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A friendly reminder about presidential campaign predictions: Nobody. Knows. Anything.

CNN pundits
REUTERS/Kyle Grillot
CNN pundits Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, Van Jones and David Axelrod preparing to interview presidential candidates in a spin room after a debate.

I have just one humble suggestion in the aftermath of last night’s New Hampshire primary result. 

Remember what you don’t know. Be very humble about future-gazing, or drop it altogether. The whole pundit racket has gotten out of hand. 

“Pundit” is derived from a Sanskrit word for a wise, deep-thinking person. Wisdom is deeper than smarts. Wise deep-thinkers are humble. They know what they don’t know. And they know that they don’t know the future, including the future of the race of the for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

If we must talk about the future of that race (I mostly recommend against it), it should be done humbly with constant acknowledgement that it is mere speculation and that experience suggests most predictions will be wrong. And, if they are right, that will be more luck than genius. The future is a dark forest.

A few months or even weeks ago, the “pundits” believed, based on then-current polls that Joe Biden was the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and that the question was who else, besides Bernie Sanders, might emerge to challenge him. That punditry didn’t make it out of Iowa.

After failing to finish in the top three in either of the first two contests, Biden may be close to leaving the race. Or he may be restored to relevance with a strong showing in South Carolina that reinforces his strength among black Democrats, who make up a large and vital segment of the party. The next round or two of polling out of South Carolina will get more attention than it deserves. Biden’s actual showing in South Carolina will (probably) either restore him to relevance, or end his candidacy. I’m content to wait until the South Carolina results to figure out which of those it is.

Iowa (where Pete Buttigieg finished first by one measure and second by another), made Buttigieg the chief rival to Sanders for front-runnership, at least for the moment. A strong second place showing in New Hampshire keeps him there, for the moment. This is amazing and impressive. He’s gay. He’s short. He’s a military vet. He (at least his family name) is of Maltese extraction. He’s unflappable and appealing on TV.  “Medicare for all who want it” is a clever slogan that straddles the line between the drive for universal coverage and those who fear too much “socialized“ medicine. Although such a proposal would have been considered far left before this cycle, it now entitles Buttigieg to occupy what’s called the “moderate” lane, which really means something like “less socialist than Bernie, who actually calls himself a socialist.”

As I’ve argued before, it’s ridiculous to allow two small overwhelmingly white states, Iowa and New Hampshire, which between them contain about 1.5 percent of the U.S. population, special rights to winnow the presidential field for the rest of the country. It would be likewise ridiculous to switch to any other two states. But at least the Iowa-New-Hampshire phase is behind us. Based on their top-two finishes in both of the first-two states, it would be reasonable (but also silly) to declare Sanders and Buttigieg the “front-runners” for the Democratic nomination.

Last night was Amy Klobuchar’s night to exceed expectations with a strong and surprising (although a few days ago she started getting some buzz) third place showing in New Hampshire, enough that she, Sanders and Buttigieg head, with wind in their sails, into the next contests in states with much larger minority populations (African-Americans in South Carolina and Latinos in Nevada). Klobuchar’s campaign announced that she’ll attend the LULAC Presidential Forum on Thursday in North Las Vegas before holding a town hall in Las Vegas later in the evening.

None of the three New Hampshire co-winners are particularly famous for their appeal to either of those large minority groups. And the pundits tell us that capturing both big majorities and big turnout among those minority groups will be vital to the Democrats’ chances of winning against Trump in November. But we’ll see. We’ll see whether Joe Biden stays in the race and, if he does, whether his alleged strength with minority voters can resuscitate his gasping candidacy.

Personally, I recommend against too much certainty that the eventual Democratic nominee will be anyone whose name is mentioned above. But it’s definitely possible.

I’ll close with a remark I recall from years ago, so long ago that I don’t remember the name of the guy or the show on which he said it. But the guy was not a regular on the shows. And this goes back to the era before 24-hour news cable networks, when there were far fewer such shows.

During the pundit round-up, the host asked the guy some version of “what’s gonna happen next?”

And the guy, to his eternal credit, said something like: “I don’t know what’s gonna happen next. And let’s face it, neither does anyone else at this table.”

