Could 2020 be 2016 on steroids in the primaries?


Nam-myoho-renge-kyo   Meditation enlightenment chant

Calm your mind grasshopper, there are many long miles to go until this journey is complete. Or maybe not. Seems to me that we’ve been down this road before, and it turned out to be more of a trip to the mall than a cross country trek.

Back in October of 2015, two and a half months before the Iowa caucuses, I posted an article online at Daily Kos, where I predicted that the GOP nomination was Trump’s for the taking. There was no crystal ball required (sorry Marianne Williamson), it was simple math. There were 17 candidates in the GOP field, and Trump was running in the high 20’s to low 30’s, and nobody else was even in double digits. Most, if not all of the early GOP primary states were “winner take all” primaries, which meant that Trump could bank all of the primary delegates from those states with only around 32% of the vote. This would allow him to amass such a huge delegate lead that by the time the field winnowed down, he would be almost impossible to catch. That’s what happened in real time.

The problem with a large, unwieldy field is that if a single candidate jumps out to a big lead in the polls, especially in early primary states, he’s halfway there. Because, when people start to drop out, it won’t be the ones closest to the front runner, it will be the ones farthest behind. And when they do drop out, their 1-2% isn’t going to help anybody above them appreciably cut into the front runners lead. And while that culling out process continues, the front runner keeps banking early primary state delegates.

I am seeing the same dynamic at play so far in the 2020 Democratic primaries, but with even ore exaggerated implications. There are 24 active candidates as we speak, and well more than half of them are polling at under 4%, most of them at 1-2%. Again, the dropping out of any of these candidates, even two or three at a time are not going to help a second tier candidate to make much of a push upwards. And while in this case, there are other candidates in double digits, namely Sanders, Warren, and in some polls Harris, Biden is near or over double digit leads against them, and 1-2% isn’t going to close the gap much.

There are a couple of other factors in play here that weren’t present in the GOP primaries of 2016, and they are going to work against anybody whose last name isn’t Biden. First of all is the trajectory of the primary itself. In most primaries, they are basically popularity contests to start with, between the personas of the individual candidates, as well as their positions on issues. That doesn’t seem to hold true as much this time. Persistent polling shows that the #1 issue for Democratic primary voters is finding the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump. As the front runner, Biden is already perceived as having the best shot at beating His Lowness, and any other candidate is going to have to prove that they’re a better option, which is going to be difficult to do unless Biden implodes on his own.

And that dynamic plays into another similar aspect. Americans love a winner. In a normal primary, a voter who supports Andrew Yang might find themselves gravitating to, say, a Kamala Harris rather than Biden, and then to Elizabeth Warren if Harris drops out. But this time, with the crushing imperative being to defeat Donald Trump, voters whose preferred candidate drops out may look at the polls, and decide to just back the front runner, abbreviate the whole process, and get on with the business at hand.

The next difference between 2020 and 2016 that could accelerate the process is the Democratic primaries themselves. In a normal primary season, there are several weekly primaries scheduled, leading up to “Super Tuesday,” normally in late March or early April, with several states all voting on the same day. But the Democrats shortened that leash this year, Super Tuesday is on March the freakin 3rd! And it isn’t just Super Tuesday, this is the Cujo of super Tuesdays, with delegate cows like California and Texas on it. If Biden remains the front runner, and he does well in the early primaries, winning say Ohio, New Hampshire, and either South Carolina or Nevada, and then rides that momentum into Super Tuesday and cleans up major, it may well no longer matter much who drops out and when, Biden’s delegate lead could be hard to overcome.

There is one more dynamic here that would play a starring role in the 2020 Democratic primaries, and those are super delegates. Following Bernie Sanders most proper shit fit over super delegates tilting the field against him in 2016 by largely coming out en masse for Clinton even before the primaries had begun, the DNC reformed the super delegate process. In 2020, they are prohibited from declaring support for any candidate while the primaries are gong on, and they will not vote in the first round at the convention. But they are still there, waiting in the wings. Super delegates are by their nature, mostly DNC establishment types, DNC members, state party chairs, that kind of thing. If the Democratic establishment decided Biden is their best hope, then it can be assumed that the majority of super delegates will back Biden if they get a chance to vote. Sanders legitimate 2016 gripes aside, this is nothing new. In 2008, the vast majority of super delegates were firm Clinton supporters, it was only after Barack Obama proved that he could wrest the nomination that those super delegates made it official and switched their allegiance. But it was hard work then, and it won’t be any easier now.

