Two Tea Leaves

Predicting the political future is often called reading the tea leaves. Two tea leaves fell last week and I’d like to explore their possible impact on the Democratic presidential contest and thereby the 2020 election.

Vermont Senator and one of the four Democratic primary contenders of consequence, Bernie Sanders, suffered a heart attack and the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging a 2014 Louisiana law requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. While the two events may seem unrelated I think they could both impact the election.

For some time now Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have collectively dominated the Democratic 2020 field. Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris have stayed within striking distance. While I like a lot of what I see and hear from Buttigieg, I can’t envision a scenario where he is the nominee so I have felt it is down to a four person race for some time now.

Like President Trump, who I assume will be the GOP nominee, Biden, Sanders and Warren are in their 70’s. Will Bernie’s heart attack bring the issue of age/health into the race? More than anything else Democrats are looking for a candidate who can beat Trump; if age becomes an issue that bodes well for Harris.

Utopia for the Democrats would be Sanders dropping out of the race, gathering his strength and campaigning for the eventual Democratic nominee in the 2020 general election. Judging by the fact that as of this writing Sanders is still soliciting donations that doesn’t appear to be imminent.

Tulsi Gabbard qualified for the next debate bringing the field to twelve which is too many. Democrats need a few to drop out and a Sanders exit would have a major impact on the race. The conventional wisdom is that if Sanders dropped most of his supporters would go over to Warren. While I think that is true it might not be to the degree it appears at first glance. For example I can see Andrew Yang being attractive to Sanders supporters. Voters make choices for seemingly odd reasons; at least odd to political prognosticators who think policy first. In 2016 many were choosing between Sanders and Trump. Politically they are polar opposites, but to many who were looking to shake things up they were two outsiders. How is a guy who has been in the Senate for decades an outsider? Outsider is one thing; outlandish is another as we are seeing.

The Louisiana law is remarkably similar to a Texas statute that the Court struck down in 2016 by a 5-4 vote. That fifth vote was in the person of Justice Anthony Kennedy who has retired and been replaced by Brett Kavanaugh. Basically the makeup of the Court is the only thing that has changed. I fear that we will see another 5-4 decision but in the other direction this time. That can have an impact on the 2020 election in three ways.

It could help bring out the Republican base because Republican leaning voters have been much more cognizant of the importance of the Court for years now. That is the bad news for Democrats; the other two likely reactions are good for the Democrats.

Women make up a disproportionate portion of the Democratic ground troops, especially with the demise of unions. Many women who personally would never have an abortion still want women to have the right to choose. (By the way, if you think this law is intended to protect women your need to start getting ready for Santa.) The only sub-demographic of women Trump won in 2016 was white women and that was by a narrow 53-47 margin. That can be flipped and it would have a huge impact on the final vote. Many women of a certain age, (my age group), feel that the mythical “they” will never allow a women to be elected President in their lifetime; advantage Warren and Harris?

Regardless of who the Democrats finally nominate women’s interests will be much better served by that nominee than Trump or anyone else the Republicans will nominate in my remaining lifetime. This may help increase turnout in a group with a historic low turnout rate that is predisposed to disproportionately vote for Democrats – young people.

We can talk all we want of impeachment. I think impeachment will happen; removal from office by the Senate is a longshot but remotely possible. There is an old adage about if you want something done right, do it yourself. That may apply to the American electorate in 2020. That last tea leaf is easy to read.

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