A final debate before voting begins that has been widely and heavily criticized for its dullness and predictability should make a disturbing fact apparent to the opposition party. The Democrats’ lack of a breakout performer in their presidential primary process could last right up to the convention.
The seventh edition of a bland series of Democrat debates took place Jan. 14 in Des Moines, IA, just 20 days before the Hawkeye State caucuses officially kick off the primary voting season. It featured a tired regurgitation of the same comfortable blue talking points the candidates have been beating into the ground for some 11-12 months now. Despite being the last chance for Dem White House aspirants to make an impression before ballots are cast, the ratings cratered. Only 7.3 million Americans watched, according to the Nielson ratings. That is almost two thirds less than the 18 million people who took in the first debate in June 2019.
Tuning Out Right Before the Whistle Blows
An evaporating audience just as things should be getting exciting highlights how uninspiring the party’s attempts to field a galvanizing champion to run against incumbent President Trump have been to date. Red flags are flying, if a seemingly complacent and unfocused Dem leadership would only care to notice. A limp nominating process right up to the convention floor threatens to give way to a general election with markedly reduced enthusiasm than anticipated in the blue ranks, no matter how inspired they may be to defeat the reviled Trump. With none of the remaining candidates from what began as a bloated field of 20+ aspirants showing any signs of sweeping the party’s grassroots off its feet, the party is faced with the very likely unwelcome possibility that its ponderous march of the turtles will spill right onto the floor of the July convention in Milwaukee.
“Somebody’s got to win this thing, right?” That has been the perplexed musing of most observers struggling to unearth that one candidate with an open path to the prize. It’s just not there, and it may never be. Such a scenario would be extremely damaging to the eventual nominee, who will end up looking like he or she simply outlasted the others rather than having any kind of groundswell of support among the party at large. The optics will be terrible in the face of the genuine, enthusiastic backing Trump can count on from a base that has not lost one gigabyte of the energy it showed for the charismatic outsider of 2016, who has now been in the White House for a full three years.
Yes, Dems are united in their hatred of Trump in a way that will undoubtedly aid them in November. But being saddled with an uninspiring “guess we’re stuck with you” standard-bearer will surely undo much of that advantage. If you don’t believe in your players, all the hate in the world for the other team doesn’t matter. With a top tier that now only includes the gaffe-prone establishment dinosaur and former vice president, Joe Biden, equally aged and health-plagued surly socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and flaky and undisciplined progressive firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), it appears more likely than not that Dems will be left with a nominee most of their grassroots manifestly does not pine for.
Slow Slog at the Top
All three of these big dogs in the race have been on the campaign stump and the nationally televised debate and town hall dais for months. And none has been able to muster any clear separation from the field. They each project the same disturbingly disastrous profile: strong enough to remain for the duration and not strong enough to win outright.
It is very easy to envision Biden continuing to hang around into July due to his money and his name without ever improving on his awkward and ineffective campaign style. Sanders knows this is his last shot, and he is still bitter over his belief that he had the nomination stolen from him in 2016 by a DNC process rigged for establishment warhorse Hillary Clinton. He is in this to the bitter end. Of the three, Warren perhaps might fall out earlier, but it’s hard to see how either Biden or Sanders has the ability to facilitate that kind of a knockout blow.
If any of the remaining outlier candidates – such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) or the former mayor of South Bend, IN, Pete Buttigieg – show more lasting power than expected, so much the worse. Neither “Midwestern Nice” rival has displayed an ability to corral the Big Momentum that could propel them to multiple state primary victories. And there is no reason to believe they suddenly will. But a couple of strong results may be all they need to allow them to stay with a lumbering pack.
Unbroken stagnation is the looming nightmare for a party already lacking clarity in presenting a coherent national mission statement to the American people. Mercurial chaos can be a disruptive force in an electoral process. But interminable mediocrity can be every bit as crippling. If Dems enter the summer with Americans still asking, “Well, it’s got to be one of them. Which is it?” there will be no point in a general election. Their goose will have been cooked.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.