Two weeks ago, a Fox News poll showed 55 percent of voters would choose "someone else" over President Donald Trump, while 38 percent would vote to re-elect the incumbent. That's roughly where the Fox poll's numbers have been since weeks after Trump took office.
In May, a Politico / Morning Consult poll had 36 percent of voters saying they'd vote for Trump over what they called a "generic Democratic candidate" in 2020. Forty-six percent would pick the Democrat, with 20 percent undecided, it said.
But politics isn't the pharmaceutical business, where generic drugs can substitute for brand-name prescription products. Candidates aren't interchangeable. The ingredients of a winning campaign are hard to identify, let alone duplicate, and its side effects unpredictable.
Nobody ever uses the slogan, "Be generic. Vote Jones."
Almost from the moment Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced an exploratory committee for 2020, several pundits broadcast downsides. Somebody on CNN called her a "cold fish." The words "divisive" and "unlikeable" were tossed out. Supporters suspected misogyny.
Will these quick critical assessments drive down her numbers and therefore her fundraising? Measuring the impact of party primaries on a general election always gets gnarly.
Democrats hold no monopoly on party schisms.
”The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December," began a sharply critical op-ed piece by Republican Senator-elect Mitt Romney.
"To reassume our leadership in world politics," Romney said, "we must repair failings in our politics at home. That project begins, of course, with the highest office once again acting to inspire and unite us."
Trump responded with the kind of invective that worries some Republicans. "“I won big, and he didn’t," Trump tweeted. "Big" is a distortive description. Romney in 2012 won 47.2 percent of the popular vote against an incumbent Democratic president; Trump in 2016 got 46.1 percent against a former secretary of state. He won because of the Electoral College.
Will Romney spoil GOP appetites for Trump? He tried but failed last time.
Trump seems to set records for truthlessness in his public statements. Now, the degree to which potential foes feel more justified than ever to twist and mangle facts and promises remains to be seen.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) had barely won re-election when she promised "a long, hard thought of consideration" about running in 2020. During the campaign, she vowed to serve out her full six-year term.
For that matter, another "explorer," Michael Bloomberg, got New York City's term-limit law changed to allow himself to seek a third four years in office. Earlier, he called tampering with the law without a referendum a "disgrace."
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has flatly ruled out running for president. But he keeps framing state issues as resistance to Trump.
Of the candidates currently "out there," Cuomo said, "I think Joe Biden has the best case because he brings the most of the secret ingredient you need to win for a Democrat, which is credibility."
Is Biden the "generic" choice to win? Do New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker or California Rep. Kamala Harris, or young soon-to-be-former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke fit the right "someone else" description?
The maxim goes that it takes somebody to beat somebody. Nothing is assured at this point.
Or to paraphrase Bob Dylan: It may be Liz Warren, or it may be O'Rourke, but they're gonna have to field somebody.