Analysis & Comment

Opinion | A Floundering Candidacy

This article is part of David Leonhardt’s newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it each weekday.

It was the fall of 2007 — only a few months before the presidential primaries would begin — and Barack Obama’s campaign wasn’t looking good.

He was trailing Hillary Clinton by about 25 percentage points, polls showed. “There are some real questions about electability,” one pollster said of him. He was even losing to Clinton among African-American voters — “one more indication of just how steep a climb remains for his campaign to overtake Clinton,” Politico wrote.

“His senior aides said they were now spending much of their days fielding calls from concerned donors and other supporters,” The Times reported. Those supporters were expressing “mounting alarm” about “his lack of assertiveness.”

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning, with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

Less than three months later, of course, Obama would beat Clinton in Iowa, transforming the race. I encourage you to keep this history in mind when watching the current presidential campaign.

It remains in its early stages — its very early stages, before any debates have begun. The current polls may bear little resemblance to the eventual results.

So if you’re frustrated or disappointed that one of your favored candidates — say, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker or Beto O’Rourke — isn’t doing better, take a deep breath. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign provides a good reminder. A few months ago, everyone seemed to be asking why she was struggling. In recent weeks, The Times, Vox, The Washington Post and New York magazine have all written about a Warren boomlet.

The right approach for Democratic voters at this stage is to figure out which candidates they want to win, not which ones are likely to win or seem most electable. Remember: At various points in their own primary campaigns, Obama, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were all dismissed as unelectable.

“In contemporary politics,” my colleague Michelle Goldberg has written, “the quest to find an electable candidate hasn’t resulted in candidates that actually win. Voters don’t do themselves any favors when they try to think like pundits.”

Related: The California Democratic Party holds its annual convention this weekend in San Francisco, and it is likely to be “the biggest single gathering of contenders so far,” The Wall Street Journal’s Emily Glazer writes. Fourteen candidates, including all of the big names except for Joe Biden, will be there, and each will receive a seven-minute speaking slot.

Yes, he is a crook.

If you have two-and-a-half minutes to spare, watch this video in which former federal prosecutors make a strong, succinct case against President Trump.

“We all strongly believe that there is more than enough evidence to indict President Trump for multiple felony counts of obstruction of justice,” the prosecutors say (summarizing a statement signed by more than 1,000 former federal prosecutors). “If he weren’t in the White House, President Trump would be charged with serious crimes. This isn’t even a close case. If you or I did what President Trump did, we’d be facing prison.”

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David Leonhardt is a former Washington bureau chief for the Times, and was the founding editor of The Upshot and head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt Facebook

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