A number of other Democratic strategists I’ve spoken with also downplayed the influence of ideology in determining the ultimate nominee. “Everybody tends to think the fault line is ideological,” one wrote in an email. “But historically, the big divide has between establishment versus anti-establishment (Clinton vs Sanders, Clinton vs. Obama, Gore vs. Bradley, Clinton vs. Jerry Brown, Mondale vs Hart). [Side note: I’d add Kerry vs. Dean in 2004]. Maybe the field winnows down along these fault lines. In the past, with the exception of 2008, the establishment candidate always wins.” This year, however, there is no obvious ‘establishment’ candidate. Biden comes closest, but you can also argue that anyone over the age of 65, anyone who has spent the bulk of their political career in Washington, anyone who currently takes (or has ever taken) corporate/special interest money, can be labeled with the dreaded “E” word.
The president’s State of the Union address was less a blueprint for the year ahead in congressional-executive relations than it was a roadmap for 2020. The message: I am all that is standing between a strong, capitalist economy and Democratic attempts to turn the U.S.A. into another Venezuela. Privately, lots of Democratic insiders also fear that the only thing standing between Democratic victory in 2020 and another Trump term is a nominee who scratches the itch of the liberal base but can’t appeal to the moderate middle. Thus far, however, the evidence and data suggest that the most ideologically left candidate may not be the most likely nominee.