There are several new polls out showing where the Democratic candidates stand a little over nine months before the first Democratic primary or caucus and eighteen months ahead of the general election in 2020. All of them are showing Vice President Biden with a strong plurality of support, followed by Senator Sanders, whose numbers are flat to sinking in the mid teens to low twenties, and then Senators Warren and Harris and Mayor Buttigieg all either closely clumped together or fighting for third position at this time in the high single/low double digits depending on the poll. In general they look something like this:
The 2020 Democratic nomination is now apparently a close race for third, with Bernie in second & Biden, propelled by disproportionate support from African Americans and moderate whites, way ahead at 40%+.
We don't know the future, of course, but this trend is pretty incredible. pic.twitter.com/7MbbYg1NGo
— G. Elliott Morris (@gelliottmorris) May 6, 2019
While I have my personal preferences at this point, who those candidates are are largely immaterial at this point as I expect that numbers will change as debates start, candidates fade, others move up, etc. That said, I think what we’re seeing with these polling results is a combination of name recognition combined with a strong desire by Democrats and Democratic leaning independents for a return to normalcy. And by normalcy I mean how things were before the President was elected and then sworn in. Specifically, for a return to where we all don’t have to watch what the President is doing and saying every day because none of us can be sure whether something dangerous is being done or announced via twitter or one of his minions is doing something behind the scenes that is abhorrent and dangerous. For a return to where the Senate actually functions within its intended design, instead of how it is functioning. Where the parties and those within them hadn’t sorted themselves so that there is really no ideological overlap at all between them because one party is a broad coalition spanning center to left, the other is a hard right party, and therefore there are no grounds for compromise and horse trading among members of the House and Senate from each party.
The problem with this politics of nostalgia, of course, is that you cannot return to past normalcy. I’ve often raised an important point in my work for the Army and DOD, in briefings, operational planning teams, working groups, etc, which is that once you break a state, a society, and an economy you cannot go back to how things were right before they were broken. You can only go forward. Things can be repaired, but there will always be scar tissue. And, as a result, a new equilibrium has to be established, which leads to a new normal. This may include some of the old normal, but it will also include other things that weren’t as part of the new normal. We saw this post WW II in our work rebuilding the countries of Europe and Asia. We saw this, and did our best to forget the whole thing, in regard to the Korean War. We saw this with Vietnam and quickly tried to ignore it. And we’ve seen this in what we’ve been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And we’re going to see this dynamic play out here in the US. If the President gets reelected, eight years of this insanity will solidify the currently nebulous and tenuous possibility of the new normal being kleptocratic white Christian herrenvolkism. If he loses, then there will be a move to a different new normal depending on who actually wins and whether the Democrats maintain their House majority and are able to flip four or five seats and retake the Senate. Regardless, there is no going back. But most people don’t understand this because they don’t think about it. And because it is painful to recognize, let alone admit and accept. Vice President Biden is a decent person, he’d be, like almost everyone running for the Democratic nomination and like Governor Weld who has announced that he will primary the President, a significant improvement over what we currently have. His hitting the President on his racism and bigotry and anti-Semitism and xenophobia right out of the gate is important, but the US he’s describing in the early days of his campaign no longer exists and it hasn’t existed for quite some time. Democrats are supporting him, though, because what he’s describing and what he’s selling is comforting. It is the false hope that the clock can be reset and we can go back to what we all thought was normal prior to about 10:30 PM EST on election day 2016. I do not know whether what Vice President Biden is selling is sustainable between now and the primaries, between the primaries and the general election. Whether Senator Sanders’ or Senator Harris’s or Senator Warren’s or Mayor Buttigieg’s or any of the other candidates’ alternative visions – of both a new normal and how to get there – will gain traction and become viable and sustainable between now and the primaries, is a question I can’t answer.
The only way out is through.