Delaney in a Coal Mine

I can’t find the stat that prompted this piece. David Axelrod and Mike Murphy have a podcast. Hacks on Tap. It’s pretty good if you like that sort of thing. And their logo is a take off of the Old Style beer logo. Extra points for that. In their most recent episode, Axelrod mentions a Quinnipiac poll that showed Democratic viewers hated John Delaney’s debate performance.

Elizabeth Warren was judged the debate winner, and was something like +50 or +60 with Dem viewers. Delaney was -30. The problem is I can’t find the damn data. When I pulled up the Quinnipiac results, there were questions about the debate, but not the favorable/unfavorable performance data Axelrod referred to.

I seriously doubt he’s making this up. He may have access to data beyond what Quinnipiac has on their website. Maybe he was referring to a different poll that I also can’t find. Regardless, I’m going to ask you to trust that the numbers he quoted are fundamentally correct.

For those who weren’t watching, or have managed to consign a debate from two weeks ago to the recesses of your cranium, Warren and Delaney jousted seemingly nonstop for the first hour of the first debate of the second round of debates. The biggest point of contention was Medicare for All. Warren is in favor, Delaney believes it will bankrupt a huge amount of hospitals.

After a while, Warren hit Delaney with her big punch line. “I don’t understand why someone would go to all the trouble of running for president, just to talk about what we can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.” It’s a good line. It resonated with the live and remote audience.

Delaney is easy to pick on. He’s bald. Unless your name is Dwight Eisenhower, and you recently defeated the Nazis, bald men don’t get elected president. He lacks charisma. He combines being legitimately wealthy with looking like the assistant night manager of a grocery store. Worst of both worlds.

He and his brethren, Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock, et al, are now considered centrists. They’re not. They’re left of center Democrats. But in a world where John Kasich, once considered one of the strongest conservatives in the Newt Gingrich-led House of Representatives is a super squishy moderate Republican, it fits.

Joe Biden is the official moderate in the race. The candidate doing best by far with Democratic voters who consider themselves moderate or conservative. He usually leads among those who self-identify as somewhat liberal, with Warren or Sanders the favorite of the very liberal.

At various times in his thousand year career, Biden has taken relatively moderate positions. He’s also running on a platform to the left of any Democratic nominee in generations. He just wants to move more deliberately than Warren and Sanders. And he’s the far rightward limit of what the Democratic Party is willing to consider nominating this time.

That’s the lesson of the Warren v. Delaney fight. Many pundits had figured that should Biden falter, perhaps a Bullock, Bennet, or more likely Amy Klobuchar could contend for the nomination by attracting more moderate voters.

But that interest just isn’t there. It goes deeper than the fractional polling share held by the least overly progressive candidates. Let’s say Biden were to implode, something that is looking less likely by the day. His largest audience is African American. Do you see southern black voters turning to Klobuchar?

A good portion of Biden voters actually supported Bernie Sanders in 2016. Some would return to him. He’s frequently listed as a leading backup choice for current Biden supporters.

There just isn’t any space. In another time and place, the Warren-Delaney debate would have registered as a debate, between two opposing views, each supported by at least some of the Democratic Party. This time it was a beating, with Delaney and his approach tossed aside the same way Jim Webb was in 2016.

As we search to understand the resilience of the Biden candidacy, in the face of shaky debates, his regular gaffedom, advancing age, history of senate votes that don’t match where the party is now, and his hands on a hundred thousand female shoulders (maybe more, that’s just a guess), part of the answer lies in the lack of interest in these alternatives.

Not only do his supporters believe Biden would fare best against Trump, they assume he’s the most moderate candidate with any chance of nomination. And they’re correct.

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