Will Too Many Candidates Spoil the Democrats’ Chances in 2020?

It seems like every Democrat in the country is running for president in 2020. There could be as many as 20 candidates who lose the nomination next year. But who will win?

With so many candidates running, how worried should Democrats be about a fiasco like a deadlocked nomination battle leading to a loss in November?

Nate Silver argues that a very large candidate field is dangerous for the party.

He wrote:

The crowded field developing for 2020 doesn’t necessarily imply that an anti-establishment candidate will prevail. Even when party elites don’t get their first choice, they usually get someone they can live with. But the high number of candidates does imply a higher-than-usual risk of chaos.”

But Democrats may not need to worry, according to Elaine Kamarck from the Brookings Institute:

“The complex rules for awarding delegates to presidential candidates have not changed in many years and will remain the same in 2020. First, there is a threshold of 15 percent of the primary vote for winning a delegate. In a twenty-person field, many candidates won’t win a single delegate. Second, while delegates are awarded proportionally … By the time Super Tuesday is over, candidates without delegates are likely to be walking ghosts.”

Still, Democrats are on pace to have the largest presidential primary field in campaign history and its growth shows no sign of slowing.

As of Friday, there are at least 14 major candidates in the race and another half dozen who are expected to announce soon.

This means that the 2020 crowd is likely to become the biggest presidential field of all time, including the 2016 Republicans, which had at least 17 candidates, and the 1976 Democratic field, which had 16.

So what are Democrats to do with so many choices?

Grant Woodard, a Des Moines, Iowa, trial lawyer and former Democratic operative is not impressed with what he’s seen, saying:

“This reminds me of the menu at a Cheesecake Factory: utterly overwhelming and nothing particularly stands out.”

But according to Rachel Maddow, history suggest that a large primary field not necessarily a bad thing.

At the very least it shows that there is confidence in the party that a Democrat will win in 2020. It also shows that there is a “deep bench” of younger, not well known candidates who are anxious to create a national profile.

Recently the Democratic National Committee expanded its first debate to make it over two nights to accommodate up to 20 candidates (10 each night). It also has a contingency plan in place should there be more than 20 bona fide candidates and it needs to winnow that field to keep the debate number at 20.

The first debate is set for June 26-27, 2020 in Miami, Florida.

Some Democrats are worried that so many choices will cause “overload” among primary voters, leading to “decision fatigue” and ‘anticipated regret.” (This is like having buyers’ remorse before you even buy something, because you worry you’ll make the wrong decision.)

“We all want candidates to choose from, but we don’t want to work that hard on it, particularly for people like me who are not political experts,” said Lilly Kofler, the U.S. director of behavioral Science at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. “It’s the paradox of choice.”

Kofler, who recently wrote an essay for Politico magazine titled, “Too Many Democrats Are Running in 2020, According to Science,” said that when people are overwhelmed by choices, they default to what she calls “a known option.”

The problem with the “known option” is that it’s not necessarily the favorite option. Kofler has maintained  that Donald Trump benefited from this effect in the crowded 2016 GOP field, since he was more famous than any of his competitors.

Overconfident Republicans are rubbing their hands with glee, thinking they can pit Democratic candidates against each other and help create party disunity.

“It gives us the opportunity to create chaos every single day,” said Sarah Dolan, the executive director of the GOP research group America Rising. “They’re making our jobs easy.”

But Charlie Cook, a longtime political analyst and founder of the Cook Report, doubts that a long, crowded primary season necessarily spells trouble for the Democrats, noting Trump won in 2016 and so did Barack Obama in 2008.

What Dolan’s analysis doesn’t take into account is that not only is Donald Trump historically unpopular, but he has also unified Democrats. It is almost certain that the various factions within the Democratic Party will unite for the common purpose of defeating Donald Trump in 2020.