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Could the Democrats Blow It?

A major dilemma of the Democratic nomination contest is that it is a test of two important attributes: which candidate can beat Trump, and which is offering the most appealing platform to primary voters. These are not the same thing.

WASHINGTON, DC – The unprecedentedly large number of candidates – 25 at last count – for the Democratic nomination to take on US President Donald Trump in 2020 has led to an awkward opening to the contest. The number of contenders will drop as the qualifications for participating in party debates tighten (especially in September) and some run out of money. Some know they have no real chance at winning, but hope that becoming better known might land them a cabinet post, more lucrative book deals, or larger speaking fees.

Most experienced political observers have assumed that the Democrats can defeat Trump unless they swing too far to the left, turning off those who had supported Barack Obama and then Trump, including the blue-collar workers and suburbanites who decided the 2016 election. There were various moments in both debates when one could envision Trump smiling. And now many Democrats are depressed.

The problem for the Democrats, especially in this election cycle, is that voters in primary contests (in both parties) tend to be more extreme than the parties as a whole. The Democrats’ recent swing to the left began with the 2016 challenge by Bernie Sanders – who calls himself a “democratic socialist” and isn’t a Democratic Party member – to Hillary Clinton’s presumed nomination. Sanders, with his appeal as an insurgent and his unrealistic promises (as well as Clinton’s weaknesses) nearly undid her nomination. Young people in particular found him an exciting anti-establishment figure.

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