What the hell? The commentariat had collectively decided that this week would be “Joe Biden Flop Sweat Week,” when he jumped into the race and his polls immediately began to crash when everyone was reminded that he’s a gaffe machine with all sorts of unabsolved sins against wokeness on his record.
Instead it’s turning into “Bernie Sanders Flop Sweat Week.”
In fact, I don’t know if the lead story from this Quinnipiac data is Biden’s big, bouncy lead or Bernie’s ominous fade into third place. Note the nonwhite column too, as that’s very much part of a trend and a not-so-secret secret to Biden’s success:
A month ago it was Biden 29, Sanders 19, O’Rourke 12. Uncle Joe has picked up nine points while Sanders has shed eight — but I’m not so sure the latter’s loss is the former’s gain. There’s another big gainer and loser, respectively, here. That’d be Elizabeth Warren, who’s suddenly up eight points, and Beto O’Rourke, who’s down seven. It may be that Biden has siphoned off some of Beto’s support among mainstream Democrats while Warren, against all odds, is beginning to pull progressives away from Sanders. Bernie no longer leads among self-described “very liberal” Democrats, who are normally his bread and butter. He trails Warren among that group 26/19, with Kamala Harris right behind at 15 percent. This may be the single most deflating poll he’s experienced as a presidential candidate, either now or in 2016.
I’ll save my thoughts on Bernie’s problem for a separate post but it’s easy to see why Warren is moving up. Love her policies or hate them, she’s been dogged in branding herself the Big Ideas candidate of the primary so far. She’s rolling out major new policy proposals seemingly every week, the latest being her awful student-loan bailout scheme. My first inkling that Democratic voters were noticing was at the She The People event last week, where she was well received and came armed with specifics in response to policy questions (“I got a plan!”). Nothing’s going to tear hardcore Bernie cultists away from the socialist messiah but if you’re a progressive who’s not as devoted to him as the far left is, it’s understandable why you’d prefer Warren’s multifaceted wonkishness to Sanders’s charismatic populism. Even her student-loan idea is polling at 57/40 here (although that drops when payment mechanisms are mentioned). When Dems were asked by Quinnipiac who has the best policy ideas, Warren finished a narrow second to Biden, 23/19, and topped Bernie among the “very liberal” by 14 points. That one-two punch, with Biden swiping voters from his right flank and Warren now swiping some from his left, is a tough jam for Sanders.
But Warren has a long way to go to threaten Biden. Here’s the response to the question about who stands the best chance of beating Trump. Hoo boy:
That has to change, a lot, or Uncle Joe is unbeatable. Democrats aren’t going to gamble on 2020 by nominating someone whom a majority of the party believes is weaker against Trump than Biden is, no matter how many neon-light policy proposals they float. If I were Biden, I’d take Dan McLaughlin’s advice: “Biden’s obvious play now is to ignore the rest of the field and constantly bait Trump (who is incapable of refusing bait), which rallies Democrats around him and makes it hard for his rivals to get free airtime. Trump will be Biden’s human shield.” Right — the more Biden and Trump are engaged early, the more Trump’s attacks will “elevate” Uncle Joe and crowd out other contenders like Warren. Just the fact that Biden seems to be in Trump’s head may impress Democratic voters and influence how they view Biden’s electability. And swinging at Trump spares Biden from having to swing at Sanders or Warren, which is destined to alienate some progressives. Biden may proceed at this point as though he’s already the presumptive nominee and stick with that approach unless and until some other candidate threatens him to the point where he has to pay attention to them.
Just one question: Why would Trump want to elevate Biden? By all accounts, he views Uncle Joe as the biggest threat to him in the Rust Belt. If that’s so, why not starve Biden of attention? You’re doing him a favor by attacking him. Here’s NYT reporter Maggie Haberman noticing.
“What he's doing is elevating Joe Biden and basically turning this into a one-on-one between himself and Joe Biden 18 months ahead of time,” @maggieNYT says about President Trump’s reaction to Biden’s jump into the 2020 race so far. https://t.co/mg0eHEPRR1 pic.twitter.com/uKbg1VOFt4
— New Day (@NewDay) April 30, 2019