New Hampshire Democrats Are on the Verge of Setting the Campaign on Course for Trump’s Re-Election
Panicking is hardly ever a prudent strategy in life, and the tendency to overreact to fairly minor events in this age of instant information is very real. When it comes to presidential elections, however, which tend to change course with even less rapidity than an aircraft carrier, the opposite is sometimes also the case.
The best example of this in recent times was the 2016 election cycle when, in late 2015, I mocked liberal media prediction guru Nate Silver for claiming we shouldn’t be freaking out about Donald Trump’s standing in the polls. Just a couple of months later, I accurately determined, just after the New Hampshire primary, that, thanks largely to the “conservative” media, the Trump train was now on a nearly unstoppable journey to the GOP nomination.
I was dead wrong about where that Trump locomotive would lead in the general election, but there are a lot of similarities to the relative complacency with which Republicans viewed the early stages of their primary mess in 2016, and what is now suddenly facing the Democrats in 2020. In short, if you are someone whose main goal is to make sure President Trump doesn’t get a second term, this may EXACTLY the right time to panic, because in just a few weeks, where this is headed may well be set in stone, and VERY much to the liking of Trump’s campaign.
The cause for alarm is not just the complete debacle that was the Iowa Caucuses and the fact that, in my view, two of the very worst general election matchups for Democrats against Trump — Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg — essentially tied for first. Primarily, it was that the Democrat with the best chance to beat Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden, finished an anemic fourth place.
Biden temporarily dodged a bullet with the vote-counting fiasco and the Impeachment vote muting the media coverage of this very weak performance. However, the latest polls are making it very clear that in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, barring a tremendous performance at tonight’s final debate, he could easily finish 4th yet again — far behind frontrunner Sanders and the surging Buttigieg.
As a conservative who has probably promoted Biden’s candidacy more than any other — because of the electability and return to normalcy factors — I come at his situation from a pretty unique perspective (without any real emotional investment him as a candidate). The conventional wisdom, at least among his campaign and shrinking base of support, is that he can survive two underwhelming performances early on because he is poised to do well in more important states later.
This is a dangerously naïve and potentially catastrophically wrong presumption, not just for Biden, but for the entire effort of beating Trump.
If Sanders wins as expected in New Hampshire, then he will surely carry that momentum to win again in the Nevada caucus, where Biden barely led him in the last polls there before Biden’s recent polling collapse (which, logic would dictate, may have been facilitated, rather ironically and unjustly by Trump’s impeachment trial). That would mean that by the time we get to Biden’s alleged “firewall” in South Carolina, his campaign, already low on cash, will have the stench of death surrounding it. His already fading lead there (along with his now-puny national advantage) will evaporate like a puddle on a July afternoon.
Some campaigns are built for primary comebacks (like Bill Clinton in 1992 and John McCain in 2008), but Biden’s is not. Part of why is simply his advanced age and unsteady manner of speaking.
When you already appear to be feeble yourself and your campaign seems impotent when it was supposed to be the frontrunner, the negative narrative writes itself, while your attacks on your opponents come off as desperate and directly against your “Uncle Joe” brand. Also, when you are old and out of office, no one fears abandoning you, which is exactly what the political rats will start doing to Biden if his listing ship fails to finish in the top three in New Hampshire (especially with his former boss, Barack Obama, showing no signs that he is willing to put Biden on his back and carry him to victory).
Even if Biden is somehow able to survive until South Carolina and the black vote remains loyal enough for him to win there, he still has HUGE problems from that point. California comes right afterwards and now seems poised to deliver Sanders a massive trove of delegates and possibly a Trump-like level of momentum.
Even under the very best circumstances for Biden, without a miracle in New Hampshire there is now NO reasonable chance that he is going to win the nomination without a bloody battle. This means his ability to beat Trump will be diminished greatly by both the body blows he will have suffered during that fight, and the inevitable anger of the Sanders cult over having been “robbed” of the nomination twice in a row (this time after having likely won at least the first three contests).
Paradoxically, I now see Biden’s presence in the race as almost a hindrance to keeping Trump from a second term. Since, if he finishes fourth or worse in New Hampshire, he is a long-shot to win the nomination and may no longer be so well suited to defeat Trump, he is now blocking the path of someone like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who does not possess any of the major political liabilities against Trump that Sanders, Buttigieg, or even Sen. Elizabeth Warren have.
Historically, New Hampshire primary voters have a pretty good track record of fixing the mistakes made by the antiquated Iowa caucuses. Unless they surprisingly rise to this difficult occasion, the die may be cast in a way that will make Trump’s re-election far more likely than it was before his impeachment. A process which will have indirectly spurred Democrats into doing the work of politically neutering Joe Biden more completely than Trump could ever have hoped a bogus Ukrainian investigation of him would have.
John Ziegler is a senior columnist for Mediaite. He hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.