Former Vice President Joe Biden is probably going to win the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination, according to the Democratic election sage who predicted Trump’s election in 2016. The only problem? He’s destined to fall short of the White House unless something changes between now and the election.
“Despite all the attacks on him, his lead in the polls among Democrats has remained pretty steady,” American University Professor Allan Lichtman said in an interview with the Daily Caller. “Most importantly, Biden has solidity in the African American vote. Once you get to South Carolina, that’s a critical primary. If you don’t have substantial black support, you can’t win it.”
Polling indicates Biden will likely win Iowa by a couple of points, while coming close — if not winning — in New Hampshire. He leads the Democratic field in South Carolina by nearly 20 percent. If those numbers remain consistent, Biden will almost undoubtedly become his party’s nominee for the White House.
Lichtman, who established 13 “keys” to predict which party will win the White House in each election, is emphatic that it is too soon to say Biden will lose in November. “The election is close, too close to call,” he said.
A Trump supporter might argue otherwise.
According to Lichtman’s model, six of the 13 keys must turn against an incumbent president in order for his challenger to win. Trump objectively lost one in the 2018 midterms, when Republicans lost their majority in the United States House. Historically, that event works against the reelection of an incumbent president.
Lichtman suggests Trump has taken a beating by two additional measures. He is not viewed as charismatic by a commanding majority of the electorate (even if 40 percent of the electorate might disagree), and he was impeached by Democrats in the House, which amounts to a scandal of some measure.
Beyond those issues, the standards become murkier. Lichtman believes Trump experienced a “significant” foreign policy failure when he reduced the presence of American troops in Syria, a move that received bipartisan condemnation, while failing to preside over a “significant” foreign policy success. “The Middle East is an unholy mess, and North Korea is a disaster,” Lichtman said.
If the electorate agrees on Election Day — Lichtman said that is not a certainty — that could result in Trump “losing” five of the keys. It would also put Biden just one short of the number he needs, historically speaking, in order to win.
Still, that “key” is a big one. Even if Trump’s foreign policy is a mess, the keys indicate he will still probably win unless the economy is in recession. Such economic hardship would result in Trump losing the sixth key Biden requires to win.
Phrased more succinctly, the keys suggest Trump is going to win unless the nation begins experiencing significant hardship at home and abroad over the next 300 days. There is also very little Biden can do to influence the outcome.
Nonetheless, Lichtman said, he is still hopeful that Democrats are in a stronger position than such a reading suggests.
TAKALA: You say Trump lacks a major foreign policy success. He might counter that ISIS has largely disintegrated during his tenure. A critic might say that Trump didn’t have much to do with it. Which side voters take may depend on the context of what has historically qualified as a foreign policy “success” for past presidents. What are some examples?
LICHTMAN: The Camp David Accords. The success of putting together an international coalition and driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait under the George H.W. Bush administration. That’s an example of one Democratic success and one Republican success. I also counted Reagan’s negotiation of the IMF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty as a major foreign policy success.
TAKALA: You say that that “foreign policy failure” doesn’t necessarily count against Trump yet. What would change that?
LICHTMAN: More of a public focus on foreign policy. When he pulled out of Syria and the Kurds were being killed, it wasn’t just Democrats who criticized that. It was Republicans as well, including [South Carolina Sen.] Lindsey Graham, who were very critical. The only reason I haven’t turned it definitely is it seems that has gotten out of the news. North Korea has gotten back into the news, but I’m waiting to see what Kim Jong Un actually does besides bluster.
With Iran, we’ve never had any goodwill, but we seem to have lost our goodwill with Iraq as well. So things are looking pretty bad on the foreign policy front. I’m waiting to see how much more public attention is turned to that. (RELATED: TAKALA: Election Expert Says Soleimani Death Complicates Trump Reelection — But Military Expedition Could Help)
TAKALA: You say there has been no sustained social unrest during Trump’s term. If you wouldn’t call this “sustained social unrest,” what presidents would you say have experienced it? Just Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson?
LICHTMAN: Yes. Social unrest has become very rare in modern America. We haven’t seen anything like the riots of the 60s and early 70s. There was a poll, I think in early 1970, which found demonstrations to be the number one national problem. They don’t even register anymore in the top 10 anymore.
TAKALA: In terms of “scandal,” I’m not sure another president has been impeached while such a significant slice of the electorate failed to see any wrongdoing. Does that matter?
