In the year prior to a presidential election, Thanksgiving is usually when primary races for party nominations begin to come into focus. Donors have had most of the year to assess the candidates and the voters are starting to pay attention. The first test is a little over two months away, so all of the candidates have their people in the field. The boots on the ground test is one of those unofficial measures that tell us something about the organic and financial support for each candidate.
According the polls, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the favorite to win the Iowa caucus, currently polling at 25%. Warren and Sanders are tied for second at a little under 20% each, while Biden is at 12%. The Iowa caucus is not a great predictor, but it does tend to winnow the field. That means the four plausible candidates at the moment are the four at the top of the polls. The rest of the field is in low single digits. Mayor Bloomberg does not appear to be running in the state at this point.
New Hampshire has always been the bellwether and the numbers there tell us it is a four human race as well. The latest polls have Warren, Buttigieg, Sanders and Biden clustered together in the teens. Tulsi Gabbard is the only minor candidate showing any support, which bears watching. New Hampshire has a habit of elevating a minor candidate when the leaders appear weak. Gabbard is the chaos option for frustrated voters in the state. Bloomberg could also be an option.
Nevada and South Carolina are where Biden finds the most support. He leads the polls in both states, mostly on the brown vote. Biden’s support for Obama has turned into what appears to be unshakable support from non-whites. It is too early to tell if that is legitimate, but so far, he looks like the only option for blacks. Maybe after weak showings in Iowa and New Hampshire blacks abandon him. Voters tend to cluster around a winner, even if the winner is not their first choice.
What we have thus far is a field of candidates that all look like second and third tier players in a normal election. They are boutique options, appealing to a narrow slice of the party, while not appealing to the broader party. Buttigieg, for example, is popular with boozy wine aunts, but wildly unpopular with blacks. Warren is popular with the power women, but very unpopular with men. Biden, of course, is popular with blacks, but the rest of the party thinks it is time for his nap.
This is why Bloomberg has jumped into the race. He is a nasally weirdo from another planet, but he has enough money to buy the election. Despite being a very odd little guy, he is more normal than the other options. He can also offer the rage heads in the party an option that will fight Trump on his turf. Bloomberg will outspend Trump and he will be every bit as abrasive. The symmetry of two New York billionaires screaming at one another in 2020 could be too much to resist for Democrats.
Of course, what this suggests is the Democrats have no political talent in their ranks, which is why they have a field full of weirdos. It’s also a field of geezers. Warren, Sanders and Biden are in their 70’s. The younger options in the field are devoid of natural political talent and exist only because the donor class has to hire someone to play these roles. The Democrat primary is like a Broadway musical pulling people from the crowd, because they are short of professional performers.
In some respects, the Democrats are experiencing what the Republicans experienced in the 2016 cycle. It was a field full of nondescript nothings. It was why Trump won and why Bloomberg has a chance this time. In the 2016 debates, it looked as if all of the other candidates were in black and white, while Trump was in color. Voters could overlook all of his issues, because he was the only human option. That could be what gets Bloomberg a shot to win, assuming he gets on stage.
The bigger picture suggests the political system is in rapid decline. This generation of politicians has been in power for thirty years. They have done nothing to develop the next generation. In fact, they have prevented the talented from entering the system, in order to avoid the competition. The result is the next generation in the system is even more deranged and bizarre than the boomer generation. If Buttigieg is the future of democratic politics, democracy is on life support.
That’s what we are seeing. The political class is not a reflection of the people. That’s not how democracy works. They are a reflection of the system that recruits and develops the politicians. The reason the quality of candidate is in decline is the system itself is in decline. Both parties are now controlled by narrow interests at odds with the general public and needs of the country. The reason the general election will feature two septuagenarians is the system is running on fumes.
This is what decline is like. People on this side of the great divide like to think the end will be dramatic collapse or tanks in the streets, but that’s unlikely. Instead, it will be fits and starts down the uneven stairs of cultural decline. Trump is one of those steps with a long tread. The next few steps will have high risers and short treads. At some point, elections just stop happening either due to lack of interest or the inability of the political class to stage these made for television dramas.
At some point, a crisis will come and the public will have no confidence in the political class to address it. Some faction within the political class will use that to seize power and take control of the system. A temporary suspension of elections will slowly become permanent, as order is restored. America will no longer have the demographics or cultural will to operate the old system. The next step down is some form of authoritarian rule that manages the decline a bit better than the chaos of democracy.
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