A tantalizing detail from this NYT piece about establishment Dems wringing their hands over the primary. If you’re a Wall Street liberal, you’re in a bad place nowadays. After all, the Republican nominee is very much anti-liberal and two of the top three candidates on the Democratic side are very much anti-Wall Street. And even if those two can be pacified, it’s very much in doubt whether they can beat Trump head to head. Your only hope is smilin’ Joe Biden, who has yet to impress anyone on the trail or at the debates in six months of trying and who may not have the money to win a hard-fought race. He has less than half the cash on hand that some of his rivals do, notes the Times. And since he’s dependent on rich donors, he’s already maxed out much of his potential source of revenue.
That is to say (and as others have already noted this morning), this story about rich Dems asking each other “Is there anybody else?’” is really a story about them asking each other “Is there anybody else besides Biden who can get in, hold off Warren and Sanders, and beat Trump — and not end up confiscating half our wealth to fund their new programs when they do?” Klobuchar and Buttigieg have been plugging away, offering themselves as a potential cure for Biden anxiety to moderate Democratic voters, but it just isn’t happening for. (Except maybe in Iowa?) Who can save Wall Street liberals from their terrible predicament?
There may be … one person.
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Bloomberg have both told people privately in recent weeks that if they thought they could win, they would consider entering the primary — but that they were skeptical there would be an opening, according to Democrats who have spoken with them…
The chances that another major contender decides to run are remote: While Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Bloomberg have both been encouraged to enter the race, Democrats close to them believe the only scenario under which they’d consider running is if Mr. Biden drops out or is badly weakened…
Democrats who have recently spoken with Mrs. Clinton say she shares the same concerns other party elites have about the field — worried about Mr. Biden’s durability, Ms. Warren’s liberal politics and unsure of who else can emerge to take on Mr. Trump. But these people, who spoke anonymously to discuss private conversations, say she enjoys the freedom that comes with not being on the ballot.
She’s not the only Democrat who’s reportedly watching Biden wobble and worrying that something must be done. There’s Bloomberg, who’s several months older than Biden; there’s another former presidential loser, John Kerry; there’s even Eric Holder, who seems convinced that there’s some sort of constituency out there for him for reasons that completely escape me. Not coincidentally, these are all people linked to the neoliberal wing of the party. Progressives seem perfectly happy with their choices thanks to the one-two punch of Warren and Sanders:
If ~2 years and 20+ candidates aren’t enough for ya, I don’t know what to tell you. https://t.co/lSub1TsrvB
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 22, 2019
It’s the bad luck of centrists that Biden has stayed aloft in the polls to date but without gaining the sort of altitude that would inspire confidence in his ability to put Warren away. Either a very good or a very bad showing by Grandpa Joe would have been tolerable to the party’s Hillary wing. If he had gotten in and quickly began to sink, that’s fine. Plenty of time for a Bloomberg-type to jump in and fill the vacuum. If instead he had gotten in and begun to soar in the polls, putting, say, 20 points between him and the progressives, that would be fine too. Obviously a candidate in that position is a strong favorite to win. But to get in, limp along through multiple debates, and enter the fall basically tied with Warren and only 10 points or so ahead of Sanders leaves moderate Dems paralyzed. If they try to push a big-name neoliberal into the race now, won’t that help Warren by splitting the moderate vote? But if they don’t push someone into the race, Biden might falter and Warren or Bernie might win the race in a walkover next spring.
Let me ask this, though: If Hillary Clinton is the answer, what’s the question? Nate Silver wonders that too.
I'm on the side that says Hillary's campaign was better run than it's given credit for. But if you're a rich person who's like "none of the 19 Democrats currently running can beat Trump [despite all leading him in polls], so let's draft HRC into the race!" like seriously WTF.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) October 22, 2019
There’s no reason to think Clinton would do any better head to head against Trump than one of the progressive candidates would. In fact, I’d guess that her favorable rating nationally and even within the party is much worse than Warren’s or Bernie’s is. I don’t think she’d neatly fill the vacuum left by Biden either. Hillary has more diehard fans than Biden does so there’d be *some* insta-support for her, but she’s literally the one person in America who’s a proven failure at performing the core duty of this year’s nominee, which is, purely and simply, defeating Donald Trump. She’s Biden except with less of an electability argument. Progressives hate her already and would hate her even more for jumping in to try their thwart their Warren/Sanders bid for presidential power once again. Neoliberals may sympathize with her over 2016 but would also naturally look for an alternative, someone like Klobuchar with one one-thousandth as much baggage.
Her terrible political instincts haven’t gotten better over time either. If it’s true that Hillary is mulling a candidacy, even as just an emergency thing in case something happens to Biden, why would she do something as reckless as accuse Tulsi Gabbard of being a Russian asset? Nominating Hillary again would make Democratic party unity in 2020 nearly impossible even under the best circumstances but smearing a progressive candidate as some sort of Russian operative makes it that much harder. That’s piss-poor politics for someone who’s entertaining even the smallest chance of running herself and poor politics even if she isn’t considering running. After all, as I said last night, attacking Gabbard will only serve to raise Tulsi’s profile in the primary and give lefties new reason to disdain the neoliberal wing of the party.
All of which is to say that there’s no room for Hillary in the primary even if Biden quits tomorrow. Moderate Dems are right to worry about a Warren or Sanders nomination; read this shrewd Sean Trende piece about how far-left candidates risk alienating the Democrats’ secret weapon in last year’s primaries, the well-heeled suburbanites who are pretty happy with their health insurance right now. But if Biden quit, they’d have a perfectly solid option in Klobuchar to rally around — or, if they’re willing to overlook the fact that she’s an awful retail politician, they could always give Kamala Harris a second look. The age of Hillary is done. Not even the coked-up writers of the “President Trump” reality show we now inhabit could invent a plot arc that restores her to political viability. I think.