With Michael Bloomberg about to make his debate debut, Paul Krishnamurty warns of a looming fight that can only help the Democrats' opponents...
"If it does boil down to a Sanders/Bloomberg head-to-head and a divisive convention...Trump is the only beneficiary."
Long-term readers may be shocked. After five years covering the Trump beat with incessant negativity, only pausing briefly to cut my losses on THAT night in 2016, I'm coming around to the idea that the nightmare may not end in November. There is a way he can repeat that statistical, geographic fluke - Democrats could throw this unique opportunity away.
To be clear, I am not recommending a bet on Trump at 5/71.69 and am standing by the fundamentals explained in my recent piece. The election will be a referendum on the president, about whom opinion is entrenched negative. Assuming we reach a point where there is a clear head-to-head contest, I'm confident the polls will remain negative for him and the market move accordingly.
I'm not bailing out of my position - however bad a lay at average 7/52.4 looks right now. I don't believe he will better the (sub-par) 46.1% attained in 2016. Trump doesn't win people over. Generational replacement plus turnout trends should favour Democrats, who maintained a lead around 6% in generic congressional polls. Four years ago, they lost the House vote by 1%.
Trump won thanks to split opposition
Normally in US elections, 46.1% would be a paltry figure for a Republican. Mitt Romney won 47.2%, yet lost the electoral college by 206-332. Trump's tally was only enough because a trio of minority candidates - Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and Evan McMullin - shared 5% of the vote. The party was divided, and Clinton damaged, by the Kremlin's fake news campaign - designed to depress turnout, targeted brilliantly at swing states.
Ever since, polls have been terrible for Trump, translating into a series of Democrat gains in special elections and their best mid-term performance since Watergate. Betting against this uniquely divisive president paid dividends both then and when impeached.
Nevada debate to ramp up hostilities
If the Democrats can manage to unite, (relatively at least), and no third party surge materialises, I'm confident they'll win, whoever they put up. Here's the problem - they show absolutely no sign of uniting. Rather, their civil war is about to escalate in tomorrow's TV debate in Nevada ahead of Saturday's caucuses.
After much speculation, Michael Bloomberg has qualified and will make his first appearance on the debate stage. The Democrat Nominee betting increasingly projects a dual between the billionaire and Bernie Sanders. The two candidates least likely to unite the party.
Sanders remains the most likely nominee. Despite showing no signs of converting opponents, he seems sure to accumulate many delegates and build a substantial early lead over the weeks ahead. Perhaps not enough, however, to win a majority and avoid a divisive, contested convention.
Whether Sanders is electable remains an open question. Against Trump, I say yes. Moderate Democrats and Independents will support him reluctantly, confident his radical agenda can be constrained by Congress. He'll get the youth vote out and surrogates like AOC may well attract extra minority voters. Even a few 'anti-establishment' Trump voters might switch.
Is Sanders an American Corbyn?
Nevertheless he fills me with doubt like no other Democrat. He has decades of baggage - footage supporting American enemies and radical groups. His surrogates are liable to go seriously off-message. A small yet vociferous section of his base are vicious towards even friendly rivals. Bloomberg's latest ad on the Bernie Bros hits the mark.
Brits, does that remind you of anyone? To be fair, Sanders isn't Jeremy Corbyn. He's a much better communicator and this is a particularly American situation. Universal healthcare isn't a salient issue here. Remember for all his negatives, Corbyn nearly won in 2017. Nevertheless there is nothing to suggest Sanders is the ideal candidate to win over the ex-Republicans whose switch drove the mid-term success. Or run a disciplined campaign.
These well-worn doubts about Sanders explain the extraordinary gamble on Bloomberg. With national and state polls suggesting the billionaire's ad campaign is cutting through, there is an assumption that his resources will either swamp the remainder of the field or win enough delegates to claim a stake at the convention. Presented with the option of Bloomberg or Sanders, the DNC pick the centrist billionaire.
Bloomberg uncertain to turn hype into votes
I'm not aboard the Bloomberg bandwagon. I'm not convinced he'll withstand scrutiny of past comments and actions as a Republican Mayor - particularly accusations of racially motivated policing and justice - or trying to buy the presidency. It remains to be seen if the hype translates into votes and these polls - taken before rivals have ramped up attacks on the 'billionaire oligarch' - suggest he'd come off badly in a head-to-head with Sanders.
#National Democratic Primary, Head-2-Head:? Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) February 14, 2020
Sanders 54% (+21)
Sanders 54% (+17)
Sanders 53% (+15)
Sanders 48% (+4)
Sanders 44% (+2)
Warren 42%@YouGovUS/@YahooNews 2/12-13 pic.twitter.com/PmqYFO2f7B
Bloomberg risks splitting the left
If it does boil down to that head-to-head and a divisive convention played out in front of the nation, Trump is the only beneficiary. If Bloomberg is the nominee, the Bernie Bros will spread a viral 'stitch-up' narrative and a leftist alternative might emerge to split the vote. Watch the moves of the Kremlin's favourite Democrat - Tulsi Gabbard.
In this scenario, Trump can win just by re-energising the 46.1% who backed him in 2016. Of course Bloomberg might well win over some Republicans that would be beyond the reach of Sanders et al. But equally he could unravel in the brutal environment of a general election campaign, once a long history of sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits have been weaponized.
The risk attached might actually be greater than with 'Bernie' - an established national figure about whom most already have a clear opinion, yet still polls pretty well.
Take this less as a prediction than a warning. Democrats, there is another way. A moderate, ordinary woman from Minnesota who doesn't scare the horses.
A Senator with achievements, working across the aisle. Whose state is trending red, yet was re-elected on a big swing on the same night Democrats in other red-trending seats lost badly. She wins debates and has made significant polling progress without spending big on ads. Her name is Amy Klobuchar and you can back her at 79-1 on the Betfair exchange to be the Next President.