It is widely recognized that trying to predict politics is a mug's game.
Still, I think it is kind of fun.
Also, I happen to believe I've a decent theory of how American politics *actually* works, shorn of the myths the mainstream media feeds everyone.
So here's the thing - American politics is about translating everone's desire to not be responsible for paying the cost of public stuff like defence and roads into real public policy.
Ultimately, we all depend on one another's taxes to fund things we like, but we don't (can't) all agree 100% on what gets priority.
So our ancestors set up systems of rules and regulations that work to make sure questions of taxes and benefits are resolved in a more-or-less peaceable fashion.
Problem is, over time, all such systems get gamed out by all the different interest groups involved. In the US, industries with their own geographically-specific interests compete for access to the politicians our system lets decide the niggling details of policy implementation. Like organisms sharing an environment, over time they've worked out a complex set of relationships that keep them getting what they want with minimal outright competition.
The present form of oligarchy many observers of US politics agree exists is a result of a natural process of our rule-making and rule-enforcement architecture decaying with time.
This underlies the growing sense of fear and viciousness pervading the political system. It is no accident that essential norms most of us have long taken for granted - you know, rules like don't push for total victory over your political adversary, or 'maintain the outward illusion that we're-all-in-this-together-so-we-have-to-all-get-along,' seem to be dying fast these days.
In any event, the highly structured nature of the existing political status quo actually makes understanding what will *probably* happen in 2020 fairly simple.
On one hand, you have the now fully-colonized Republican Party, which is doubling down on white supremacy as a core animating principle. Because of America's changing demographic profile, this strategy has a shelf life of approximately 2028, which the party knows - hence, the push for outright voter suppression and the rejection of any sort of shared reality uniting left and right. That's all they have left to offer their voters.
Sadly, this strategy can succeed so long as the Boomer generation is still the main voting cohort in just enough states to control 270 Electoral College votes.
And on the other hand, you have everyone else, who because of the strength of the two-party system (a result of what they call a first-past-the-post voting system, something that *could* be changed, but won't anytime soon) are forced to compete for the right to challenge the incumbent in 2020 through the architecture of the Democratic Party.
The fact that there are almost two dozen hopefuls scrumming to be the Democrat's selection in 2020 is an indicator of the party's fundamental identity crisis. There are three major wings of the Democratic party, each competing against the others to be the party's anointed, all beliving the present incumbent to be a historically weak candidate any half-competent fool should be able to knock off.
The Progressives, led by Sanders and Warren, who are calling for major policy changes throughout the federal system - medicare for all with the elimination of private health insurance as the key example.
The Liberals, led by Harris, Castro, and Booker who are traditional Democrats rooted in the Civil Rights Movement and believe in working for change within the system.
The Neoliberals, led by Biden and Buttigieg, who are creatures of the Wall Street-Pentagon-DC complex who speak like Liberals, but govern like Republicans.
You also have a set of hybrid candidates, each focusing on a new coalition that may, or may not, find a home in the Democratic party. A major hybrid includes Gabbard, who is focusing on anti-intervention foreign policy types angered by the Democratic party's abandonment of the anti-war movement and, to a lesser degree, anti-intervention Republicans angered by their party's own embrace of Forever War. Another is Yang, who appears to be pulling from the same wonky idea-driven pool as a kind of spiritual child of Ralph Nader and Ross Perot.
But insurgent movements will face serious challenges in getting oxygen when the media will already be trying to turn the Democratic race into a 2-person affair, 3 at the very most. So while I have hopes for Gabbard in particular - if and when Sanders sheds support or leaves the race, she might be the primary beneficiary - they aren't high. Like, 5% odds at best.
And before you say Trump's odds were that low, sorry, but no. I knew by the time he was set to win the nomination that his campaign was no joke. The polls in the Rust Belt were showing signs of being off early in the cycle, as a result of pollsters grouping voters by state and not by county, over-stating the impact of the more-liberal urban areas relative to the rural districts, where people in that area went hard for Trump. I had a sense of this when comparing polls in Iowa to Wisconsin, and comparing poll predictions to voter results in the last few cycles. That, coupled to some research that showed the Trump people investing in Wisconsin, told me he had about a 50% chance of getting to 270 heading into election day.
Here's the map I expect to wake up to the morning after election day - essentially, the map I feared in 2016 (and it went even worse than that).
Because here's how i presently expect 2020 to go.
In the Iowa Caucus, the big news will be the complete collapse of Joe Biden's campaign - then polling in the 20% range, neck and neck with a couple others. I expect, barring something very strange happening in the next six months, this result:
Harris - 25%
Warren - 20%
Sanders - 15%
Buttigieg - 15%
Gabbard - 5%
Biden - 5%
Klobuchar, Booker, Castro, O'Rourke each around 2%
half a dozen others each around 1%
Obviously there's a +-5% margin of error here at least - I'm making predictions a LONG way out, based on fundraising and my perception of the strength of the various coalitions. Biden might hold on at Harris and Buttigieg's expense, Gabbard could surprise, and Sanders could beat Warren or it could go the other way around.
At this point, the bloodbath of dropouts begins. Biden will immediately face calls to exit, as will anybody who isn't waiting for a later state to give them a sudden boost - Castro and Booker come to mind here.
So once New Hampshire rolls around, I'd imagine the race would be down to 6 serious contenders: Harris, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, Gabbard, and probably either Booker or Castro. The other, plus Yang and anyone else with a big fan base and fundraising opportunities (which is what this endless campaign is really all about) will hang around, but lose virtually all coverage.
