It has been less than four years, but how many voters in 2020 could name more than two or three of the 17 Republican candidates who filled the early 2016 debate stage with now-President Donald Trump? For that matter, how many Democrat voters could rattle off the names of even half the two dozen men and women who lined up on stages just last year, jostling for speaking time to set them apart from the few who now remain viable candidates for their party’s nomination?
While we occasionally still see Democratic California Rep. Eric Swallwell gracing the airwaves, many of his less telegenic colleagues who were among the original Democrat retinue are all but forgotten — other than perhaps as the answer to a sports bar trivia question.
Occasionally, of course, there is the self-inflicted gaffe by a candidate that sinks their nascent primary campaign like a well-aimed torpedo. Who can forget Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s “oops” moment when he forgot the third cabinet-level post he had promised to dismantle if elected?
By and large, political debates during Republican and Democrat primaries tend to serve as a useful process in winnowing the field of early contenders (which have been growing for both major parties in recent cycles); sometimes with results few would have predicted early in the process.
For example, the manner by which candidate Trump serially eviscerated each of his GOP rivals during the primary debates in 2016, was little foreseen by the vast majority of Republican leaders, observers and even veteran pollsters. This cycle, it is likely that most Democrat Party operatives would not have concluded almost one year ago when their field was coming into focus, that small town Mayor Pete Buttigieg would still be standing on the eve of Super Tuesday 2020.
Which brings us to the state of the Democrat field right now, just one week from March 3rd when the single largest bloc of delegates will be chosen.
By traditional measure – actual delegate count – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is the actual front-runner. The man most pundits picked earlier to hold that position – former Veep Joe Biden – is a distant fourth and fading fast. Holding ahead of Biden but behind Sanders are Massacgusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend Mayor Buttigieg — with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar tied with Biden. Of these place holders, probably only Warren would have been named nine or so months ago as likely to be among the remaining tier of candidates as Super Tuesday looms.
And then there is Hizzoner, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who eschewed the early primaries and debates in favor of buying massive amounts of advertising to catapult himself into Super Tuesday contention. He is cleverly and unabashedly positioning himself as the Democrat Establishment candidate who can and will deny Socialist Sanders the nomination so many in his Party fear.
By every traditional measure, Bloomberg’s performance last week in his first debate was a disaster. The problem for the other remaining Democrat candidates, is that in the “long” run, between now and July 16th when their convention formally nominates the man or woman who will go up against Trump in November, what happened in the February 19th debate will be long forgotten and of little if any note.
Unlike other candidates, Bloomberg is not dependent for campaign dollars on how well he performs in a single debate or in multiple debates; it’s his money and it is still all there, in the billions. More important, the powers that be in the Democrat Party (like their GOP counterparts), ultimately will line up behind the candidate they believe they will most likely be able to control – and that candidate is far more likely to be Bloomberg than Sanders. Unless Bloomberg makes a serious unforced error (such as prematurely declaring Hillary Clinton his choice for vice president), the smart money on his side of the aisle will line up behind him, not Sanders.
Most important is the fact that Bloomberg possesses a trait that Sanders does not – ideologic fluidity.
As a true ideologue, Sanders will stick to his far-left policies and principles no matter what. Bloomberg, on the other hand, has displayed a willingness to shift policies on the proverbial dime, whenever he deems it necessary to win support. This happens to be a trait that will go a long way to help secure his Party’s nomination.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.