well” — meaning Bloomberg may be respected, but he doesn’t have the devoted base Trump does.

One issue could transform the Democratic race: impeachment. If the House of Representatives votes to impeach Trump, he will go to trial in the Senate. Senators will become jurors. Like any jury, they will have to be present in the Senate chamber (the “courtroom”) for the entire trial.

Republicans control the Senate and could stretch the proceedings well into the primary season. That would limit the ability of the six Democratic senators running for president — including Sanders and Warren — to engage in the retail politics demanded by voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

What would happen if, as seems likely, the Republican Senate votes to acquit President Trump? Democratic voters would likely experience a wave of outrage. The 2020 election would be the Democrats’ one last chance to shut Trump down. Urgency would build and could turn into a surge of momentum for Biden and Bloomberg, the candidates best positioned to build a broad-based anti-Trump coalition.

In the debate Wednesday night, Sanders cautioned his fellow Democrats, “We cannot simply be consumed by Donald Trump … We need to bring our people together not just in opposition to Donald Trump.” Actually, Trump is the best issue Democrats have.

Bill Schneider is a professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and author of ‘Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable (Simon & Schuster).