No, I am not predicting today that the Democratic nomination in 2020 is Joe Biden’s for the losing. Hell, it’s only August, not October, and Biden has proven repeatedly in the past that he can trip over his own shoelaces in a critical moment. But the 2020 primaries are eerily similar to the mechanics that were at play on the GOP side in 2016, and in 2020, the possibility is there that it could unfold even more quickly than it did in 2016.

The secret to longevity in the 2020 Democratic primaries is going to be the size of the field. In 2016, there were only Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton competing, and their primary went well past Trump sealing up the GOP nomination, not even counting Sanders insistence in completing the calendar. If the Democrats want these primaries to go into late April or May, then these second and third tier candidates are going to have to put their egos in the foot locker, take one for the team, and get out quickly. Endorse another candidate by all means, but bring the field down to no more than 3-4 candidates. But if whomever survives wants to pose a credible challenge to the front runner, then they’re going to have to be within 3-4 points in most polls, not languishing behind by 8-10 points. Because I have a strong feeling that the Democratic primary base is going to have a very short patience span. By no later than South Carolina, if there isn’t a strong two horse race, primary voters are going to want to get this over with and start working over The Orange Julius. And they may well switch allegiances to expedite that process. Don’t touch that dial.

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  1. This is why I don’t like the debate schedule/qualifications the DNC came up with. I have little doubt that by the time the qualification period for Sept. is over we will still have at least ten candidates on the stage. Even with only eight or nine it’s not so much a debate that allows for some actual back & forth discussion but rather a “Charlie Fox” with a good five or six candidates that have NO chance of getting the nomination jumping up and down like toddlers interrupting the adults & shouting “look at me. LOOK AT ME!!!!!”

    Once upon a time in our election primary season there were fringe candidates who knew they didn’t have a chance but tried to push one issue. That was a different time and a different information distribution environment. Of course, there are always people who delude themselves into thinking they can come up with some magic phrase to catapult them not only into real contention but the nomination itself. Again, once upon a time campaigns didn’t really kick in in a serious way until the summer before the primaries. Now we have people campaigning in early states literally years out. And not only 24 hour news networks but now social media which allows direct outreach to voters. THAT provides “dream on” hopefuls with that longest of shots hope of “going viral” on social media AND having it last more than a few days with mainstream media.

    It’s difficult for someone with a large enough ego to mount a campaign and invest so much time and effort to admit they have no chance. It’s also true that folks who have some connections and ability to run but no real chance yet try anyway have been around forever. And not only not give up when thwarted but even scheme behind the scenes to damage the person(s) who thwarted their ambition. A good example I think is Salmon P. Chase back when Lincoln was President. Lincoln was frequently exasperated by Chase’s ambitions and having to cut the dude’s legs out from under him periodically, and reportedly said something to the effect that once the Presidential grub starts to gnaw on a man it will continue to do so for the rest of his life.

    The refusal to accept it’s not going to happen and gracefully step aside, or even that one shouldn’t get into the race in the first place is troublesome to be sure. And it’s particularly worrisome when a second or third place candidate who has no chance of catching the front-runner by say mid-April refuses to concede and carries on to the bitter end like Clinton did in 2008 (which hurt Obama some but fortunately not fatally) and Bernie did against Clinton (who had to have bitter nightmares r.e. the what goes around comes back around thing) in 2016 – which DID hurt her and probably enough to put Trump in office. I get that they wanted, even felt they’d earned their big moment at the convention, an evening about THEM which is supposed to allow them the spotlight but more importantly have them push the spotlight to the actual nominee. It usually doesn’t end well for the nominee. I also recall Teddy Kennedy’s defiance in 1980 on his big night and we wound up with Reagan. Bush 41 could certainly have done without Pat Buchannon’s big speech.

