The kick off of calendar year 2020 indicates the official launch to the presidential election season is just weeks away. After enduring months of mostly meaningless polls, countless overcrowded debate stages and even more meaningless candidates remember Mayor Bill De Blasio’s candidacy? Neither does anyone else. It lasted less than 60 days and generated literally 0 percent support.
Some candidates, like Sen. Kamala Harris, generated high expectations and early excitement only to fail spectacularly. As the Democratic field thins down to a workable number of candidates, who has the advantage? Who will ultimately represent the Democratic Party against incumbent Republican President Trump?
For the painfully obvious answer to this question I take you back, somewhat ironically, to the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Mitt Romney, then best known as the former governor of Massachusetts, as a wildly successful businessman and as the man who guided the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, was widely recognized as the front-runner. Mr. Romney stayed at or near the top of the Republican polls throughout much of 2011.
While he ranked in the upper echelon of a fractured field of candidates, Mr. Romney’s numbers perpetually hovered around 20 percent support in those early months. Conservatives in the right wing of the GOP were less than enthralled. Skeptical would be an accurate description. The right wing kept looking for an alternative candidate. Someone with more tried and true conservative credentials than the moderate Romney. Several candidates rose to challenge Mr. Romney in the polls. First, it was Herman Cain. The dynamic former CEO of a major pizza company spent a few weeks equal or above Mr. Romney, but ultimately fell to a (likely manufactured) bimbo scandal.
Next up in the 2011 conservative lane was former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Among the most brilliant minds to ever have walked the halls of Congress, Mr. Gingrich never quite perfected the sound bite approach necessary to deliver an effective message to a short attention span public. Mr. Gingrich briefly led the field before falling back into the pack.
As each would be front-runner rose and fell, Mr. Romney continued to maintain a steady 20%+/-. The polls consitently showed him as number one, then number two, then one again. At no time did Mr. Romney ever slip back into the pack. He endured and outlasted all challengers. Eventually as the other Republicans dropped away, his numbers picked up. Mr. Romney hit 30 percent in Republican polls. Then 35 percent in Republican polls. Then 38 percent in Republican polls. All the 2011 media chatter of an unexpected face or a brokered convention faded, reality took over and Mr. Romney essentially cruised to the nomination.
Fast forward to 2020 and we see a very similar scenario unfolding in the Democrats’ pageant for the nomination of their party. Vice President Joe Biden was tagged as the early front-runner. Like Mr. Romney in 2011, Mr. Biden spent most of 2019 at the top of the polls. Like the right wing of the GOP in 2011, progressives on the far left of the Democratic Party spent enormous time and effort searching for an alternative more to their liking. They fear Mr. Biden is too old to appeal to the young Democratic-socialist movement, too white to appeal to minorities that make up such a key element in their plan for victory, and too male to appeal to feminists that backed Hillary Clinton. In short, while Mr. Biden’s poll numbers have never dipped below 20 percent, a major block of the party is looking for left-leaning options.
Ms. Harris checked both the female and the minority boxes, but after a brief surge her campaign floundered and she dropped out of the race. Elizabeth Warren railed against financially successful Americans and built a brief trip to the top of the polls on a “tax the rich” platform before drifting downward again. Openly gay Mayor Pete Buttigieg made a visit to double digits in several polls. Through it all, Mr. Biden, like Mr. Romney before him, managed to keep steady support in the low 20s. As the other candidates came and went, the former vice president has kept chugging along. His latest challenge in the Democratic polls comes from Sen. Bernie Sanders, but as much as the Republicans wish they would, the Democrats simply are not going to make a 78-year-old socialist, fresh off a heart attack (and that slightly resembles the crazy professor in “Back to the Future,” their party’s nominee for president of the United States.
Which takes us back to where we started. In 2012, though more than 75 percent of Republicans were long hesitant to buy into Mr. Romney as their choice, he persevered and became the nominee. In the general election, without the excitement and enthusiasm normally generated by the right wing of his party, Mr. Romney lost.
Roughly 75 percent of the Democrats in 2020 are hesitant to throw their support to the old, white Washington insider, yet Mr. Biden still stands atop the field. In the coming weeks as other candidacies wither, Mr. Biden’s numbers, like Mr. Romney’s in 2012, will bump up to 30 percent and then with momentum continue upward from there. He may or may not win Iowa, but truthfully that’s meaningless. Ask George Bush (1980), Gary Hart (1984) Bob Dole (1988) or Sen. Ted Cruz (2016). Mr. Sanders may win New Hampshire, but if so, it’s just the neighborly thing for voters to do.
Bottom line is that as the race gathers steam in late February and hits full pace in March, Mr. Biden’s numbers will grow and his momentum will become unstoppable. In their July convention it will be Joe Biden’s name Democrats tout as “the next president of the United States.” Like Mr. Romney before him, Mr. Biden’s ability to maintain steady support as other challengers came and went will prove to be the key to his successful nomination.
Unfortunately for Mr. Biden, there is one other similarity.
Like Mitt Romney in 2012, the early hesitance of his own party to support him will result in a lack of enthusiasm and ultimately a defeat for Joe Biden in the November general election.
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