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Why All Of Your Electability Concerns are Trash

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | May 6, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | May 6, 2019 |


You know what I remember so painfully about the 2016 election? Just how goddamn unelectable Donald Trump was. I cannot tell you the number of times I thought — and probably wrote in the form of Pajiba posts — how unbelievably unelectable Donald Trump was. You know what happened, though? He finished in a close second place in Iowa, only three points behind Ted Cruz. That was enough for much of the Republican party to see him as “electable,” and he basically dominated the rest of the way. The questions of “electability,” however, didn’t diminish, even as the Republican convention arrived, and there was a lot of conversation about getting the delegates to switch their votes at the convention and nominate Ted Cruz. When the GOP didn’t, a lot of Democrats (including myself) were giddy, because we thought the election would be a cakewalk given how “unelectable” Trump was.

Spoiler: Trump won.

That electability question, however, has surfaced again, although this time it’s on the Democratic side. Joe Biden has essentially been anointed the frontrunner, in part because that’s the narrative the media has wanted to create, and in part because of polls, based on the perceptions of the race that the media has created around Biden.

This is not new, of course. Around this time in 2007, Rudy Guiliani and Hillary Clinton held commanding leads in their respective parties, because they were the most “electable.” What’s even more interesting is that Hillary Clinton herself dominated among black voters. As late as October 17, 2007, Clinton held a 57 percent to 33 percent advantage over Obama among black voters, a 24 point lead. You know why? Because black voters thought that Clinton was the most electable candidate. Three months later, however, the tide had shifted, and Obama took a 28 point lead among black voters (59 to 31). You know why? Because Obama won in Iowa and nearly won in New Hampshire, and black voters realized that Obama could actually win. He became “electable” by virtue of winning elections.

Funny how that works.

Indeed, once Obama finally began winning primaries, he became the “electable” candidate. And the Democratic party lived happily ever after because in 2016 they finally learned their lesson …

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… and “electability” never became a concern again.

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You know what? It’s all bullshit, this “electability” question. And the easiest way for any candidate to rid themselves of that “electability” perception is to … win an election. And while I hate that Iowa and New Hampshire — two very white states — are the two states that get the first crack at creating a real perception of electability, I do appreciate that when they go to the polls in their primaries, they don’t seem to give a sh*t about who is the most electable (unelectable Obama won Iowa in 2008 and nearly won New Hampshire, while unelectable Trump nearly won in Iowa and dominated in New Hampshire in 2016).

In fact, it appears that — with one exception — no candidate in more than four decades has won the primary without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire, and that candidate was Bill Clinton, whose surge to second place in New Hampshire in 1992 essentially propelled him to the Presidency.

In other words, as people ON HERE have been saying for months, the polls at this stage are as meaningless as “electability” concerns. For better or worse, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire (and I believe, South Carolina in 2020) are likely to decide who is “electable,” and a lot of that is going to come down to the “retail politics” that is often missed in the national media. And not for nothing, but you know who is putting the most eggs in the Iowa basket, so far? Elizabeth Warren. Warren is also putting a lot of resources in New Hampshire (and so is Mayor Pete). And you know who is putting a lot of eggs in the South Carolina basket? Kamala Harris (who, with a win in South Carolina, could erase “electability” concerns, win the next week in California, and roll to victory).

Who will connect the best in those three states? That remains to be seen, especially in New Hampshire where voters often do not converge around a candidate until days before the election (and how it shakes out in Iowa will probably have some influence). In the meantime, the best way to create an “electable” candidate is to ignore everything else and “elect” them. The best way to ensure a general election victory is to nominate the candidate voters are the most excited about, not the candidate who is most “electable,” otherwise you end up with the most “electable” nominees like Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton who electability’d themselves into retirement, because the “lesser of two evils” rarely wins if the other side is more excited about the greater evil.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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