Uphill Battle for Dems as GOP Field Dwindles

Debra J. Saunders
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Posted: Sep 22, 2015 12:01 AM
Uphill Battle for Dems as GOP Field Dwindles
Democratic partisans have been rubbing their hands with glee as billionaire Donald Trump's antics have dominated the Republican primary. I hope they're enjoying themselves, because they soon may find themselves in their own world of hurt.

While pundits have been shaking their heads at Trump's many gaffes, Gallup released a poll that found presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is underwater; more Americans view her unfavorably (51 percent) than favorably (41 percent). President Barack Obama also is underwater. The Democratic nominee is no shoo-in.

Democratic graybeard Darry Sragow sees the Clinton playbook as predetermined: "The fundamental strategy of that campaign has got to be to knock the Republican candidate senseless." To the extent that Clinton has to defend her own avoidable baggage -- the controversy over her use of a personal email account as secretary of state only serves to remind voters of the Clinton penchant for highly avoidable scandal over the decades -- her team will have less time to clobber the GOP nominee. Quoth Sragow: "For the Democrats' sake, I hope it's Trump."

If Clinton wins the nod, the 2016 contest could be a battle between Clinton and Jeb Bush -- which makes both parties look ossified. But if Bush does not win his party's nomination and Clinton does, the Democrats will be the party of the political past. It could be 2008 in reverse.

All three top-polling Democrats are old enough to collect Social Security. Clinton will be 68 in October. Sen. Bernie Sanders, 74, is a socialist who caucuses with Democrats. Sanders can win the crank vote, but I don't see a majority of Americans deciding to saddle the economy with a socialist in the Oval Office. Vice President Joe Biden, who may hop into the race, is 72. Biden has a compelling personal story, but he also is gaffe-prone and must carry the baggage of an administration that has many voters clamoring for change.

Trump, 69, was the oldest candidate in last week's prime-time GOP debate. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is 64. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is 63. Bush is 62. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina just turned 61. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is 53. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is 44, three years younger than Obama when he took the oath of office.

GOP strategist Steve Schmidt had to deal with the age issue in 2008 when he worked for John McCain, then 72. Once voters have chosen a presidential hopeful from a younger generation, Schmidt told me, they're not likely to go back to the previous generation. Though he hasn't picked a favorite candidate, Schmidt noted, "This would seem to bode well for Marco Rubio."

A Trump lead, even as it sags, gives me night sweats. I admit it. But behind Trump, the Republicans have a solid bench. Kasich has set himself up as the swing-state governor who can get things done. Rubio is strong on foreign policy, and he could broaden the party's appeal among minority voters. Fiorina is a fierce campaigner. Bush was a solid conservative governor. Who knows? Maybe Christie can break out.

Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, so you can say the race is theirs to lose. And they may.