And, he recounted later, as a reward for that outburst of humility and honesty, he was never asked back.

In “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” Captain Kirk delivers the remark that gives the film its title. Saith Kirk, to the chancellor of a faraway place:

“It’s about the future, Madame Chancellor. Some people think the future means the end of history. Well … We haven’t run out of history quite yet. … Your father called the future … the undiscovered country.” 

Comments (33)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/12/2020 - 12:36 pm.

    I’ll jump in anyway.
    26-24-20 is not a big gap; a quarter of the vote is far from dominating the race.
    I think that the ultimate winner will be the person who picks up the most votes from supporters of candidates who drop out. In effect, this is a form of ranked choice voting, at least at the primary level.
    To jump in even further, I think that Sanders will suffer the most. He has a dedicated base, but I doubt that many supporters of other candidates would pick him as a second choice. For an extreme case, let’s say that Biden doesn’t do well enough if South Carolina to continue. Where would his supporters go? I’d suspect that far more of them would shift to Klobuchar than to Sanders or Buddigieg.

    • Submitted by Tom Crain on 02/14/2020 - 11:24 am.

      I’m hearing echos of the 2016 Republican primary when all the pundits insisted that Trump (like Sanders?) has a devoted but limited following. 35% at most, right? Momentum and perception are important in politics.

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 02/12/2020 - 12:47 pm.

    “Nobody. Knows. Anything.”

    I need that reminder tattooed on my forehead. My predictions have only gone downhill since “Donald Trump has no chance to win the GOP nomination.”

    Why on earth is this Buttigieg kid so popular? Same for the Klobs surge.

    I will say that overall, Dem primary voters have a poor record of success.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/13/2020 - 08:44 am.

      “Why on earth is this Buttigieg kid so popular?”

      Just speaking for my own narrow circle, there was a lot of interest in a cultured, well-educated, articulate youngish man running for President. Call him the anti-Trump.

      A closer look at his policies and his record made that curiosity go away.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/12/2020 - 01:27 pm.

    “They know what they don’t know. And they know that they don’t know” The problem got folks that don’t know that they don’t know, and worse yet don’t want to know, that they don’t know!

  4. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 02/12/2020 - 01:42 pm.

    A long way to go:

    4765 Delegates

    53 Pledged to date

  5. Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 02/12/2020 - 01:54 pm.

    This intensive focus on the Democratic presidential primaries is cable-TV-inspired (they need to fill the time they have on-air) and a symptom of the fear and panic that Donald Trump brings out in millions upon millions of us who voted for someone than him the last time around.

    We are desperate to find Our Hero[ine], who will save us from Trump.

    In Iowa, this fear and panic caused citizens to freeze, to not be able to decide. Same in New Hampshire: voters froze up, changing minds all the time until the last minute, frantic not to make a mistake for the country.

  6. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 02/12/2020 - 02:31 pm.

    People can be very frightened of change.

  7. Submitted by Chas Dalseide on 02/12/2020 - 02:43 pm.

    There needs to be a “Draft Tom Hanks” movement.
    He would be the Democrat Reagan.
    The need for ability and experience is over-rated as many past
    examples show. The party and its Think-Tanks have
    a full slate of appointees awaiting a job. The President just
    has to go with it, and show style, pleasantness and grace.

  8. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 02/12/2020 - 03:26 pm.

    “None of the three New Hampshire co-winners are particularly famous for their appeal to either of those large minority groups.” A fifth place finish in Iowa and third in New Hampshire does not make one a winner. Also, all national polls show Sanders as the candidate with the greatest strength among Latinos in Nevada and California, and he is making inroads into Biden’s black support in South Carolina.

  9. Submitted by Henry Johnson on 02/12/2020 - 03:29 pm.

    Eric’s right of course, look how the dynamics have changed so quickly in less than a month, and they might change just as much in the coming month.

    However, I’m encouraged to see Amy Klobuchar surging and getting a lot of critical approval from commentators.

    Honestly, I think the fact that she appeals to independents (and disillusioned moderate republicans) is a huge advantage and another neither she or Bernie or Buttigieg are expected to do well in South Carolina, I hope that the infusion of cash and attention for her showing in New Hampshire can allow her to gain further momentum in Nevada and beyond.

