Along with 14 million other viewers, I watched most of the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate last week. It seemed to me, as it did to the experts, that nothing much changed. The race appears to have boiled down to five viable candidates.
The most recent Real Clear Politics average of various polls had Joe Biden going into the debate at 26.8 percent, Bernie Sanders at 17.3 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 16.8 percent, Kamala Harris at 6.5 percent, and Pete Buttigieg at 4.8 percent. No other candidate is polling over an average 3 percent, nor does any seem likely to do so.
So I thought I should expand a little on my earlier conjecture that, a year from now, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., might just turn out to be the nominee. My reasoning is based on the conviction that party voters will, through the primaries calendar and perhaps the convention itself, decide to field a moderate candidate in 2020 instead of a progressive.
On this logic, Elizabeth Warren gradually squeezes out Bernie Sanders, Warren bests Kamala Harris in the California primary (or vice versa). When Joe Biden, 76, stumbles at some point, Pete Buttigieg, 37, inherits the centrist vote, and, in the end, Buttigieg defeats Warren for the nomination. To put it slightly differently: If the elderly Biden falters, the young Buttgieg become the leading moderate.
I leave to others the demerits of Biden, Sanders, Warren and Harris. The advantages of Buttigieg are simple. In his approach to the national electorate, Buttigieg resembles former president Barack Obama more nearly than anyone else. (Obama’s achievements in office were finally remembered by all on the dais last week.) The elusive quality of gravitas , which he possesses, gives him cross-generational appeal. And as mayor of a deeply divided industrial city in northeast Indiana, he has been well-prepared by his experiences for the job he seeks, should he survive the gantlet that begins in January, in Iowa. For a contrary view, see “The Buttigieg Money Pit.”
No one can possibly foresee all the twists and turns between now and next July. The rate at which print newspapers publish — one day at a time –– is the way the way ahead unfolds. But it is not unreasonable to think occasionally in the future perfect tense. When the time comes next year in Milwaukee, put all twenty-plus of the candidates who have vied on the convention stage for a thoroughly rousing cheer. Then let the nominee, whoever it is, take over. The next debate commences on Oct. 15.
New on my bookshelf:
Capital and Ideology, by Thomas Piketty (English translation, Harvard, March 2020)
The Marginal Revolutionaries: How Austrian Economists Fought the War of Ideas, by Janek Wasserman (Yale)
Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud, by Tom Mueller
David Warsh is an economic historian and veteran columnist. He is also proprietor of Somerville-based economicprincipals.com, where this column first ran.