A New Frontrunner

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Posted: Feb 12, 2020 10:45 AM
A New Frontrunner

Source: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

This race was already trending Bernie's way before his New Hampshire victory -- which allows the Vermont Socialist to credibly claim victory in the first two nominating contests, in that he won the most votes in each. The collapse of Joe Biden is no longer merely evident in the earliest states (in which he competed and failed badly); his national frontrunner status evaporated in the blink of an eye. Success begets success, and weakness tends to spiral. According to consecutive national polls, taken before New Hampshire voted, Bernie Sanders had pulled into the national lead  Monday's Q-poll was just brutal for Team Joe, but could theoretically be shrugged off as an outlier. Given the survey's disastrous trend lines among black voters and on electability, I'm sure they were praying that was the case. But then the Monmouth poll dropped and poof, a new reality was confirmed:


Inject this ten-point lead for Bernie, plus Quinnipiac's eight-point lead, into the national average...and oh my. There's a new national frontrunner, even if he's far from a dominant one at this point. The New Hampshire win will likely solidify the lead, at least for the near term. What happened to Biden, who finished in fifth place (ahem) and in single digits on Tuesday? With poor performances and bad press came the aforementioned erosion among key demographics, further undermining his central argument of electability. But the former vice president's personal favorability also took a real hit, perhaps suggesting that the ethical cloud involving his son cast a shadow over his reputation. Look at this movement:


Biden's favorability rating dropped 19 net points among Democrats -- from +57 percent to +38 percent -- since November. A little over a year ago, he was at +71. Bernie is now in significantly better shape on this metric than Biden is. And the new frontrunner will come barreling into Nevada with a full head of steam, hoping build more momentum and pull doubters onto the bandwagon. But hoo boy, does he have doubters. After ripping the Bernie Bros as an "ideological cult," longtime Democratic strategist James Carville referred to Sanders as "Jeremy Corbyn," which tells you everything you need to know about how Carville views Sanders' viability:

The only thing between the United States and the abyss is the Democratic Party. That’s it...And if we go the way of the British Labour Party—if we nominate Jeremy Corbyn, it’s going to be the end of days.”

That assessment was delivered before Bernie carried New Hampshire. Many others on the anti-Bernie center-Left are grappling with similar bouts of panic, envisioning the turnkey attacks Republicans will run on Bernie -- from picking apart his surreally unaffordable and ruinous agenda to, well, stuff like this:


With the other hardcore progressive in the race taking on water (the implosion of Elizabeth Warren is a sight to behold), the 'stop Bernie' effort may take some major consolidation. One example:


But consolidation looks simpler on paper than it might actually play out in practice. Also, each of the four relative moderates Miller mentions have seemingly-sensible reasons to stick around for awhile. Why should I get out when I'm actually best-positioned to take Bernie down when the field winnows? The dynamic sounds strangely familiar. And given Democrats' proportional delegate allocation system this cycle, it looks like there be a long, ugly slog ahead. Bernie will have the support and resources to fight all the way to the finish, but his victory last night wasn't exactly resounding. He underperformed his polling lead, and the knives are starting to come out for him. I'd call Sanders a tepid frontrunner at best right now, with lots of slings and arrows coming his way. These are the best things Sanders has going for him (beyond a bottomless well of small donor support and a very strong base of support:


The Democratic chaos and infighting is a welcome sight to the GOP, but before Trump fans get cocky, take a look at these head-to-head numbers from the Q-poll cited above:


Sure, caveats abound, but the notion that the president will waltz to re-election is foolhardy (even as two-thirds of voters believe he'll win a second term). He is a very vulnerable incumbent. As Jordan points out, the numbers above came on the heels of what was arguably Trump's strongest week yet. His standing is undoubtedly improved, other recent polls have looked better, and a bitter Democratic fight could help him. But he's hardly a shoo-in. I'll leave you with a more hopeful statistic for Trump supporters. These swing counties are where the Republican House majority was lost, and where the presidential election will be decided:


I'll also note that unlike Iowa, Democratic turnout in New Hampshire was up last night. But so was GOP turnout, blowing away previous benchmarks for incumbent presidents. And how can you not count New Hampshire itself as a winner coming out of Tuesday's voting?