The great value in predictions doesn’t lie in their predictive power, but in making people ponder about scenarios they previously hadn’t considered.
So, if you’re looking for a blog-post to confirm your belief that…
- Either Biden is the favourite, keep browsing the New York Times.
- Or Sanders is the favourite, keep scrolling down your Twitter feed.
As of January 26th, the field of Democratic candidates is still rather crowded, with Biden and Sanders being the realistic frontrunners. It can be expected that the outcomes in the first states will be rather murky (especially with Iowa being a weak-spot for Biden, the current favourite). This will further reinforce the notion that Democrats appear divided in their quest to dethrone Trump.
But perhaps most importantly, the candidates themselves are rather unconvincing, with no one having put together a winning coalition of voters.
One of the fundamental flaws of Biden is that to him 2016 represented an aberration. His whole strategy revolves around returning to the old ‘normal’ before Trump got elected. This reflects a belief that Trump is the cause of America’s problems, instead of him being merely a symptom.
Yet Biden’s ‘normal’ – or let’s call it fantasy-land – no longer exists. Maybe he should read J.D. Vance’s ‘Hillbilly-Elegie’. Or for a start, spend more time campaigning in Iowa.
Wage growth has been stagnant since the 1970s in the US. The manufacturing decline has eroded the backbone of the US society: its middle class. Whole swathes of land are plagued by opioids. American life expectancy declined for three consecutive years, largely due to drug overdoses and a sharply rising suicide rate. There’s a hardly a back to ‘normal’.
More so, his public persona differs little from Hillary Clinton’s. If there’s a Democratic candidate embodying the establishment, it’s Biden, having been in the Senate since 1973 before becoming VP. Yet the similarities to Clinton don’t stop there. In a similar vein to the Presidential Candidate of 2016, Biden carries liabilities from the past. His son Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine and China have rightfully been scrutinised. Whether Hunter Biden’s involvement has been wrong per se is secondary to it being an easy target for Trump, akin to Clinton’s e-Mail gate.
Lastly, questions remain about Biden’s professionalism. There have been various instances, where Biden showed little composure. If he struggles to keep his cool when a retired voter confronts him about his son’s involvement in Ukraine, it’s doubtful that he can cope with Trump during TV debates.
Sanders, on the other hand, offers bold systemic change. He advocates a minimum wage, a Green New Deal, universal health care and free tertiary education, caressing the Millennial’ Zeitgeist.
However, Sanders’s age (78) remains the elephant in the room. The fact that he had a heart attack last autumn doesn’t help his case. More so, while Sanders would be considered a ‘social democrat’ in Europe, he still remains persona non-grata for a vast chunk of people in the country with an innate allergy towards ‘socialism’. Or as Scott Galloway has eloquently put it: ‘A sociopath beats a socialist seven days a week and twice on Sunday.’
Thus, the upcoming primaries will reveal who the Democratic base trusts most in removing Trump from the White House – which is after all their overall goal. It will be especially interesting to see how the Democratic candidates fare in the first few primaries.
Especially Iowa has been a tough haul for Biden, who quit two previous Presidential campaigns (1988 and 2008) after failing to catch on there. While Biden is the clear frontrunner, he certainly won’t drop out this time. Yet a Sanders win could push the momentum further on his side.
That’s a scenario, big Democratic donors have been worried about for a while, particularly after the lacklustre funding performance of Biden (only coming in fifth place in Q4 fundraising after Sanders, Buttigieg, Steyer and Bloomberg).
With Sanders gaining momentum and Biden weakened in the centre, it would open a vacuum to be filled.
This would introduce Mike Bloomberg into the equation.
Bloomberg’s whole strategy is dependent on events that have yet to materialise.
He hopes for the first primaries to produce murky outcomes, preferably with an upside for Sanders. In the meantime, he is spending massively on advertisements in the Super-Tuesday states, where he wants to officially commence his campaign. So far, he just spent an eighth of the USD 2 Billion, which he is prepared to commit. His proxy ad-war with Trump during next week’s Superbowl will most certainly move him further into the limelight.
But what could Bloomberg bring to the table? Decades of executive experience building the world’s financial data powerhouse Bloomberg. While in 2016 technology influenced elections, it will most certainly decide elections in 2020. Bloomberg’s campaign team can be expected to benefit from state-of-the art polling data. Secondly, Bloomberg has experience in uniting a populace after times of hardship. He became three-time mayor of New York shortly after the 9/11 trauma. Finally, his biggest weakness could prove an advantage in the long-run. His lack of charme and rather ‘boring’ appearance have often been criticised. Yet in TV debates, ‘Mini Mike’, as Trump dubbed him, would offer little target for Trump. Maybe after four years, ‘boring beats vulgar’.
Is this scenario unlikely? No. Did it seem plausible that Obama would become Democratic frontrunner, let alone win the Presidency in January 2008? No. Did it seem realistic that Trump …? Certainly not.
After all Bloomberg’s strategy is so unconventional that even Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight’s polling expert and data guru, claimed it is incredibly difficult to predict.
Either way, Bloomberg’s announcement to back the Democratic frontrunner – in case of his own drop-out – with funds and data-expertise has already altered this year’s election.