It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process

At the height of the Democratic presidential primary process, millions of voters were intrigued and excited by the campaigns of candidates such as Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden seeks to tamp down controversy over remarks about black support David Sirota on why Warren is shifting on Medicare for All MORE (D-Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency’s response to California water issues EPA watchdog may probe agency’s response to California water issues Conservative group launches campaign accusing Democrats of hypocrisy on Kavanuagh, Biden MORE (D-Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandHillicon Valley: Uber to lay off thousands of employees | Facebook content moderation board announces members | Lawmakers introduce bill to cut down online child exploitation Democrats introduce legislation to protect children from online exploitation Bipartisan group of senators asks Treasury, SBA to loosen coronavirus loan restrictions MORE (D-N.Y.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker introduces bill to create ‘DemocracyCorps’ for elections On The Money: GOP senators heed Fed chair’s call for more relief | Rollout of new anti-redlining laws spark confusion in banking industry | Nearly half of American households have lost employment income during pandemic Hillicon Valley: Trump threatens Michigan, Nevada over mail-in voting | Officials call for broadband expansion during pandemic | Democrats call for investigation into Uber-Grubhub deal MORE (D-N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharCongress must fill the leadership void The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump spotted wearing a face mask Biden answers daughter’s phone call, eats ice cream during interview with Colbert MORE (D-Minn.); former mayors Julian CastroJulian CastroFather and son accused in Ahmaud Arbery shooting arrested Trump seizes on economic crisis to push green card ban Michael Bloomberg is not our savior MORE of San Antonio and Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegHere’s how Biden can win over the minority vote and the Rust Belt The Hill’s Campaign Report: Democrat concedes in California House race Buttigieg PAC rolls out slate of endorsements MORE of South Bend, Ind; Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi Gabbard125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic Biden wins all-mail Kansas primary Democrats press USDA to create rural coronavirus task force MORE (D-Hawaii) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas); former Massachusetts Gov. Deval PatrickDeval PatrickTop Democratic super PACs team up to boost Biden Andrew Yang endorses Biden in 2020 race Deval Patrick backs Biden MORE; and entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangHillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Mnuchin sees ‘strong likelihood’ of another relief package; Warner says some businesses ‘may not come back’ at The Hill’s Advancing America’s Economy summit Jack Dorsey giving million to Andrew Yang for COVID-19 relief ‘micro-grants’ MORE.

These were candidates who reflected the diverse Democratic electorate. They truly could identify with many voters in a number of positive ways and, ultimately, gained their support. The large number of candidates — more than two dozen for a while — seemed to underscore the party’s struggle with fragmentation throughout this process.

Early on, the Democratic candidates were impressive, richly diverse, highly experienced and accomplished. They were men and women who fought against racism, sexism and bigotry; served the nation with distinction in the military; worked on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised; and held office in governments or ran businesses.

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During that primary process, the Trump White House must have been worried about facing someone popular and charismatic such as Harris, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Yang or Gabbard. These candidates, along with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHouse to consider amendment blocking warrantless web browsing surveillance Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden seeks to tamp down controversy over remarks about black support MORE (I-Vt.), certainly spoke to the diversity and youth movement infusing the Democratic Party.

And yet, toward the end of that curious primary process, just four candidates were left standing: 77-year-old Joe BidenJoe BidenOn The Money: Jobless rate exceeds 20 percent in three states | Senate goes on break without passing small business loan fix | Biden pledges to not raise taxes on those making under 0K Trump to attend SpaceX launch in Florida Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting MORE, the former vice president; 77-year-old Michael BloombergMichael BloombergLiberals embrace super PACs they once shunned .7 billion expected to be spent in 2020 campaign despite coronavirus: report Bloomberg wages war on COVID-19, but will he abandon his war on coal? MORE, the former New York mayor; 78-year-old Sanders; and 70-year-old Warren. And from among those white septuagenarians came … drum roll, please … Joe Biden as the presumptive nominee. It should be noted that Gabbard, 38, also remained in the race until March, though with a lower profile than the others.

How could this happen?

If we think back to just before Super Tuesday on March 3, Biden seemed to be falling so far off the party’s radar screen that some expected him to pull out of the race. 

But then, as if by some political sleight of hand, the young, diverse, talented slate of candidates had completely disappeared in a puff of stale, white smoke. When that smoke dispersed, there stood Biden, alone on the stage with his awkward smile, preparing to take on President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: The Hill’s interview with Anthony Fauci Trump’s routing number revealed as press secretary announces he’s donating quarterly salary to HHS: report Former White House aide won M contract to supply masks amid pandemic MORE in November. Gone even were Biden’s contemporaries, first Bloomberg, then Warren and finally Sanders. 

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When Hollywood finally returns to work, maybe a creative screenwriter will offer up a script in which a pro-Trump double agent infiltrates the hierarchy of the Democratic establishment and convinces them to make decisions that ultimately benefit the Trump campaign.

Seriously, what else explains the process that would sweep aside a diverse slate of candidates who spoke to millions of Gen X and millennial voters, in favor of Biden with his gaffes and political baggage? The fact is, the United States is more than ready for a female president. It is more than ready for another president of color. It is more than ready for a president from the LGBTQ community. It certainly would welcome a ticket that combines any or all such candidates.

From a liberal perspective, on paper at least, the Democratic primary process offered up several outstanding candidates who might have broken the female, color and/or sexual-identity barriers. That won’t happen this time — although Biden still could choose a woman of color or candidate with other diverse qualities as his running mate.

Still, many progressive Democratic voters must be disappointed, wondering what happened to the promise they foresaw in late 2018 and early 2019 when candidates such as Warren, Gabbard, Gillibrand, Buttigieg and Booker announced they were in the running. 

No matter what the polling might say at the moment, I challenge anyone to find a majority of Democrats who believe in their hearts that Biden has a chance to defeat Trump in November. (Some Democrats still might not believe that Biden will be their nominee come fall.)   

Yes, something certainly appears to have sabotaged the Democrats’ best laid plans for big change come November, and the party now seems to be painted into a corner of self-created despair. 

Douglas MacKinnon was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration. He is the author of “The Dawn of a Nazi Moon: Book One.”