When Joe Biden first ran for president in 1987, and ultimately dropped out amid charges of plagiarism, he was part of a Democratic primary field so belittled that it came to be known as the seven dwarfs. The party ultimately settled on Michael Dukakis, a disastrous nominee who made Republican George H.W. Bush look like Abe Lincoln in contrast.
But if you compare that much-maligned field — including Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, and Dick Gephardt — to the Democrats who ran for president in 2020, it looks like a relative Mount Rushmore.
In fact, one of the many reasons Republicans were optimistic about the prospects of Donald Trump winning a second term as president and maintaining control of the Senate in 2020 was the Democrats’ strikingly thin bench. With Barack Obama having served out his time in office and Hillary Clinton vanquished, the cupboard seemed, if not bare, at least meagerly stocked. The Democrats’ stunning decline as a national party during the Obama era, marked by the loss of more than 1,000 legislative seats across the land, had left the party bereft of talent.
As long shots paraded across the primary debate stage — Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro, Bill de Blasio et al. – loudly signaling their socialist virtue, the party was finally reduced to clearing the field for a single, seemingly unpalatable old man in obvious decline as the lone option to take down Donald Trump.
Joe Biden landed in the Oval Office only because he was handed a perfect storm of circumstances, the quintessential black swan (one-time-only) event, an election-year pandemic that provided the pretext for him to attack Trump mercilessly from the sidelines without account for the hundreds of thousands dying from COVID, while hiding his own declining mental state by sheltering at home and cashing in on dramatically liberalized mail-in balloting that produced a record harvest of Democratic votes. Biden could not have prayed for more ideal political circumstances.
But the unique confluence of events that enabled this 46th president to land in the White House masked the stubborn reality that the Democrats’ roster was woefully thin in 2020. And though few in the elite media dare discuss it — with more than three years until the next presidential election — their field is now even thinner, dangerously thin, as they face 2024. This is highlighted in the latest nationwide poll conducted by The Hill confirming that, while many Democrats effectively eliminated themselves as future candidates in the last election cycle, not a single new serious contender has emerged for 2024.
Even though Biden will be 82 years old if he decides to seek a second term, almost three-quarters of Democrats surveyed — 73% — said they would prefer Biden in the next presidential contest. Coming in at a mere 34% is the woman supposedly anointed as Biden’s successor, Kamala Harris, increasingly viewed as a failed vice president, unequal to the task of quelling the crisis on the southern border and as strikingly unappealing as during her staggeringly unsuccessful presidential campaign that hit the bricks before the first contest. Bernie Sanders, twice failed as a socialist alternative, will be 83 years old in ‘24. Elizabeth Warren, the darling of many progressives, fell flat on her face last time from the moment she tried to claim Indian heritage. Both Sanders and Warren register at below 20% for 2024.
Amy Klobuchar, who always appeared one brick shy of a load, did not even make the cut in the latest poll, nor do most of the other 2020 hopefuls who performed so poorly. O’Rourke, Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Eric Swalwell, and other fringe candidates vying for the socialist prize have been entirely marginalized. Cory Booker may hold out some hope with his 14% showing in the latest poll, but he sold out to the radical left in 2020 and can easily be depicted as extreme.
Through it all, though, the failure of their presidential candidates in 2020 is not the Democrats’ biggest problem. No, this field of dwarfs disappearing would be just fine, if there were others waiting in the wings to take their place — or if any of the ultimately failed candidates of 2020 showed long-term promise.
But there were only two upstarts, Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang, who overperformed in 2020. Buttigieg was ultimately rewarded with the position of Secretary of Transportation. And while he had a nice little run coming out of nowhere as the first gay presidential candidate, does he project as full presidential material? Yang turned some heads in 2020 but could finish no higher than fourth in the 2021 New York City mayoral primary, hardly a springboard for another run at the White House. Buttigieg comes in under 20% in the 2024 presidential preference poll, Yang at less than 10%.
The only new entries in the field are (if you want to count her as new) Michelle Obama (tied with Kamala Harris at 34%), Stacey Abrams, leftist firebrand from Georgia who has yet to hold statewide office, and full-on socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Abrams registers at 15%, AOC at 7%.
Add to that the political expiration of a man who just over one year ago was being seriously discussed as an emergency candidate for president, Andrew Cuomo. And another governor long thought to have his eyes on the White House, California’s Gavin Newsom, is facing the fight of his life in a recall election, hardly a desirable foundation for a presidential run.
Who the Democrats ultimately turn to in 2024 may have much to do with their self-awareness. Do they understand — or even accept — that outrageous political fortune shined down upon them in 2020? Or do they believe the outcome was a mandate for their increasingly left-wing agenda? If they embrace the former, they will rightly take seriously their dearth of presidential-level talent. But if they believe the latter, they will undoubtedly be headed for a mighty fall from which even their friends in elite media will not be able to save them.
Read more from Tim Donner.