At a sold-out conference on the presidency in Charlottesville, five of the nation’s top political pundits made predictions for 2020.
Amy Walter, editor of the Cook Political Report, told UVA political scientist Larry Sabato that Joe Biden is likely to be the nominee -- because most Democrats like him.
“To me Joe Biden is the candidate of one of those casual but nice restaurants that you take your whole family to because everybody is going to find something they like on the menu," she said.
"Kind of like Applebee’s," Sabato replied. " The Applebee’s candidate. That’s great!””
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews also saw Biden as the frontrunner and praised his wife as a real asset to the campaign.
“His big weapon – his astounding weapon – came out of nowhere," he recalled, referring to a video recorded by Jill Biden. " Wait til you watch her," he continued. " She is something. She made a beautiful, patriotic case for saving our country from Trump. 'My husband’s going to do it.’ It was powerful!”
But Republican Karl Rove warned Trump will run a negative campaign, and Mathews agreed – predicting the president would attack the Democrats for failing to secure the border, supporting late-term abortion and being socialists.’
“And then you throw in Bernie’s support for prisoners voting – are you crazy? And then Kamala [Harris] comes along and says, ‘I think that’s something that should be in the conversation.' No it shouldn’t!”
New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie thought Trump could be re-elected.
“If he was able to just stop tweeting + just do traditional president stuff – for not even 2019 but from June to October, that’s it, just like shut the hell up – he would win re-election. I have no doubt, but because what’s driving so much of politics is an intense dislike of Donald Trump, the only Democrats have to do to win is make sure they hold on to all anti-Trump voters.”
Sabato speculated that with so many candidates running against Donald Trump, Democratic voters might be nervous enough to agree for a change.
‘My God, if we don’t get this together, we’re going to elect Donald Trump by being so disunified. One rank and file Democrat – this is interesting – who’s a very liberal Democrat – he came up to me recently and said, ‘You know, I’m going to shock you. If the Democrats nominate a barstool, I’m voting for the barstool.’
But if Democrats should decide to impeach the president, Rove thought they could indeed help elect Trump.
“Anybody who thinks the Democrats have got a thoughtful, reasonable way to move forward with this is kidding themselves. The picture I saw this weekend of Jerry Nadler with his belt up here somewhere about mid-belly – you know the image of the Democratic party is not going to be a pleasant one if you unleash the house committee on impeachment. And if I were sitting in the west wing I’d say bring on Fried Chicken Cohen.”
He added that campaign funding would be key to any Democrat hoping to win his or her party’s nomination.
“Money is going to matter in this, because the money is going to be the money needed to build and organization in Iowa that allows somebody to do to Biden what happened to Hillary Clinton with Barack Obama in 2008. Remember the national polls showed her with a 30 point lead until she lost Iowa, and them the polls closed, and we had a sustained contest, and I think that the same thing could happen here. If Biden gets upset in Iowa, whoever upsets him is going to be a player.”
Bouie thought it was much too soon to say who will actually challenge Trump in the general election.
“Jeb Bush was leading the Republican field at this point in 2007. Hillary Clinton was leading the Democratic field. It’s going to depend really on how Biden performs over the course of the year, and if he sees a sudden collapse, then all of those voters suddenly come up for grabs, and in that situation Harris appears to be a lot of voters’ second-place choice, Warren appears to be a lot of voters’ second or third place choice.”
He added that the outcome in 2020 will depend on who actually gets to vote.
“We have to remember that not every member of the public has equal access to the polls, and that is going to affect the outcome. We saw that in 2016. Who can actually get the ballot is just as important as what is going to happen.”
Members of the panel seemed excited by the prospect of a competitive race for the presidency – Chris Matthews looking forward to debates that will showcase the Democratic contenders and, later, the winner in that contest against Trump.
“When this guy pulls his Godzilla number like he did with Hillary, when he comes walking behind her and looms over her, what’s the candidate going to do, because that’s the moment. That’s when you show your guts. You’ve got to turn around and make the guy look like an idiot.”
PrezFest continues Thursday with an appearance by former President Bill Clinton. His speech will be streamed live here on our website.
***Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a sponsor of the Presidential Ideas Festival.