New Hampshire will be billed as the showdown between the Progressives, who the Media will be absolutely keen on trying to reduce to precisely 1 as quickly as possible, but won't be successful until Super Tuesday - unless Sanders collapses totally (unlikely). The result, I think:
Warren - 30%
Sanders - 25%
Harris - 15%
Buttigieg - 15%
Gabbard - 10%
Others - 5%
Again, sizable margin of error here, probably approaching 10% because New Hampshire is small and a bit strange. Lots of libertarian voters there, who may want to jump in and support Gabbard or Yang. Here is where I expect the Sanders-Warren war to begin in earnest, when the Bernie Bros decide Warren is standing in the way of their frontrunner. Meanwhile, Harris sits back, waiting for South Carolina.
South Carolina is where the fact that Harris can speak so eloquently to the life experience of black women will give her a huge boost. Her entire campaign is focused on this group, which is a very wise call, as it was this cohort that didn't turn out for Clinton (and why would they?) which, coupled to Clinton's status as a hate-fetish object for the diehard Boomer conservatives, proved disastrous in 2016.
My bet for South Carolina -
Harris - 45%
Warren - 20%
Sanders - 10%
Gabbard - 10%
Booker - 10%
Buttigieg - 5%
I'd give this a plus or minus of 10% because South Carolina is less familiar to me, so I have to go by demographics. Ultimately, I think the core Sanders supporters will be revealed as middle-aged white men with either too much or too little education, who fail to recognize the limitations of their perspective and address the concerns of actual voters in places like SC.
I suspect Gabbard benefits from the Warren-Sanders battle and the fact that SC hosts a lot of veterans, and Buttigieg probably gets *only* the veterans in the state (black voters seem to dislike him), while Booker performs reasonably well - but not enough to beat Harris.
Nevada is up next, where I think the media tells a story of Sanders and Buttigieg fighting their last stands, while Castro is desperate to break out and Gabbard is treated as the Ron Paul of the cycle.
Nevada is a caucus state, and has very odd rules, so I won't attempt a percentage breakdown (nor will it likely matter). But here's how the ranking will probably go, if the rest of the campaign proceeds as I expect:
At this point, the media will start with the horse race narrative, and all attention will shift to Super Tuesday. And here is where I suspect things will start to get interesting. Because while the media will be touting a Warren-Harris battle royale, Sanders and Gabbard probably won't quit the race until *at least* after Super Tuesday, and I bet they'll hold out even longer, along with (possibly) Yang and maybe even someone like Buttigieg, who will have a fair amount of $ and probably some delegates, and who will start considering the upcoming convention, which could be brokered.
The chaos narrative will start to dominate the longer the race remains contested. Personally, I think it highly likely that no one will reach the delegate threshold in the first round of the Democratic Convention. My best guess is that the first vote comes out something like:
Harris - 45%
Warren - 35%
Buttigieg - 10%
Sanders - 10%
Gabbard - 5%
And then the wheeling and dealing begins - superdelegates get to vote in round 2 - and the progressive wing probably loses to a Harris-Buttigieg coalition - the closest thing to the Obama coalition the present crop of Dems will get.
Because here's the thing. In the end, these numbers probably reflect the overall strength of each coalition in the party, with Harris representing a Neoliberal-Liberal synthesis while Warren brings the Liberal-Progressive synthesis.
But no matter who wins, a significant number of enthusiastic primary voters will end up feeling like the system has failed them. And they won't turn out at the rate the Democrats will expect them to.
In the end, people vote for a politician they feel represents them and their interests.
If the candidate doesn't, no amount of peer-pressure and shaming will get them to actually turn out.
This is just the way humans are. It is why the two-party system is doomed: Too many people feel disengaged and hopeless, because it is always the best-connected and most morally compromised who can usually stitch together a coalition. And with so many interests effectively embodied in their candidacy, they won't be able to satisfy everyone.
So just as the Neoliberals would never hold their nose and vote Sanders over Trump, the Progressives who love Sanders won't vote for Harris, or probably Warren either. And the former republicans Gabbard brings on board? If she isn't the nominee, they'll sit home too.
And 2016 will play out all over again, this time with the many material advantages of incumbency on the orange buffoon's side.
Advantages like a partisan Supreme Court. That will hear the inevitable lawsuits brought in Arizona and Wisconsin and Florida and Pennsylvania that seek to manipulate the vote count in some way. Amid allegations of foreign meddling, voter fraud, voter suppression, and possibly even violence.
I have no confidence whatsoever of a good outcome under these circumstances.
How could a better outcome be achieved?
A wildcard with breakout potential, particularly Gabbard, could hit her stride and upend these calculations. If her campaign can start putting out smart, detailed policy proposals and stop getting involved in spats, when the orange idiot in chief inevitably attempts to use a crisis with Iran to impact the Democratic primaries, she would gain attention and a chance to sell a comprehensive, post-partisan reform platform.
Plus, Gabbard paired with Harris stand a chance of hitting Trump in his weak spot: The West. If you look at Trump's state-by-state approval rating and the loss of republican votes suffered in Utah and Alaska, and remember that any place veterans congregate, Gabbard is likely to be strong, then a Gabbard-Harris ticked could, if done right, flip Arizona, Utah, or Alaska. Producing a map capable offsetting an unexpected loss of Pennsylvania, OR winning the thing outright if the Dems do hold PA and Utah or Alaska flips.
One of the also-rans could emerge somehow, though thus far Inslee's climate-change platform and Gillibrand's me-too emphasis see to be appealing to yesterday's news, from the media's perspective.
Buttigieg, essentially a Biden backup and the thought-spawn of Bill Clinton and John Edwards, could also break out if Harris stumbles, though I suspect he'd be a disaster in the general election.
And then, of course, someone like Biden or Sanders dropping out might have the effect of shaking things up - as would Stacey Abrams jumping in.
But all in all, having observed a fair share of elections in my life, I'm fairly confident I can ignore politics until the time has come to check my predictions against reality.
Here's hoping I'm wrong!