    Left-leaning democrats tend to write-off the impact of independents or centrists in general as if they were irrelevant I believe, but considering that somewhere beteen 37% (Pew research) and 46% (Independent identify themselves as ‘independents’, I think that’s a mistake.

    That’s a lot of people to write-off as being not that important!

    Here’s a link to a website promoting the influence of independent voters which quotes the 46% figure –

    Amy K has a proven record I believe of being able to pull in the votes of independents, which is perhaps why she did so relatively well in New Hampshire, which allows independents to vote in the primary.

    Honestly, although maybe South Carolina can turn things around,Joe Biden obviously is looking weak and personally, his ‘lying, dog-faced, pony soldier’ gaffe was one too many for me – not only was it cruel, especially being directed at a young woman, but it showed his hair-trigger temper (and we have had enough of that with Trump), and was also just plain stupid, since he has to know by now that the cameras are recording all his events.

    So personally, I no longer see him as the candidate with the best chances against DJT.

    To be honest, I am wondering if all of these elderly candidates, Trump himself, and Biden and Bernie, aren’t just way too old for the job.

    Someone on this board who works with elderly dementia patients said in a previous post that the tendency to get all cranked-up and to “lose it” and go off on a rant against people was one of the early symptoms of dementia, and commented that they thought that might explain some of President Trump’s tantrums and mood swings.

    But I’m wondering if we aren’t possibly seeing some of the same symptoms with Joe Biden.

    And of course, Bernie will be 79 going on 80 when and if he’s signed into office if elected, and he recently had a heart attack.

    A near 80 year old man, with a heart condition, and who also is a socialist which is a problem for many voters in the swing states where presidential elections are decided – I’m a little surprised that that is who we are supposed to be pinning our hopes on as far as the left leaning side of the democratic party is concerned.

    As for Buttigieg, he’s wet behind the ears in political experience, and although maybe I’m wrong, and personally I could care less, there are many states in the union where many voters, democrats and republicans, consider being gay a ‘sin’ and against their religion and core beliefs, so I think that’s a very significant problem in terms of elect-ability unfortunately.

    Since I think many who oppose DJT think that picking a candidate who can WIN the general election is a huge factor, I’m again a little surprised that so many would be enthusiastically supporting his candidacy, which between his inexperience and the bias against gays, especially in those critical swing states, I think he is probably destined for poor results, except in the liberal states.

    Personally, I think he’ll do quite poorly in all the primaries in the conservative states, and so I doubt he can even win the nomination, and if he does win the nomination, I think he’d get killed in the general election, as I think it would absolutely galvanize the republican base to oppose him (as they were galvanized to oppose Hillary Clinton in 2016).

    So I really see Amy Klobuchar as the candidate with the best chance of actually winning against the president, and because of her senate experience, and her age, which seems ‘ just right’ – not too old and not too young, and her ability to appeal to independents, I think she’s the smart choice to defeat DJT.

    And she’s proven herself to be a very good debater as well, and quite a good campaigner too.

    Obviously, it’s still an uphill battle for her, but she’s strongly gaining a lot of momentum and respect, and those who predicted an early demise have been wrong – she’s tougher, and a better debater and campaigner than many expected I think.

  10. Submitted by BK Anderson on 02/13/2020 - 10:14 am.

    There are serious age problems with both Bernie and Biden, who looks like a walking corpse, is a terrible campaigner, has no charisma and never did.

    Ditto Billionaire Bloomberg, so much a soporific corporate boardroom denizen that it’s almost comic. And where’s this “candidate’s” actual “organization”? I assume he knows he actually has to get on the ballot somewhere, ha-ha! That polls indicate he has purchased 10% of the primary voters for about $300, $400, $500 million in ads (I can’t keep track already) is simply appalling and proof that one cannot condemn the Supreme Court’s “money is speech” ruling harshly enough. Just another sign of our complete failure as a nation.

