Why Joe Biden (or any moderate) cannot be nominated

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Party demographics argue strongly against establishment Democrats’ hopes for a moderate 2020 nominee.  The key to American presidential politics is winning the center; however, the key to winning today’s Democratic nomination is winning the left.  Thus to aim at America’s center, establishment Democrats would have to avoid a majority of their own party by beating their left.  

Joe Biden is Democrats’ flavor of the moment. He has an extensive history of party and national service, including as vice president. This means that in an unknown field likely to be populated by comparative unknowns, he stands out and is frequently listed as Democrats’ top 2020 presidential pick.

{mosads}Establishment Democrats would love nothing more than for this to happen and Biden to fill Clinton’s 2016 role of representing them.  The problem is, it will not. Biden is stronger in theory than in primary, because Democrats’ establishment is as well: Liberals are the party’s majority.   

According to the latest Gallup poll, liberals now make up 51 percent of Democrats. Since 1994, when liberals and conservatives each comprised 25 percent of Democrats, liberals have doubled and conservatives fallen by half to just 13 percent.  

Just since 2016, liberals have increased from 48 to 51 percent of Democrats. This is significant not only for the rapid growth, but what we can extrapolate from it. In 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) went the distance against Hillary Clinton, Democrats’ moderate establishment candidate. In his improbable and impressive run, according to Real Clear Politics’ count he won 45.6 percent of awarded delegates.  

If Gallup’s 2016 estimate that 48 percent of Democrats were liberals is correct, this means Sanders delegate count roughly translates into winning 95 percent of them! What that could mean for 2020 is chilling for Democrats pulling for another moderate establishment standard bearer. 

Assuming another moderate establishment versus liberal nomination contest, a liberal winning 95 percent of the now 51 percent liberals would approximate winning 48.5 percent of Democratic voters. A moderate such as Biden would have to sweep every other primary voter simply to keep pace. Should liberals increase by another 3 percent between now and 2020 — as they did between 2016 and today — then a moderate could not win, even with full backing of all other Democratic primary voters. 

This also disregards the demographic hurdle Biden would have to face: Old, white, and male. It is virtually impossible seeing today’s Democratic Party, dominated by identity-group politics, making such a pick. The argument that Sanders fit just that description further reinforces liberals’ Democratic domination: Sanders was only able to do what he did by relying on consolidated left support and running “to make a statement,” rather than win. No Democrat seriously seeking the nomination now can follow Clinton’s course and concede an opponent the Democratic left.  

Any moderate’s only chance would be to hope that several candidates split the left’s support. This would still be a very tight thing. It would have to last a long time — long enough to enable a moderate to win enough delegates to secure the nomination before the left coalesced around a single candidate, as it did in 2016. At 51 percent, once a candidate becomes the left’s choice, that candidate will rapidly win delegates.  

The moderate’s final blow will be the recent change to super delegate voting. No longer, can a block of establishment delegates shift the nomination after the fact, or influence primary voters beforehand. In 2016, Clinton had a 602 to 48 advantage over Sanders in superdelegates. In 2020, new rules changes mean superdelegates cannot vote on the first ballot.  

The hurdle has simply become too high for a moderate to clear for 2020’s Democratic nomination.  

First, it would take a candidate who could run the gauntlet of identity-group politics. Hillary Clinton did it in 2016, but consider the unique circumstances. She was a woman who had been on the Democrats’ highest platform for a quarter of a century. That neither comes along every day, nor can it be replicated overnight. Biden could match the resume, but not the gender.  

Second and more importantly, a moderate would have to be essentially perfect in the primaries to lock up virtually the entire non-liberal Democratic minority. And if the polling is correct, that minority is continuing to shrink.  

{mossecondads}This means a moderate would have to draw liberals from a liberal candidate — but why would liberals abandon their ideological preference for a candidate who is not readily apparent? Or it means that a moderate candidate has to hope that the Democratic left splits, allowing themselves to be thwarted.  However, with Democratic primaries’ largely proportional representation, even a left split would not send a disproportionate number of delegates to a moderate winner — gone is the winner-take-all system of yesteryear.  

The result is that a moderate winning the Democratic nomination is about as remote as a moderate winning the Republican one.  For Americans, this means that they can expect an ideologically polarized election and a clear choice between left and right.  For the parties, this means that both will likely have to focus on the personal attributes of their opponents in hopes of appealing to moderates, because both parties’ candidates will ideologically be on either side of them.  

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 1987-2000.

Tags 2020 campaign Bernie Sanders Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton J.T. Young Joe Biden

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