This week something unprecedented happened, and it may have major implications for the 2020 presidential race. From October 2018 to now, every single national poll of Democrats' preferences in the race for the presidency has had one thing in common: former Vice-President Joe Biden has never been behind. Not once — not once in the dozens of reputable polls recorded by RealClearPolitics. Usually, Biden's lead has been in the double digits.
The most recent Monmouth University poll, however, showed something different: it put Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren at 20% each, and Joe Biden at 19%. That's a slim, even statistically insignificant, lead for the twin progressive firebrands over the establishment standard-bearer, but nonetheless...a lead is a lead, and the Biden camp must be shocked, especially given the fact that he bested his opponents handily in the last Monmouth survey. Wow!
So what does it all mean?
First, some caveats. Biden's campaign is not imploding. Despite some harrowing gaffes of late, Biden remains popular with Democrats of all ideological stripes and demographic categories. There is a reservoir of good will towards President Obama's right-hand man, especially among minority voters, that may make it possible for Biden to weather any storm and emerge as the nominee.
Biden also benefits from the ongoing divisions in the progressive wing of the party: Warren and Sanders are essentially stealing votes from each other on the far-left. Meanwhile, Biden increasingly enjoys a monopoly on the centrist lane among Democrats, since other viable moderates, like Governors Hickenlooper and Inslee, have dropped out of the race.
Biden's polling numbers have been on the downslide for some time now, however, while Warren and Sanders have been barnstorming America and attracting increased support. According to RealClearPolitics, Biden's leads in the all-important early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire are particularly puny. In some recent polls there, his leads have even evaporated. A Biden loss in either state would be a terrible blow to his front-runner image, and presumably to his narrative of electability.
Pundits and party insiders are therefore asking, not unreasonably: would the Democratic Party really nominate an avowed socialist like Sanders, or a Massachusetts super-liberal like Warren, over an experienced, moderate, and popular former vice president, who consistently polls better than any other Democrat in match-ups with President Trump? Would Democrats truly risk losing in 2020 and thus prolonging what many believe to be a Trumpian reign of terror?
The answer increasingly appears to be yes. Democrats are in an especially progressive mood in the Age of Trump, evidenced by their support for proposals that in prior election cycles would have appeared extremely radical: Medicare-for-all, democratic socialism, open borders, reparations, and the Green New Deal, to name just a few. Democrats seem to believe that 2020 will be their best opportunity to achieve what Elizabeth Warren is calling “big, structural change”. Many are inclined to settle for nothing less.
Why would Democratic primary voters set their sights so high, and why would they not settle for any old Democrat who can beat Trump? The answer may be that Democrats believe their own propaganda.
After all, they have been assured by their favorite partisan news outlets, like CNN and MSNBC, for almost three long years that Donald Trump's election in 2016 was an aberration. They have been told that the American people profoundly regret the installation of a supposedly unfit, unbalanced, ignorant, “racist,” traitorous, and criminally compromised agent of chaos in the White House. They have become convinced that the Democrats' big victory in House elections in 2018 means that the voters have turned decisively, maybe even permanently, against the GOP. In a word, many Democrats seem to believe that they cannot lose in 2020. Trump, therefore, cannot win.
If this analysis is right, then poor Joe Biden, running for president for the third time since the 1980s, is a dead duck. A radicalized, energized Democratic primary electorate will not choose the default, establishment candidate, when instead it can choose a liberal idealist who promises to make all their progressive dreams come true.
This is why Sanders and Warren now officially have the edge in the race for the Democratic nomination. The question now becomes...when will they turn on each other? And, when they do, will Sleepy Joe have a chance to right the ship and reemerge as the consensus nominee?
The long, hard slog to the Democratic presidential nomination is — happily, from conservatives' point of view — just getting started.