There seemed to be just two topics of conversation in terms of presidential politics this past weekend. First was the impact of accusations that President Trump suggested or pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s business relationships in that country. The second was Elizabeth Warren pulling slightly ahead of Biden in the highly regarded Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll, and almost closing the gap with the former vice president nationally.
The Ukrainian kerfuffle starts in April 2014, when the younger Biden joined the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural-gas extraction company. His father reportedly was not particularly happy about his decision to join the board, and Hunter stepped down earlier this year, as Republicans began to make political hay out of his association with Ukraine.
Democrats are pressuring the White House to release the transcript of Trump’s telephone conversation with Zelensky. Even some Democrats who have urged their party to back off impeachment efforts are beginning to rethink their opposition. It’s not that they think the Republican-controlled Senate would convict, but that it may be harder to oppose the effort giving these troubling accusations. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has slow-walked impeachment, a strategy that’s getting harder all the time.
Given how many other transgressions Trump has committed or been accused of since taking office, it’s hard to see why this one should be much different. Since announcing his candidacy, Trump has said or done things that would be career-enders for any other presidential candidate or occupant of the Oval Office. Each time the suggestions come that this is finally the straw that broke the camel’s back. But it never happens, no matter how much straw is added to the pile. Anyone with the capacity for outrage is already outraged; those who have not been outraged won’t be.
I’m continually asked, “When will Trump’s approval numbers finally drop?” But to drop, don’t they have to rise first? Trump started with no honeymoon period, the lowest job-approval ratings of any newly elected president, and never really rose much, staying between 38 and 48 percent in Fox News Polling, between 35 and 46 percent in the Gallup Poll, and between 38 and 46 percent in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll.
His numbers show very little elasticity. If he were a stock, he’d have a very narrow trading range, about half of what previous presidents have had in their first two-and-a-half years in office. This is like waiting for pre-shrunk blue jeans to shrink. Trump was already facing an exceedingly difficult reelection, and it’s still tough after the disclosure of the Zelensky call.
Turning to the Democratic race, the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Poll, conducted by highly regarded pollster Ann Selzer, showed Warren rising from 15 percent in June to 22 percent, at the expense of nearly all her main rivals. Biden dipped from 23 to 20 percent, Bernie Sanders from 16 to 11 percent, and Pete Buttigieg from 15 to 9 percent, with Kamala Harris remaining at 6 percent.
It now appears likely to boil down to a two-way contest, one in which Democrats will have to decide whether to go big or go home. In this case, going big is doing something bold, daring, and exciting but potentially risky—that is, going with Warren. Going home is to a more comfortable, familiar, but not terribly exciting place: Biden. Revolution versus restoration.
Here are some things to consider with Warren: First, does she consolidate the progressive wing of the party, and how many of Bernie Sanders's supporters migrate over to her camp?
Second, can she draw support from minority and downscale white voters? Keep in mind that African-Americans alone will make up 25 percent of the Democratic primary electorate nationwide. Currently, she is not doing well with minority voters.
Third, while Biden has been the piñata since before he formally announced his candidacy in April, we can expect that to change. As the new co-front-runner, Warren is about to face the incoming fire.
Look for opposition to center on her proposal to tax individuals whose net worth in exceeds $50 million in order to fund her very ambitious domestic agenda. There are no shortage of experts who say that wealthy Americans will find ways to evade the tax, that it won’t raise nearly as much money as she says, and that many other countries that have tried it have dropped it. There are legitimate questions about its feasibility and the revenue estimates from it. Keep in mind that it is one thing to defend a plan that promises a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage in a Democratic primary. In a general election, it might be a bit tougher.