- - Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick’s presidential runs clearly signal Democratic establishment desperation with its 2020 field. What is unclear is whether their runs are the cause or the effect of establishment desperation. Simply, the Democrats’ contest is spiraling out of control and toward November 2020 defeat.  

The Democrats’ nomination contest is less clear than it was five months ago. Joe Biden has gone backward, but still leads. The collective left has increased their support and widened its lead over the establishment, but individually the candidates of the left still trail Mr. Biden. The overall field has shrunk, but its ideological spectrum remains over-extended and skewed.  

The Democrats’ deadlock looks like this. Mr. Biden holds just over one-quarter of Democrats. The collective left hold just over two-thirds; however, the leader, Elizabeth Warren, holds just over one-fifth. Uncommitted Democrats are now under 10 percent and, even if they all moved to one candidate (and they are not), they would not break the deadlock. 

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The Democratic establishment sees all this, even if it publicly trumpets President Trump’s mid-40s job approval numbers. They also see that there is no establishment representation in their field, except Mr. Biden, and he is slipping. According to Real Clear Politics, national polling averages in June showed Mr. Biden narrowly leading Bernie Sanders and Ms. Warren 32 percent to 29.7 percent, respectively. Most recently, Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders now lead Mr. Biden by double digits: 38.6 percent to 26 percent, respectively. Below these top three, the gulf between the left and the establishment is even greater.  

Into this morass step former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.  

On one hand their entries can be seen a cause of desperation for the Democratic establishment. Democrats need fewer candidates and more clarity, not more and less, respectively. These candidacies bring neither.  

The Democratic establishment especially do not need more candidates in their corner. They are already desperate to hold on against an overwhelming left insurgency. Messrs. Bloomberg and Patrick now force a fight within their dwindling base. Mr. Biden is not going to leave, particularly for candidates with such localized support, but he will now have to campaign for a middle that was his alone.  

On the other hand, Messrs. Bloomberg and Patrick’s entries can be seen as an effect of the establishment’s desperation. The establishment already faced all the above threats through an even worse potential establishment candidate: Hillary. Mrs. Clinton’s entry would bring all the things that Messrs. Bloomberg and Patrick’s would, plus she would need money and compete with Mr. Biden for it — something at least Mr, Bloomberg’s will not.  

The last thing the Democratic establishment needs is a contested middle and Mrs. Clinton’s taint as a two-time loser. So, Messrs. Bloomberg and Patrick’s entries could be the establishment’s block to an even worse threat. It could be their concession that Mr. Biden cannot win the nomination (true), and the establishment’s desperation to find someone who could possibly catch fire before it is too late: An establishment candidate with sufficiently liberal credentials to draw support from the surging left.  

In all this, the only thing that is clear is the Democratic establishment’s desperation. They see their party slipping perilously more to the left and away from the mainstream. Currently hopelessly outnumbered, they see Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders trying to outlast each other by trying to “out-left” each other to win the preponderant left.  

As Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders and the collective left seek to do so, they continue to generate more extreme proposals that will be used by Republicans to brand the whole party. They continue to generate soundbites that Republicans will use against whomever they nominate. They continue to generate hard feelings internally that will follow the eventual nominee. And they continue to raise and spend copious amounts of cash against each other, which the eventual nominee will need to offset Mr. Trump’s tremendous war chest.  

The Democratic establishment sees their party’s race for what it really is — not what the headlines write of it: Over-extended, self-incriminated and under-funded. And they know that on its current trajectory, it will only get worse. Whether theirs is desperation to stop their descent or desperation caused by their descent, matters little. Either way, the Democratic establishment has arrived at the same desperate place.  

• J.T. Young served in the Office of Management and Budget and at the Treasury Department. 

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