    It’s stunning that so many Dems look at Mayor Pete and see a serious prez candidate. He’s a well spoken, totally unqualified guy who would be Dukakis-ized in two weeks by the Rightwing Noise Machine. Simply a preposterous choice, probably being driven by a desperate desire to have some youthful energy in the office. He can run solely because with the imbecile Trump the nation gave up all pretense that one need to actually have qualifications for the highest office in the land. Again, irrefutable proof of our failed-state status, with an assist from our failed Constitution.

    The candidate who would’ve best united the party and likely been acceptable to the critical suburban Dems and independents (who decided the 2018 election) was Warren, IMO. She’s now likely been destroyed, although I hope she soldiers on to get whatever delegates she can to influence the convention.

    One thing the party should surely not do is listen to those Trump voters who now claim to have buyer’s remorse and are recanting their egregious error, but demanding that the Dem candidate not be “too lib’rul !” These folks have the Scarlet “T” on them for life and need not be listened to on anything. If they haven’t figured out by now that that the scoundrel and wannabe autocrat Trump is in every circumstance the greater evil, they never will.

  11. Submitted by William Duncan on 02/13/2020 - 10:29 am.

    Here is a prediction: Sanders wins the most delegates, but not a plurality. The rest of the delegates will be split between Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Biden and Klobuchar, but at the convention, none of the “moderate” delegates shift to Bernie, or to one “moderate”. We will have heard more and more from Hillary throughout the process, who then steps in at the invitation of the DNC at the convention, with an expectation to be coronated. Bad blood between the “moderates” and Bernie supporters overflows into the streets, and a kind of proverbial hell breaks loose on international TV. The Dem elite come together in secret and broker the nomination for Bloomberg or Hillary. Sanders does not want to go down in history as breaking up the party, but his broad support feels betrayed, shut out from the system. The party split, Trump wins.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/13/2020 - 02:38 pm.

      The person with the most votes has a plurality, but not a majority. That is what happened in 2016. I think that you meant to say ‘majority’.
      Since Sanders has been a Democratic only when running for President, I doubt that he’d have any compunctions about doing a Samson and taking the party down with him.

      • Submitted by William Duncan on 02/13/2020 - 05:31 pm.

        From Mirriam-Webster:

        Plurality definition is – the state of being plural. c: a number of votes cast for a candidate in a contest of more than two candidates that is greater than the number cast for any other candidate but not more than half the total votes cast

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/14/2020 - 10:37 am.

          You’re repeating what I said, and misreading your own statement.
          If Sanders has more votes than any other candidate, but less than half the total votes, he has a plurality according to the definition you cite.

          • Submitted by William Duncan on 02/15/2020 - 05:19 pm.

            Well, Plurality or Majority, the “moderates” in the party are sure to do all they can to prevent Bernie from winning the nomination, or the election (the moderates tend to be far closer to Trump in economics and war than Bernie). And if Bernie wanted to take down the Democratic Party he could well have run as an Independent in the 2016 election, after the treatment he got from the DNC and corporate media, but he did not.

            • Submitted by Pat Terry on 02/16/2020 - 12:59 pm.

              Instead, Sanders ran a sleazy and dishonest campaign in 2016, and continued to do so long after it was clear he couldn’t win. He doesn’t care about the party. Sanders is a bigger egomaniac than Trump.

              • Submitted by William Duncan on 02/17/2020 - 09:11 am.

                That kind of baseless slander is one of the reasons why I cannot support any “moderate” candidate. Integrity matters.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 02/13/2020 - 02:43 pm.

      I supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 and may again in March but I haven’t decided partly because the same scenario is predicted by Sanders’s opponents if he does become the Democratic candidate. At some point, everyone has to decide who they’re going to support because they agree with and believe in the candidate’s positions on policy, like health care, climate change, foreign policy and so on. And each of us need to be prepared to accept the candidate who prevails in gaining delegates or in being the nominee at the Democratic National Convention. For anyone who is opposed to Trump, it should be unthinkable to sit out the next election or, worse, to contemplate voting for him.

      • Submitted by William Duncan on 02/13/2020 - 05:49 pm.

        If Bernie receives more than 40% of the delegates, and no one else gets more than 30%, and elite Dems broker the convention for Hillary Clinton or Bloomberg, then I will not be voting for anyone for President, except maybe just to write in Bernie.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/14/2020 - 12:30 pm.