LICHTMAN: Even with Clinton, his approval rating was near 70 percent. If you look at the polls on Trump, they’re kind of interesting. One came out [on Jan. 2]. Forty five percent want him removed. The highest ever for Clinton was 30 percent. The 45 percent is a plurality. Only 41 percent said he shouldn’t be removed. That’s a pretty extraordinary poll. It took Nixon over a year of public investigations and hearings to reach that level.
If you look at the polls, even those who don’t think [Trump] should be removed think he did something wrong.
TAKALA: Are House Democrats approaching the situation correctly by trying to withhold articles of impeachment from the Senate?
LICHTMAN: Absolutely. It puts pressure on some of the vulnerable Republicans — [Colorado Sen.] Cory Gardner, [Arizona Sen. Martha] McSally and others, and we’ve seen some cracks in the Republican ranks from [Alaska Sen. Lisa] Murkowski and [Maine Sen. Susan] Collins. (RELATED: LICHTMAN: It’s Well Past Time To Restructure The US Senate)
TAKALA: Who do you anticipate has the best chance of winning the Democratic nomination?
LICHTMAN: I would think Biden. Despite all the attacks on him, his lead in the polls among Democrats has remained pretty steady, at about 10 to 12 points or so.
You have [Vermont Sen. Bernie] Sanders and [Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth] Warren dividing the more progressive vote.
Most importantly, Biden has solidity in the African American vote. Once you get to South Carolina, that’s a critical primary. If you don’t have substantial black support, you can’t win it. You can’t win any Southern primaries without significant black support. I’ve studied this, I’ve written about it, I’ve been an expert witness on it, and I can tell you, the black vote doesn’t switch easily. You have to have a long-term track record. Buttigieg, Warren, Sanders just don’t seem to have much traction with the most crucial Democratic demographics.
TAKALA: Does Biden have the ability to achieve the key requiring the challenger to have “charisma”?
LICHTMAN: I don’t see it. I honestly don’t see it. Things can change once you’re the nominee. That’s why these polls pitting Trump against the Democratic contenders don’t mean a darn thing. Everything changes, for better or worse, once you become the nominee.
I don’t see any Democrats changing the charisma key. That could change. I don’t think we’ll see it, but it’s possible we’ll see something we haven’t seen in over 50 years. That’s nobody comes in with a commanding lead at the Democratic convention, and you have the convention nominate someone.
I think it’s a long shot, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility. I don’t think it’s a bad thing necessarily.
TAKALA: Who would the Democratic rank and file would pick if they had that flexibility?
LICHTMAN: Michelle Obama. She comes out extraordinarily well in the Democratic rank and file. She has the charismatic potential. I’m not saying she would turn the key, because she hasn’t been tested. But she has the pizzazz the [current] candidates don’t have. Sanders has pizzazz, but he’s like Trump. He appeals only to a narrow slice of the electorate. He’s not a Ronald Reagan or a Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I think if you took a poll of the rank and file, they may well prefer Michelle Obama.
There are rules that would prevent her from being nominated at the convention, but rules can be changed. (RELATED: LICHTMAN: Unless Democrats Find A 2020 Candidate Like Beto O’Rourke, Trump May Well Be Set To Win)
TAKALA: Who do you think the presidential nominee should pick as their vice president?
Stacey Abrams. I think it needs to be a woman.
Democrats can’t win without a very powerful black turnout. If black turnout had been in 2016 what it had been for Obama, Clinton would have won. But, of course, none of my keys refer to the vice president.
TAKALA: It looks like there may be a third-party campaign, but from the Democratic side. Your keys don’t include a scenario for such an effect to favor the incumbent. Why is that?
LICHTMAN: They don’t, because it never happened! I don’t see Tom Steyer or Michael Bloomberg mounting a third-party campaign. Bloomberg has said he’s not going to do it.
TAKALA: If Democrats lose in 2020, how do you think they’ll respond in 2024 or 2028?
LICHTMAN: I think you’ve seen the last of the old generation of Democrats. The Bidens, the Sanders, the Warrens, people 70 years and older will not be in contention in 2024,” he said. “You’re going to see a new generation of Democrats coming up. Maybe Adam Schiff, I could see [Democratic California Sen.] Kamala Harris, [Democratic New Jersey Sen.] Cory Booker, [former Housing and Urban Development Secretary] Julian Castro. The next generation that didn’t make it this time, I could see rising in 2024.
You never know. Four years before 2008, who would’ve expected Barack Obama to be the nominee? Four years before 1992, who would’ve expected Bill Clinton? Four years before 1976, who would’ve expected Jimmy Carter?
Republicans are more predictable, except for Trump. If you look at other Republicans nominees, Romney, McCain, Dole, they’re predictable, out of the establishment type of Republicans. Democrats have been more unpredictable.