As the House voted to recommend holding President Trump’s attorney general in contempt of Congress, and the Senate subpoenaed the President’s son, I did a weird little exercise. I looked back at Real Clear Politics’ polling average for May 2015, just to see what the presidential race looked like four years ago today — the very last days of the pre-Trump era.
On May 8, 2015, Jeb(!) Bush led in the polls with 15.5 percent of voters supporting him. Marco Rubio was a close second, with 14.3 percent. Then: Scott Walker at 12.3 percent, Rand Paul at 10 percent, Ted Cruz at 8.8 percent, Mike Huckabee at 7.5 percent, etc.
In short, a bunch of men we hardly hear from anymore were all clustered together. Bush was out front, but only barely.
But of course, in May 2015, the ultimate winner had not even entered the race yet. That wouldn’t happen until June, when Trump infamously rode down his escalator and began to rise in the polls, passed Bush within a month and, except for a very brief Ben Carson moment in early November, remained solidly in the lead for the rest of the race.
Today’s Real Clear Politics average paints a different picture for Democrats than the Republican primary saw four years ago. Joe Biden is way out front with 39 percent of voters supporting him. Sanders is a clear, but lagging, second, at 15.5 percent. Then there’s a tier of candidates bunched together with a handful of percentage points each: Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker. And then there are the many, many candidates below that, struggling to get noticed and gain traction.
One obvious lesson from 2015 and 2016 is that we have no idea who will emerge victorious from the Democratic Primary. These things are unpredictable; you don’t have to look back at Trump’s weird rise to know that.
But another one is that, at this time in the 2016 cycle — May 2015 — no one candidate was standing out as much as Biden is today. His rise is a recent occurrence — he’s seen an increase of some ten percentage points in ten days, taking a bite most noticeably out of Sanders’ numbers. Many of the Democrats running have had moments where they garnered news coverage and saw a momentary boost in the polls, only to slip back a few days or weeks later. Yet none rose nearly as high as Biden.
Baggage and all, a month out from the first Democratic debate (yes, it’s nearly that time already) Biden is quite clearly the man to beat.