    Modern polling it pretty damned good these days and operations for early states have good models to work with. I truly believe after all the visits to the early states that if someone isn’t at least near or above double digits in at least one of those states they never will be, don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell and should drop the fuck out to clear decks. That way the ones who do can have some serious back and forth and as the fall progresses primary voters can see enough comparisons and learn enough about various things other than their personal opinion on whether their preferred candidate can win the general to make an informed choice. That’s especially true this year because there are upper tier candidates on either side of the moderate/progressive divide.

    I don’t know if you share the same fear but my big worry is that given the logjam and the dynamics you’ve laid out we could find ourselves with a virtual nominee in the first week of March – and wind up with a huge case of buyer’s remorse by the end of the process and someone officially becoming the presumptive nominee due to have crossed the threshold in delegate count.

  2. Sounds good to me. Unless the Bern decides to go all I-wuz-robbed again and starts trashing Biden up one side and down the other until July. I’m hopeful the absolute necessity of defeating the current POS will unify 98 percent of our voters this time, though. There will always be the two percent that’s simply too pure, of course.

    • It’s a lot harder to pull that shit when you’re running 10 or more points behind, and in 4rd place in most polls…

  3. I am so tired of the talk about how “Bernie was right” when it came to the issue of superdelegates. The REAL reason the supers supported Clinton so overwhelmingly in 2016? Bernie Sanders. The man was PLAYING a Democrat rather than BEING a Democrat. Clinton, on the other hand, was the wife of a Democratic Governor, then the wife of a Democratic President and, when she finally ran for public office on her own, she ran AS A DEMOCRAT–and served as a Democratic Senator from New York for 8 years before serving as the Secretary of State to a Democratic President (who had defeated her for the Democratic nomination in 2008, after he’d been elected AS A DEMOCRAT and served as one in both the Illinois Legislature and then the US Senate). What was Bernie? An INDEPENDENT whose OFFICIAL Senate page referred to him with (I) in EVERY SINGLE piece of Senate legislation that he sponsored or co-sponsored.
    If Sanders had bothered, before the Iowa caucus, to go before the cameras and declare, “From this day forward, I am proud to be a full-fledged Democrat” (or words to that effect), he might have pulled in far more superdelegate support than he ever got. (Ironically, once he ran for the nomination, he became that which he was so dismissive of: A Superdelegate.)
    And the fact that he PROMISED, after losing the nomination, that he would run in ALL future elections as a Democrat (with the “I was elected by Vermont voters as an Independent so I can’t switch in the middle of my term” as if Vermont voters were so stupid as to think he would suddenly become a different person or cast his votes any differently than he’d been doing while caucusing with the Democrats), when he reneged on that vow during his re-election bid in 2018, that should’ve been the end of Bernie Sanders’ affiliation with anyone with any sort of power in the DNC.
    The superdelegates were first established as a way of keeping “extremists” from becoming selected following McGovern’s dramatic defeat in 1972 (and McGovern was one of the leading supporters of the superdelegate movement). McGovern realized that his platform was a bit too far left-of-center for the majority of voters or even the majority of Democrats. (His nomination came when most states didn’t hold primaries as we know them now–only about 1/4 of all states held party primary elections for the Presidential race. And those that did usually saw the “die-hard” party supporters get out to vote.) Having members of the “old Guard” holding some power over the wishes and whims of a vocal and active base wanting a proverbial pony in every backyard (when most voters would realize that’s a lot of care and upkeep to deal with) was meant to keep some semblance of “practicality over purity” within the system. (And, of the three presidents elected since the superdelegate system was finalized, not a one of them started off with any significant support from the superdelegates when the campaign began.)
    Also, let’s recall that Sanders wanted to make all sorts of changes to the way the party primaries and caucuses were run. As an “Independent,” he’s never had to deal with anything other than the general election. He declares he’s running; he files his fees; BOOM! he’s on the general ballot. (Of course, many states have much tougher requirements so ballot access may not be as easy. In some states, running as an Independent also requires gaining a substantial number of signatures on a formal petition so you may pay your fee but then you don’t get on the ballot because you come up short a few hundred or few thousand of the necessary signatures.) But, then he says he wants EVERYONE to be able to cast a vote in a state’s Democratic primary just because they show up that day, even in states where you have to formally affiliate with a party to participate in the primary or you have to be registered to vote so many days/weeks/months before the election in which you wish to vote (and his New York supporters who were so stupid as to not realize they hadn’t verified their registration status six months prior to the election–the State, as I understand it, requires you be registered, or verify your status, six months prior to an election–bug me the most; some actually said, as a defense, they didn’t know in October of 2015 that Bernie was going to run, as if that’s a sensible stand to take if you’re REALLY claiming to be “politically active”).
    Sanders ran as a Democrat in 2016 for one reason, and one reason only: Vanity. He ADMITTED he couldn’t get elected as an Independent or with a third-party and the Democratic Party was his best chance. And this year, the Dems are letting him get away with it again. He’s not been required to become a REAL Democrat (rather than “playing one on TV”) before running or even getting invited to the debates or getting on the ballots. Fortunately, I live in Alabama so if, by some quirk of fate, Bernie is the nominee, my vote for another candidate (most likely a write-in) would be wasted just as much as voting for Bernie–but my own soul won’t be consigned to Political Hell.

