The Current Democratic Candidates Won’t Beat Trump

Sophia Maltese, Managing Editor

Former First Lady Michelle Obama is the only Democrat that can beat President Donald Trump. Besides her obvious experience with, or next to, the presidency, she has a command of public attention, would likely be able to raise plenty of funds for her campaign and would most likely be backed by an elite party member — her husband. All of these factors contribute positively to a candidate’s share of the primary vote, according to a 2019 study published by John Carroll professors Colin Swearingen, Elizabeth Stiles and Kate Finneran.

Though Obama is not currently the focus of public attention, there is no doubt that the announcement of her candidacy would incite massive internet activity, thus causing her numbers to skyrocket. This search behavior can be observed in any case where a public figure announces their intent to run for president. It happened with Former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren this year.

So, for Obama, securing public attention would not be a problem even though the other candidates have had months to build their reputations and relationships with supporters. Obama is already known and, because of this, she has a different kind of advantage. She has a reputation, one many Democrats view with a kind of nostalgia for the “good-old days” before the Trump administration. 

With that reputation comes another advantage many studies reference, including the one mentioned at the beginning of this column. Incumbent candidates have an inherent advantage. Out of the last 10 sitting presidents to run for reelection, seven secured a second term. Though not an incumbent herself, Obama has a type of incumbency. She has experienced the presidency and knows the challenges and hardships intimately.

As Alan Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University, told National Public Radio, incumbent candidates are so competitive because of their “name recognition; national attention, fundraising and campaign bases; control over the instruments of government; successful campaign experience; a presumption of success; and voters’ inertia and risk-aversion.”

With the exception of campaign experience, Obama has all the qualities that voters desire in incumbents. Though her politics may not be the exact same as her husband’s, I predict that the public would likely associate her with the Obama administration based on consistency theories that are a main tenet of persuasion scholarship. Defined as, “the agreement, coherence, or fit among related beliefs,” by Cornell’s J. Russo, these theories state that people have a need to reconcile and categorize information to pursue a consistent worldview. We crave routine. Simply put, we crave consistency. This is perhaps another reason incumbent candidates do well in addition to a reason why Michelle Obama would have an advantage in seeking the presidency.

Truly, I believe she is the only person that can dethrone Trump. As stated earlier, the support of party elites is crucial to a successful campaign. Obama has the support of former president Barack Obama. Interestingly, Biden does not. Since Biden was Barack Obama’s former vice president, the public generally assumed that Biden would secure his support; however, Barack Obama has been hesitant to show any signs of support for Biden, even discouraging the former VP on occasion. For example, Barack Obama said point-blank that to win the presidency a candidate must have an intimate relationship with the electorate, particularly in Iowa, “And you know who really doesn’t have it? Joe Biden,” he said, as reported by Politico. When grouped with his age, his often ineloquent speech and his habitual touching, Biden becomes a less-than-thrilling candidate. 

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has been cited by many as the underestimated candidate. He has his die-hard supporters, sure, but he may have trouble reaching beyond his niche audience. Additionally, Sanders would need to siphon some votes from his competitors. The struggle here is that Warren supporters aren’t likely to choose him as their second option. According to an Intelligencer poll, Warren supporters favor Pete Buttigeg as their second choice. This leaves Sanders with his typical 15%-20% of the vote, according to the poll average on RealClearPolitics.     

Elizabeth Warren is too liberal to secure the Democratic nomination. She may speak to California Democrats but convincing the suburban Ohioans of her $20.5 trillion “Medicare for All” plan might prove to be a hurdle she can’t jump.

Michael Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg have faced their own issues. Bloomberg alienated the African American vote with his undeniable support of a “stop and frisk” policy in New York that disproportionately subjects minorities to police searches. Buttigieg is also struggling with black voters, which NBC News claims is because African Americans are 10% less likely to support gay marriage when compared to Caucasian voters, according to the Pew Research center.  

Though none of the current candidates look especially threatening to the president, there is one other thing I believe could beat Trump, and that’s impeachment. A trial before the Senate might be the tipping point for voters; even solid supporters of Trump will likely hesitate to vote for a candidate who has been impeached.

Compared to the politicians just mentioned, Obama is a loved public figure. In a poll by YouGov, she was found to be the most admired woman in the world in 2019 and, according to a Gallup poll, left the White House with a 68% favorability rating. She checks all the boxes, and, in the current context, outshines every other Democratic candidate.

It seems, however, unlikely that we will get to see her run the race. In her memoir, “Becoming,” she wrote, “I have never been a fan of politics, and my experience over the last 10 years has done little to change that.”

With this in mind, it seems that Trump’s only formidable barrier to a second term is his impending impeachment.