“The coronavirus will test the president like no other crisis to date“
Peter Rough, Senior Fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, talks about his views on the Democratic primaries, the chances of the candidates in the November election and the biggest challenge for President Trump.
Mr. Rough, what is your takeaway from the Democratic primaries so far?
From the debacle of the Iowa caucuses to the resurrection of Joe Biden, the Democratic primary has turned into a great drama with major plot twists. Underlying it all is a fairly sharp shift to the left in the party relative to previous election cycles, with each of the Democratic candidates embracing identity politics and rolling out new initiatives that add up to trillions of dollars in spending.
The shortage of viable candidates in their 40s, 50s, and 60s speaks to how badly the Obama years decimated the party: aside from Buttigieg (30s) and Klobuchar (50s), the finalists for the Democratic nomination have all been in their 70s. This is remarkable for a party that claims to represent the young.
These factors may explain why turnout has disappointed thus far, falling short of thresholds that would signal high enthusiasm in the party for the nomination process. It’s unclear what this means for the general election, where antipathy for Trump among Democrats may improve turnout.
Irrespective who wins the primary, however, it seems clear that the Democratic party is undergoing change. If the Democrats retake the White House this fall, they will not embrace the policies of the past, from free trade to a muscular America abroad. Instead, the party is continuing its evolution from Clinton to Obama to a new era.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden in a direct contest with President Trump in the General Election?
Bernie Sanders is nothing if not authentic. For decades, he’s preached the same unbending left-wing ideology with zeal. The Democratic party’s lurch leftward and the country’s general political churn has allowed him to emerge from recluse senator to political superstar. At the same time, however, Sanders stands far to the left of the American mainstream. His rigid, unbending attitude, expressed through an outrage that borders on anger, alienates all but the most committed progressives. He has yet to win over African Americans, for example, a key moderate Democratic voting bloc.
Joe Biden likes to hype his Scranton, Pennsylvania roots. It is generally accepted that he performs well in the industrial Midwest—precisely the states President Trump must carry in order to win reelection. In a field of left-wing progressives, Biden articulated liberal yet moderate positions that appeal more to African Americans and suburbanites. At the same time, his status as the establishment’s choice may put off some left-wing voters who reject mainstream institutions. Worse, Biden is well past his prime. It’s unclear whether he has the acuity and stamina to thrive in a grueling general election campaign. Moreover, Biden’s electability is predicated on a theory, not evidence. His past forays into politics beyond Delaware have crashed and burned.
What is the current situation of the Republican Party en route to President Trump’s nomination as the GOP candidate for this year’s election?
There is no primary race for the GOP: Donald Trump has all but sewn up the nomination for president. Trump holds an iron grip on the Republican base, which remains enthusiastic about his case for reelection. His support among suburban voters is less impressive, however. To make up for this weakness, he is making a concerted play for two other demographics: African Americans and Hispanics. These voters traditionally support the Democrats but are far from progressive, providing an opening for the Trump campaign and the Republican party.
As his State of the Union address demonstrated, Trump’s argument builds off a strong economic foundation, which has delivered results for minority voters. The biggest threat to Trump’s reelection is not the Democrats, therefore, but the coronavirus and its attendant shocks. Ultimately, presidents are elected and reelected based on performance and sentiment. The coronavirus will test the president like no other crisis to date and voters will be watching.