Going into the 2020 election, President Donald Trump looks vulnerable. He faces an impeachment inquiry in the House. He has the lowest average approval rating in polling history. And his standing among independents is awful, especially for a Republican.
In other words, Republicans should be panicking or scouting around for another candidate, or both. But they know they have an ace in the hole: the Democratic Party.
To win in 2020, all the Democrats might need is a capable, relatively uncontroversial candidate within shouting distance of the political center, someone who can be competitive in the key battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But, at least so far, Democratic voters have been gravitating toward candidates who lack some of these qualities.
Buttigieg passing Sanders in Iowa
Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — who have led national polls — aren't the only hopefuls who deserve consideration. A hint that the field is fluid came Monday in the form of a Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll of Iowa voters. It showed that Pete Buttigieg had moved passed Sanders into third place in the first caucus state. Amy Klobuchar did not see her numbers go up, but the senator from Minnesota has seen a big fundraising bump after her favorably reviewed debate performance last week. Several others in the field of nearly 20 are plausible general election candidates.
Biden’s experience and decency might well make him the most electable of the bunch. But his halting performances on the campaign trail and in the debates, coupled with his fundraising struggles, have party insiders doubting whether, at 76, he meets the capability threshold.
Warren and Sanders, the two other septuagenarians who routinely poll in double digits and have fervent supporters, have espoused massively costly policies on health care and education that have little buy-in outside the Democratic Party's progressive wing.
Their hostility to corporations is understandable, considering the damage some companies have done to public health and the environment. Even so, the two senators' anti-corporate mantras have an over-the-top quality that would play into the hands of Trump, who would love nothing more than to run as the free-enterprise candidate saving the nation from socialism.
Stakes in 2020 could not be higher
Given Trump's abuse of power, chronic dishonesty and incompetence, the stakes in the 2020 election could not be higher. What’s more, the Republican Party's embrace of Trumpism gives the Democrats the chance to claim the mainstream and become the ascendant party. But for these things to happen, the Democrats would do well to field a candidate who can’t be characterized as too far left or too far beyond their prime.
History shows that polls in wide open primary races often go through multiple phases. At this point in the 2004 election cycle, the top rated Democrat was Howard Dean. Four years later, Hillary Clinton had a more than 25-point lead, while the top Republicans were Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. None of those erstwhile leaders has a presidential library.
Democrats still have time to check out the field before they settle on Mr. or Ms. Right.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump has an ace in the hole for 2020: the Democratic Party