          I can’t see mainstream Democrats being foolish enough to broker a nomination for Senator Clinton, and I think there are enough lingering doubts about Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure to rule him out as well. I think Senator Klobuchar has the edge for brokering.

          Incidentally, did you know that writing in a vote for a candidate who has not registered as a write-in is the same as not voting? Your write-in for Sanders would not even appear in the official totals of votes cast.

          • Submitted by William Duncan on 02/17/2020 - 09:21 am.

            So if Bernie gets 40% of delegates, and Klobuchar gets 24%, and the DNC brokers the nomination for Klobuchar, should all of Bernie’s supporters vote Klobuchar because the elite of the DNC say that is the only choice to stop Trump? That doesn’t sound like democracy to me, that feels like coercion.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/17/2020 - 11:59 am.

              No, Bernie’s supporters should all stay home, on indulge in meaningless write-in votes. They can spend the next four years kvetching on the internet about how unfair the whole system is while what is left of American democracy crumbles around them.

              • Submitted by William Duncan on 02/17/2020 - 04:59 pm.

                Democracy is dying on the vine by ten thousand cuts, sacrificed at the alter of consumerism, prayers to the gods of Growth and Progress. Trump is the President consumer America deserves, we having sold out our productive capacity and working class to corporatism, China etc southeast Asia. Blaming Bernie fans is just denial of Bill Clinton’s, Obama’s and neoliberalism part of of that.

    • Submitted by Tom Crain on 02/14/2020 - 11:42 am.

      Unfortunately, I think you’re right. This may be the most likely scenario: Sanders goes into the convention with a plurality of delegates but can’t win on the first vote and loses on the second vote with super delegates tipping the scales. Remember Sanders supporters fought to make DNC rules more democratic and convention rules were changed to not allow super delegates to vote.

      I doubt even the DNC is corrupt and dumb enough to drag Hillary back into the mix. That would be sure disaster. More likely Bloomberg’s delegates throw their support to whichever moderate is next most popular. Then Trump wins the General in another squeaker.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 02/16/2020 - 01:01 pm.

        Better than running Sanders and getting completely destroyed while losing the House majority and a ton of down-ballot races.

        • Submitted by William Duncan on 02/17/2020 - 09:24 am.

          My point exactly, moderate Dems would rather game the system even if it leads to the reelection of Trump, rather than vote for a social Democrat in the style of FDR.

  12. Submitted by Joe Musich on 02/13/2020 - 07:45 pm.

    You are absolutely correct. We maybe in for a March,April, May, etc. surprise. Lots of variables out there. That being said what is certain is that his base is entrenched and that Bernie much to my chagrin still scares the nightlights out of the dem establishment. I think Sen. Bern ought to make a series of debate commercials with a fake maybe Alec Baldwin should he commit. The topics of concern could be intellectually debated of course by Bernie alone as the sea of footage of could be mined for the current occupant’s multiple promises and misdirections. Then the ending of each commercial would be a “contest of strength and skill” with Bernie winning. Eg, hole in one, arm wrestling, spelling, locution, etc.

  13. Submitted by Tom Wilson on 02/13/2020 - 08:22 pm.

    If Klobuchar survives Nevada and South Carolina she has a chance to be in the last three standing! From there who knows, but it’s an eternity till November.

  14. Submitted by Tom Crain on 02/14/2020 - 11:21 am.

    MinnPost political pundit Erik writes “None of the three New Hampshire co-winners are particularly famous for their appeal to either of those large minority groups”. Seems to me one of top three NH candidates stands above the other two.

    From this week’s Morning Consult poll:

    Biden 34%
    Sanders 30%
    Bloomberg 19%
    Warren 8%
    Buttigieg 4%
    Steyer 3%
    Klobuchar 1%

    Sanders 28%
    Bloomberg 19%
    Biden 15%
    Buttigieg 14%
    Warren 11%
    Klobuchar 7%

    Sanders 48%
    Bloomberg 17%
    Biden 13%
    Buttigieg 8%
    Warren 7%
    Klobuchar 3%

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