Dick Morris: The Fall of Biden, Bernie and Beto


Improperly passing the horse in front of you can be disqualifying in the Kentucky Derby, but not in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries.

Indeed, a few weeks ago Pete Buttigieg passed Beto O’Rourke and, now, Elizabeth Warren shows signs of passing Bernie Sanders. For his part, Joe Biden has dropped from the mid-30s to the mid-20s atop the Democratic field.

And once you lose your vote share in this primary, it is very hard — perhaps impossible — to get it back. You almost have to leave the race (as Perot did in ’92 and McCain did in ’08) and then re-enter it after much blood of other candidates has been spilled.

Biden’s decline is due to his age, diminished mental agility, and the fact that his initial run to the top of the polls was based, not on enthusiasm for him, but on revulsion against Trump’s brash style.

The polite, clean spoken Joe seemed a refreshing alternative. But now that candidates like Warren are fleshing out their agendas, Biden seems very old hat … and old.

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Meanwhile, Warren, the Massachusetts radical senator, is gaining quickly on the Vermont socialist. Such is the nature of the new leftist Democratic primary. Sanders broke new ground in 2016 with bold proposals for free college, free health care and a much higher minimum wage.

But now, Warren is seeding the ground Sanders first plowed with specific proposals and plans that implement Sanders’ ideology and carry it one step further. To the Christmas list Sanders offers, she adds lower rents for housing, higher pay for teachers and cancellation of student debts.

So far, Warren has invented a new phenomenon in the race: third place. The duopoly of Biden and Sanders have dominated the top tier of candidates since the campaign started — with everyone else grouped together behind them. Now, Warren has broken free from the pack and won a clear hold on third place in almost all polls.

And, now, she is making a good run to replace Sanders in second place.

The two most recent national surveys — Monmouth and Economist/UGov, both on June 12, have had Warren already there, leaving Sanders down in third.

Beto O’Rourke has fallen from grace. He is no longer the star-du-jour, his place at the charisma table taken by the younger, gay-er South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

With a grip on the millennials and the LGBT crowd, Mayor Pete has left the general but vague charisma of Beto behind.

Warren’s gains have come at the expense of Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand as she has become the female front runner.

Gillibrand failed because she tried to become the feminist candidate in a race crowded with five other well-qualified women.

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Her emphasis on reforming sexual abuse policies in the military and her campaign against fetal heartbeat laws have won her plaudits, but it is a bridge too far to co-opt the female Unique Selling Proposition in such a field and she has fallen short.

Klobuchar has tried to be the moderate in a field of radicals, but, again, she has had to share her ground with others with the same idea, like Colorado Sen. Michael Bennett.

And her battles with her staff and stories of her mistreatment of employees have prevented a clean launch to her candidacy.

Harris has failed to articulate any unique selling proposition at all. She wants to use her California popularity to leverage a big block of delegates in the early primaries.

But the LA Times poll has her running only fourth there, behind Biden, Sanders and Warren. Harris needs a substantive selling proposition. Geography won’t be enough.

Sanders has just been intellectually lazy.

Where Warren has researched the issues, explored their depths, and came up with comprehensive, specific programs to accomplish her radical ends, Sanders has been content to recycle his 2016 rhetoric and goals.

Warren has out-Bernied Bernie by explaining how she will accomplish the goals he outlines.

National Democratic politics has become totally boring as House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler rakes the muck left over from the Mueller investigation so Warren has little competition for an audience.

So the Democratic field shows signs of rapid shrinkage even before the first debate, to say nothing of the first primary.

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Dick Morris is a former adviser to President Bill Clinton as well as a political author, pollster and consultant. His most recent book, "50 Shades of Politics," was written with his wife, Eileen McGann.