A recent poll (the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll National Tables July 15th through July 17th, 2019) showed that 92% of likely Democratic voters have already decided to vote against Donald Trump no matter who the Democratic nominee for President turns out to be.
That suggests, as we have outlined previously, that the most dependable path to ousting Mr. Trump will almost certainly consist of nominating a candidate that can maintain credibility with the swing voters in this upcoming election: the political center, the moderate Right, and independents.
In other words, given that any candidate will get full support from the Left, the only difference between them will be about who can penetrate further toward or even across the center.
That brings us to the fundamental paradox of the electoral process: what it takes to impress likely primary voters is almost certain to stand in stark contrast to the recipe for winning over the swing voters in the general election.
Hence, the recipe for re-election for Mr. Trump is about having the good fortune to be up against a candidate in the general election that has been forced to sacrifice his or her credibility with swing voters to win that nomination.
For example, according to polling data, likely swing voters are against Medicare-for-All that abolishes private insurers, late-term abortion, and decriminalized border crossing. But likely primary voters on the left are mostly in favor of some or all of these moves.
That presents a game theory nightmare for campaign strategists and candidates: The more you move to ensure victory at the primary level, the more you seal your fate as the loser in the general election.
But, as with many game theory traps, this is not just a problem for individual candidates. The game show of this stage of the primary debate weed-out process demands that fringe candidates work to make some kind of splash before the next debate because they won’t even get back on the stage unless they start polling above 2% in the major polls.
The easiest way to do that is to pander to the most progressive and populist ideas out there to excite the ultra-far-left voting populace to take notice. That maneuvering has the secondary consequence of forcing the top-tier candidates to defend their ground as special on these same issues, which tends to push everyone further and further away from viability as a serious threat to Mr. Trump in the general election.
So far, as we have noted, the most interesting strategy is that of Mr. Biden, who has forsaken any attempt to play for that fringe-populist progressive vote, and instead count on voters to see that, by preserving his viability as a threat to Trump with swing voters, he becomes the best chance for the Left to retake the White House. And that very viability then makes him more appealing to even highly progressive voters, allowing Biden to continue to extend his lead. Thus far, this has put Biden well out in front in the polls as the overall frontrunner for the nomination.
It’s a remarkable dynamic. But the most remarkable aspect of this process may actually be the fact that none of the other top tier candidates seem to have figured this out. Frankly, we were anticipating a marked move toward the center by Ms. Harris by this point and a sincere challenge by Mr. Buttigieg for Biden’s cache with moderates.
However, thus far, Mr. Biden remains alone among the top contenders in his strategy of maintaining credibility with the center on key issues, with everyone else continuing to slide further to the Left.