After two more Democratic debates this week—in which 20 presidential hopefuls duked it out in Detroit—many voters may be asking a question: When, exactly, will this way-too-crowded field will get a little less crowded? After all, most of the candidates are polling at 1% or less. If this week’s debates fail to give them a significant boost, shouldn’t we expect the underperformers (like Bill de Blasio or Beto O’Rourke or Tulsi Gabbard or Tim Ryan or a dozen others) to start dropping like flies, like tomorrow?
Unfortunately, recent history suggests otherwise. Four years ago, the Republican primaries similarly ballooned into an unwieldy free-for-all, with no fewer than 17 candidates vying for the top job at one point. Many of those candidates held on longer than you’d expect. According to FiveThirtyEight’s recap, former Texas governor Rick Perry was the first of the major candidates to drop out, but that didn’t happen until September 11, 2015. The equivalent date for the 2020 cycle is more than five weeks away.
In fact, most of the 2016 Republicans waited until at least the Iowa caucuses on February 1, 2016, before calling it quits. (Seven candidates, including heavy hitters like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, exited the race that month.) Others waited until so-called Super Tuesday in March. It wasn’t until May 2016 that the final holdouts, John Kasich and Ted Cruz, finally bowed out.
Of course, there are some differences this time around. Unlike in 2016, we have an incumbent president this time, but President Trump is especially unpopular and clearly seen as beatable by a large group of politicians with varying degrees of experience.
All of which is a way of saying that things will probably continue to feel very noisy—and very crowded—for the next seven or eight months. Sure, there will be some early dropouts (like Eric Swalwell), but with 24 Democrats in the race, elbow room will surely be hard to come by.
For those keeping track, the Democratic Iowa caucuses are not until Monday, February 3, 2020.