    • Exactly. And the DNC caving to Bernie on the super delegates gave him a talking point which he is STILL flogging (he mentioned this in Iowa just a few months ago) to keep driving his supporters’ insistence that the primary was “rigged.” (I got into an argument with someone about this at my friend’s garden center on Sunday). I know MANY Hillary supporters who pulled their recurring donations to the DNC based on its pandering to Bernie’s accusations, especially after the so-called “unity” tour in the spring of 2017 where Tom Perez went around the country holding events with Bernie and ONLY Bernie — how do you “unify” one side of a contentious primary without the other even being represented — and suffering abject humiliation on national TV when he sat next to Bernie while Bernie declared he was an independent, not a Democrat. Right there, his people should have been ejected from the group rewriting the primary rules instead of pandered to.

      You know who else needs to be ejected from the Idiohio roster of DNC members, which I will take up with chairman David Pepper next time I see him? Nina Turncoat! Eight days before the 2016 general election she went on national TV and when the interviewer said to her “You supported Bernie in the primary, but now you’re supporting Hillary,” she jumped in and said “I’m not supporting anyone in this election.” That should be grounds for her removal.

      • I agree abou tthe talking point, but MY point was that regardless of WHO the candidates are, having super delegates come out in support of ANY candidate before the primaries are even run so skews the projected delegate count to the super delegate favorite that voters for other candidates may just give up and not even bother showing to vote, feeling that it’s an exercise in futility…

  4. “In 2016, there were only Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton competing, and their primary went well past Trump sealing up the GOP nomination, not even counting Sanders insistence in completing the calendar.”

    And does anyone else remember how Sanders’ supporters were almost unanimous in demanding the calendar be completed, even as many of the same people were those most strongly denouncing Hillary’s “completing the calendar” in 2008?
    And, I would remind folks that Obama needed the “superdelegates” to win and secure his nomination. Without the supers, Obama just barely cracked the 50% mark, and for most of the season, Obama never really had any sort of massive lead that would (nor, in fact, did) merit the demands that Clinton withdraw from the race. By Feb 1, calls from the DNC for Clinton to withdraw were already being put out but Obama’s “pure” delegate lead was just 15 (and since Edwards’ delegates were still officially pledged to him even though he’d withdrawn, Obama had only 46%). After the major Super Tuesday, Obama only had a 13-delegate lead on the day and his overall percentage barely ticked upwards. After the other February contests, he pulled a bit further away (a +119 delegate lead over Clinton) but was still under the 50% mark by quite a bit. In March, he only got a +5 delegate lead, and that was mainly due to Texas having that primary AND caucus (Clinton got a +4 majority of the primary delegates while Obama got a +9 majority of the caucus delegates; however, there were claims of irregularities with the caucuses–mostly from Clinton supporters–that were never followed up, claims such as being told the wrong place to go or being turned away from the precinct) but, the numbers were looking at Obama’s being able to clear the 50% margin easily–and they might have if there hadn’t been a 6-week break in the calendar. Pennsylvania held its primary in mid-April and Clinton won, gaining a +12 delegate move and it would only be after winning North Carolina (+19 delegates) in early May that gave Obama the real chance to clinch the nomination (if based solely on “pledged” delegates). And, only after winning Oregon two weeks later did he actually have enough pledged delegates to put him over (just slightly) the threshold–but he STILL needed the supers (and, it was during May that Obama actually picked up enough supers that he could deny Clinton the nomination even if she had overwhelming wins in the few remaining primaries and prevailed in the Florida-Michigan delegate fight).

