Nowhere to Run

After nearly five hours of debate, spread- out over two nights, where does the Democratic presidential contest now stand?

I’d argue that while the exchanges were revealing on a myriad of issues, it’s still not clear when and how the nomination will end. 

The combination of so many candidates - and both an ideological and strategic divide within the Democratic Party - means this race won’t resolve anytime soon. By the way, that’s completely normal – Donald Trump leading the GOP nomination fight from start to finish in the last cycle is the exception, not the norm.

What was made clear onstage at the Fox Theatre is that Democrats have an ideological divide between left and left of center. The differences were made clear in debate over issues like healthcare and immigration.  By the end of the week there was no longer consensus as to even the Obama legacy.   

Time and again I wrote in my reporter notebook: “that played well in the hall, but I question whether it wins in a general election.” 

Strategically, there’s also difference of opinion as to whether the surest path to the White House is by energizing the party’s very liberal base or broadening its appealing to disaffected rust belt Democrats who went for Trump. 

The process itself is another obstacle.  With more than half the twenty candidates in jeopardy of being eliminated from the next debate in September, they’re under intense pressure to create viral moments so as to boost fundraising and polling status.  

Like Trump in 2016, Biden benefits from having so many competitors competing for attention.  And barring a gaffe, the dynamics of the race probably won’t change until he faces a much thinner field.   Only when that happens – when, say, Elizabeth Warren is finally standing on stage next to the frontrunner - will this race really clarify.

In the meantime, the nomination is very much in play and the party runs the risk that this long and arduous process may produce a nominee who is unelectable owing to compromises made to satisfy the base in order to secure the nomination.