Democrats are freaking out about 2020 for no good reason
There may come a time when it is appropriate for Democrats to panic about the 2020 presidential election. Now is not that time. There are still many months, and a lot of work to be done, before voters go to the polls.
Still, one might be forgiven for thinking that a layer of flop sweat is already settling over the party.
The New York Times on Sunday reported that President Trump's campaign has an early advantage in advertising to Facebook and other social media users. "That campaigns are now being fought largely online is hardly a revelation," the Times reported, "yet only one political party seems to have gotten the message."
That followed a similarly fretful Washington Post analysis, wondering why Democrats haven't yet settled on a candidate to take on Trump: "To date, there's been little that has given Democrats the confidence that their nomination process will produce a challenger strong enough, appealing enough, and politically skilled enough to withstand what will be a brutal general election against a weakened and vulnerable president."
Politico, meanwhile, sat down with Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), who is running for president but failed to qualify for last week's debate, for a sour grapes session. "I'm sitting here thinking, 'Who can beat Trump?'" Bennett grumbled. "Can any of these people beat Trump?"
This seems like a good moment to send an alternative message to Democrats: The sky is not falling!
Defeating Trump in November 2020 will take a lot of hard, smart work, but the campaign is still in its earliest stages. Everybody — Democrats and Republicans alike — might as well settle in for the long haul, because panicking and fretting now will do nothing to speed up the process.
If you're a political junkie, it can be easy to forget how early it is in the presidential election process. It's true that many voters are already super-engaged in following the 2020 campaign; a recent Gallup poll shows that roughly 70 percent of Democrats and Republicans have given "quite a lot of thought" to the election. The 2008 election was the only other time in the last 40 years when nearly this many Americans were so interested in the election this far ahead of actual Election Day. The election of 1992 — when Bill Clinton didn't announce his candidacy until October 1991 — seems almost impossibly languid by comparison.
But the Gallup poll is somewhat misleading. The people who are closely following politics are the people who tend to closely follow politics. That leaves a lot of voters whose attention — and loyalty — is still up for grabs. "Non-leaning independents — a largely apolitical group — are least likely to be thinking about the election," Gallup reported.
That's even true in early primary states, like New Hampshire, where presidential candidates are already thick on the ground.
"People won't really pay attention to the race until after New Year's, and they won't decide who they are going to vote for until two days before," Andy Smith, a pollster with the University of New Hampshire, told Vox. "And that's a state where actual campaigns are going on."
Thus, the inexorable logic of the political calendar would suggest that — no matter how many times you currently see a Trump advertisement on YouTube — Democrats still have a bit of breathing room, both to settle on the right candidate and to refine their strategy for beating Trump.
It is understandable if a sense of urgency has already set in among partisans. The news cycle in the Trump Era has reached ludicrous speed — fresh scandals seem to erupt every few hours instead of every few weeks or months. The fight-or-flight response of partisans, pundits, and political observers has been triggered so fast and furiously the last couple of years that it has become more difficult to tell which developments are meaningful and which aren't.
Under such conditions, it is easy to lose perspective. So it is good to remember that there is still a whole year — plus a couple of weeks — before the general election. In fact, we have all of November, December, and January to go before Democrats start officially selecting their candidate in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, both of which take place in early February. The calendar is set.
There are a million decisions to be made in each campaign between now and then. And there is no telling how events — wars, trade wars, scandals, impeachment, and more — will alter the playing field in ways impossible to imagine, anticipate, or control. There is always the possibility, for example, that the Democratic nominee will be running against incumbent President Mike Pence.
The best thing Democrats can do, then, is fight hard for their candidates, raise money, and let the process play itself out. There is no reason to be complacent — but at this point, there is no good reason to panic.
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