    • And Hillary conceded 12 weeks before the convention. Bernie conceded only TWO weeks before, and only told his supporters that their misapprehension that it was an “open” convention from which either candidate could emerge the winner was false the day before the convention started. That directly led to their appalling and hurtful behavior at the convention which is causing division here to this day.

    • Yes…yes I remember the calendar completion. Because California was almost last, which usually means a mellow primary, but in this case it was a poop show.

      First, the Sanders side launched at least five lawsuits. For example, an indie voter gets a voter guide asking which ballot they want months in advance, then they get that ballot with instruction on how to ask for a different ballot, then they can still go trade it in on Election Day for whatever ballot they want. But somehow this was “disenfranchisement” because if a voter asked for a specific ballot nobody steps in to say “do you really, really want that ballot?” All the lawsuits were dropped.

      Then there was the crapstorm over exit polls vs results…when the “results” were an incomplete count of like 60% of the vote after Election Day.

      Then there were the accusations that our long counting process…which expands the franchise…was a conspiracy against Sanders.

      Then the “conspiracy” that our Sec State supported Clinton.

      The conspiracy that Sanders lost San Francisco when he’s so obviously popular there.

      The conspiracy that there were so many provisional ballots…which is more or less how all indie votes end up.

      The conspiracy where we ran out of Dem ballots in many precincts, and every single voter still got to vote but had to use a provisional…which differs by like four effing words on the cover.

      The conspiracy that California didn’t conduct a full recount…which was requested by nobody and wasn’t warranted when the automatic audits showed zero issues.

      The conspiracy that poll workers didn’t offer indie voters a Dem ballot…which is a violation of law because obviously we don’t want poll workers encouraging votes for either Dem.

      That’s a partial list. For a primary conducted AFTER Clinton had won, where Sanders needed >80% of the vote to change anything. It was absurd.

  5. I really like freedom of speech. Call me silly. So I’m kinda hoping that some wily Super Delegate will tell the AP in confidentiality they’re for “anyone but Bernie,” then when the AP reports that others start doing it and we end up with an “anyone but Bernie” count. It’s not that I oppose Sanders that much, or think that’s an effective way to oppose him because it’d be a mess. But his desire to control others and the press feels a bit too authoritarian, and I think he could use a constitutional spanking, lol.

    In all seriousness, though, I’m opposed to aspects of the super delegate rule because I feel that as a voter I have a right to ask my elected officials and party leaders who they endorse, and if they want to share that I should be able to use it to inform my opinion. In a complex election it really does matter to me what the people I look up to think. I’ve spent my entire adult life revering Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein. They know so much more than me, that if they had an opinion over whether Warren or Harris were stronger, I’d take that into consideration.

    So I didn’t see Sanders’ fit as entirely proper. I see it as a way for him to benefit in a way that denies voters information. If I want that info, and the people who are in a position to offer advice want to give it, then I see it as a moral wrong for him to shut down that conversation.

    • Everything Bernie & his supporters demanded is only to benefit Bernie, not the fairness of the process. He lost all moral authority when, after endlessly demonizing the superdelegates, he demanded they overturn the will of the voters and endorse him because, ya know, he’s just so super-special.


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