Are the Democrats in danger of blowing their chance to deny Donald Trump a second term? The answer is yes.
It's still early, of course; no primary votes have been cast. A lot can happen between now and November to weaken Trump's case. He has the lowest average approval rating of any president since modern polling started 75 years ago.
A recent Monmouth University survey found that 57 percent of voters don't want Trump reelected. And he is particularly unpopular with women, attracting only 32 percent in a contest with Joe Biden, according to the new ABC/Washington Post poll.
But as the Iowa caucuses approach, here is the blunt truth: Despite a huge field of aspirants, the Democrats have failed to produce a consensus candidate with a compelling message and inspiring personal narrative.
In fact, the split between the party's leftist and moderate wings is getting worse, with both sides sharpening their attacks, making unity around the eventual nominee more difficult and handing Trump a boatload of ammunition to use in the fall campaign.
Moreover, impeachment has clearly fizzled for the Democrats — at least for now. More witnesses with damaging testimony could alter the impact. But last spring, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said impeachment could only succeed if it was a bipartisan effort. Then, after the Ukranian whistleblower surfaced, she abandoned her own political instincts and plunged ahead anyway.
The result is exactly what she warned against: a country deeply divided along partisan lines. In the ABC/Post survey 47 percent favor removing Trump from office, while 49 percent are opposed.
More than 8 in 10 Democrats line up against the president, with a similar ratio of Republicans supporting him. Trump's favorable rating stands at an anemic 44 percent, but that's up 6 points since October, after the House announced impeachment proceedings.
The president and his campaign team have used those proceedings to hammer Democrats as unfair and unpatriotic and raise tons of campaign cash. Once the Senate votes to clear Trump of charges, that verdict will become another heat-seeking missile in the president's campaign arsenal.
Perhaps the Democrats' biggest problem is one they cannot control: the economy. The ABC/Post survey reports that 56 percent approve of Trump's handling of fiscal affairs.
More significantly, only 43 percent now say they're worried about being able to maintain their standard of living, a drop of 20 points in pessimism since Trump took office.
As a result, Trump has closed the gap with leading Democrats, trailing Biden by only 4 points after losing by 17 three months ago, and running about even with the other top-tier contenders.
But many of the Democrats' deficiencies are self-inflicted. Michael Bloomberg, who declined to announce a run last spring, plunged into the race only after seeing data that showed how beatable frontrunner Biden really is. And The New York Times failed to endorse a single candidate, choosing both Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar in a curiously confusing editorial that dismissed Biden as too old and too cautious.
History shows that only a pragmatic Democrat in the Obama-Clinton-Carter-Kennedy mold can win a general election.
Political analyst Ezra Klein argues in a new book, "Why We're Polarized," that Republicans have a built-in advantage in presidential elections because the electoral college gives undue influence to smaller, more conservative states. "To win power, Democrats don't just need to appeal to the voter in the middle. They need to appeal to voters to the right of the middle," he warns.
But ideology is not everything. Pragmatism is not enough. A successful Democratic nominee has to combine pragmatism with magnetism, realistic policies with a dynamic personality, and no moderate in the field has done that effectively.
Nominating a purist liberal would be disastrous. A strategist for Bernie Sanders insisted to me recently that he would energize new voters and expand the electorate, but that analysis ignores the fact that a 79-year-old socialist would drive away many of the voters Klein identifies as critical to the Democrats' chances.
A typical comment comes from Bonnie Campbell, a veteran party official in Iowa, who told the Times, "I think that Bernie is just a bridge too far for the country." Then she added: "I can tell you, I hear from friends and colleagues who say, 'Oh my God, what are we going to do if Bernie wins?'"
The answer is that Democrats will almost certainly lose with Sanders topping the ticket. But none of the other possibilities are looking much stronger.
Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org