It has become a habit to scold Democratic voters who say that electability is their standard in deciding whom to support for their party’s presidential nomination. Forecasts made hours before Election Day three years ago went spectacularly awry, so who can know what will happen in November 2020?
Yet like it or not, the most important watchers of the Democratic debate on Thursday will be electability voters, who happen to constitute a majority of the party. And they are right to believe that the priority in 2020 is defeating President Trump. A man who invents the trajectory of a hurricane is not exactly someone whom we should entrust with four more years of power.
Still, if the question of who can win is a constant, the dynamic going into this encounter is very different from that of July’s faceoffs—and not just because ten candidates who were there before will be missing. Rather quickly, the Democratic presidential race has come down to three candidates, and then everyone else.
The battle for supremacy is between former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders holding on to his loyalists but having trouble reaching beyond them. The seven others will have to decide which of these three they most want to bring down.
Warren has had by far the best year of anyone. This makes her a target in a way she wasn’t before. She profited from not sharing the stage with Biden in the first two debate rounds, insulating her from the fractiousness that was directed initially toward the front-runner but eventually engulfed nearly everyone in the vicinity. Warren thus had the freedom to highlight her impressive list of policy proposals and to look—to use another much-debated word—“presidential.”