So the president of the United States, when he wasn’t exacerbating trade tensions with China, decided to do some 2020 Democratic presidential horse-race handicapping today:
You’d think, given the trajectory of his own campaign for president in 2016, he’d be a bit slower to jump to conclusions. At this point in the 2016 cycle, Trump wasn’t even a candidate (he formally announced in June of 2015). According to the RealClearPolitics polling averages as of May 10, 2015, here were how the candidates ranked: Jeb Bush 15.5 percent; Marco Rubio 14.3 percent; Scott Walker 12.3 percent; Rand Paul 10.0 percent; Ted Cruz 8.8 percent; Mike Huckabee 7.5 percent; Chris Christie 5.5 percent.
While the 2016 Republican field was nearly as large (with 16 candidates) as the 21-and-counting Democratic cast of characters for 2020, there was no clear front-runner until Trump surged into the lead in the late summer of 2015, hitting 30 percent in the polls in mid-September.
The rest of the candidates could never get a clear advantage over each other, which may be one reason that anti-Trump Republicans never settled on a consensus challenger to the mogul until it was far too late. A Quinnipiac poll in late May 2015 showed five candidates (Bush, Carson, Huckabee, Rubio, and Walker) tied for the lead with 10 percent.
Perhaps Biden and Sanders will maintain their one-two position (though one recent national survey, also from Quinnipiac, placed Elizabeth Warren in second place) through the long slog of 2019 into the voting phase of the competition in 2020, gradually consolidating strength as lesser candidates run out of money and luck. But it’s far too early to tell, and you’d think a politician who had been counted out repeatedly in both the primaries and the general-election contest in 2016 would not be so quick to say anyone is “fading fast.”