Where we are on the Democratic primary side, away from “the sound and the fury”…


Dear Partners in thought,

I thought I would give you my take on where the Dems are primary process-wise now that the first and second debates (sadly very much akin to TV reality and Twitter with only a few seconds to express views on key matters) have happened and where we are now. The second rounds of debate last week did not change the dynamics of the Dem race which were set in the first rounds in late June. Joe Biden was under attack from all in his group, given his clear lead today, this in spite of a temporary slump following his rather unimpressive fighting spirit in late June while a passion-driven Elizabeth Warren kept appearing as the better one in her own group. Based on this, I would actually like to focus a bit more on the first rounds that really set the stage in late June for where we are and may continue to be.    

Now we can guess (partly thanks to Donald Trump Jr who is definitely his father’s son) that Kamala Harris probably unleashed her attack in the first debate (second group) with the dual goal of reducing Joe’s “establishment” lead and interestingly beefing up her African-American credentials, hence these odd “busing”and “little girl” references, so she could deal with the fact that she has more of a Jamaican and Indian background as it came up a few days later (at least she was not asked to go back where she came from by Dad). Personally I think that kind of well-rehearsed “stitch up” and especially these race tactics, however crucial the subject matter in American “history”, are a disservice (to her for sure and) to American politics (probably also strengthening Trump and why he is where he is in the first place) even if she rose in the Dems primary polls (though did not overtake the three leaders who are still Joe, Bernie and Elizabeth). As an aside, 53% of African-Americans were backing Joe after last week’s debates, far ahead from any candidate and due to the clear Obama legacy and the often forgotten fact that most African-Americans are of the moderate Democratic persuasion, as Bernie can remember.   

Joe certainly appeared a bit out of touch and for some “showing his age” (we are bound to hear more about this and his health in the coming months) in that first debate as shown with his poor response to Kamala’s fierce attack (defending de facto states rights, which was daft) but this changed nothing substantially.  He still leads confortably and can keep building a commanding position in the first primaries – as nearly 50% of Dems primary voters are “moderates” and only 16% are “radicals”, which makes the leftward drive of some usually mild candidates strange (unless he keeps up on the gaffe trail and quotes such as “My time is up” by way of conveniently deflecting attacks). There is no doubt that this radicalisation of the Dems exemplified by Bernie (true to himself for sure) and Warren, compounded by the vocal statements of the four congresswomen Trump called the Squad (with AOC as the main voice) helps Trump and he knows it, making them front and center while pleasing his core base. It is no wonder why wise House Speaker Nancy Pelosi worries about this non-representative left wing drive and dangerous calls for an impeachment, whatever its good grounds, that has no chance of happening and would comfort Trump’s base. Would AOC and her three friends actually against all odds be the best Trump supporters?  

Interestingly Trump is polling behind most lead Dems (an average of 10 points behind Joe). I think Bernie is not doing too well this year in a more crowded and less clear contest, also in the absence of a super-establishment “put-off” candidate (for some). A passionate Warren did well in the first debate and kept doing well in the second one but mainly as she was the only heavyweight in her group – and has now risen above Bernie in some polls. Strangely Castro who did well in the first debate and is very engaging did not gain much poll-wise (apart from more money) while Beto did not confirm the hopes of many Texas followers and should work on his super Italian hand-gesticulating style that does not help him…Talented and unpronounceable Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana mayor – ex-McKinsey and Afghan veteran – is doing extremely well on the fundraising trail (also targeting rich donors unlike Warren and Sanders) but one may also think that his “upfront diversity” is the driver behind it while he is still relatively low in the polls, also lacking a minority appeal notably after a fatal, criticised shooting by the police in his town in June. The other candidates (it’s hard to keep track of how many are still running now though we can now exclude Congressman Salwell and include hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer!) are there “for the future” or hoping for a VP slot if they shone well enough…However what are NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, this interesting female writer and a few others, however skilled in their own ways, really doing there? It is likely that half of the candidates will have disappeared by year-end.  

As you know, I actually saw Kamala as Joe’s best running mate (note that Joe might still do too, forgiving and tactical as I am sure he is) like I said a couple of months ago given the perfect geography/age/gender/race balance with a relatively compatible overall moderate outlook that her prosecutorial profile helps with, whatever radical economic initiatives (like with student loans now, to outflank Bernie) she may talk about (also a good complementarity with Joe). Given his age, I also see Joe for one term eventually or, better, clearly stated at the ticket start with his main mission of “getting things back to normal”. 

Even though the road is indeed very long and short of unexpected events arising, I stick to Joe winning the nomination and Joe-Kamala for the ticket in spite of the early debate attacks from the Californian which actually propelled her in the top group and raised her combative and complementary features which the experienced and calm man from Delaware should have noticed. Interestingly I saw that the FT’s Ed Luce mentioned a first all-women Warren-Harris ticket. I had not thought about that ground-breaking combative one.  

Warmest regards,