by Alex Knepper
Simply as a raw display of political power, it’s hard not to admire the brutal efficacy with which the Democrats cowered their people into rallying around the idea of Joe Biden. The idea of Joe Biden isn’t a terrible candidate, and as the VP of the first black president he retains a reservoir of goodwill with black voters in particular. Every institutional organ of the Democratic Party swooped down after the Nevada caucuses to convince regular voters that nominating Bernie Sanders against Donald Trump is an apocalyptic disaster waiting to happen. Many Democratic voters were keenly aware of the fact that the center-left was hopelessly divided, it turns out, and were waiting for their cue for who to rally around to get a ‘normal’ candidate whose message is primarily: “Let’s beat Trump.”
I didn’t think they could do it. I thought Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar were set to reprise the roles of Marco Rubio and John Kasich, respectively.
But Pete Buttigieg is only 38 and wants a future in the party, and the disappointing results first with Latinos in Nevada and then with black voters in South Carolina made it clear that, while he could turn in an impressive showing for a Millennial mayor, he was not going to actually win the nomination. He just earned a ton of credit with senior party officials.
Amy Klobuchar’s rationale was simpler: she keeps losing, badly, and she, unlike Kasich, was not willing to delude herself for the sake of just seeing the thing through. I figured she’d want to, like Kasich, stay in to see if she could at least get a win on the board in her home state of Minnesota — it was possible — but she loathes Bernie Sanders’s brand of presidential politics enough to not want to be the one accused of helping him become the nominee. She and Buttigieg set aside their mutual loathing and together gave Joe Biden his fourth strong news day in a row.
From the strong polling to the Clyburn endorsement through the South Carolina rout to Buttigieg dropping out and then Klobuchar dropping out the next day, Biden won high-profile, positive coverage for days on end.
Polls show turnout was actually pretty high, and that young people simply did not bother to turn out for Bernie Sanders. This demographic divide was always his major liability: some polls showed Bernie upward of 50% with Democratic voters under age 45, but under 15% with those over age 45. But as a general rule, the older someone is, the more reliable that person becomes as a voter. Young people can love Bernie all they want, but if they don’t get out and vote for him, it’s not going to matter.
Now, granted, if I’m Bernie Sanders and I’m finally the frontrunner, and I’m asking myself ‘What should I do now?’, my answer probably would not be ‘Go on 60 Minutes and praise Fidel Castro.’
But it was worse than that. This cycle features far fewer caucuses than last time. Minnesota and Maine should have been places where Bernie thrived. Instead, he lost them this time. He also lost Massachusetts. And Oklahoma, which he won last time by ten points. It turns out that a lot of people who voted for Bernie last time were mostly displaying their dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton, and the types of people who showed up to caucuses were not representative of the broader primary electorate.
Joe Biden is going to be the nominee. The race is basically over. Bernie’s two big shots at winning large states are in hindsight, and he didn’t even win in Texas. Based on last night, in what other large states is he likely to be competitive? Florida? Give me a break. New York? Doubtful. Pennsylvania? Not a chance. Illinois? Bernie also has no delegate bonanzas awaiting him; Biden can look forward to Georgia, Louisiana, Missisippi, and Florida. Bernie’s core support seems isolated to the west.
Sure, if Elizabeth Warren had dropped out and endorsed Bernie, he could have won a couple of more states, albeit still by thin margins.
But if Bernie had stayed out of the race in the first place and endorsed Warren, it’s highly probable that she’d be running away with the nomination. His presence in the race made it impossible for anyone else to ever define herself as a progressive candidate, since Bernie always insisted on going as far as possible to the left right out of the gate. Plus, this Warren-drops-out scenario is still dependent on Mike Bloomberg being a significant presence in the race; the sad reality is that Bloomberg beat Warren in the second tier in nearly every state, too. Bloomberg, who came out of nowhere 100 days ago and dropped half a billion dollars, outdid Warren, the first in the race and whose campaign has been fueled by small donors. Biden and Bloomberg beat Sanders and Warren, and it wasn’t very close. It’s close enough to seduce progressives into thinking they can win, but it’s not close enough to actually win. There are too many people who do not think this is a bad economy; for whatever myriad reasons there are, a lot of people think this economy is pretty good, despite certain complaints they have. Young people are far more likely to agree with progressives on economic issues, but if they won’t vote, it’s not going to matter.
At any rate, passing the blame to ‘spoiler’ candidates almost always functions in such a way as to avoid self-criticism. Bernie dreamed of building a Democratic majority; it’s why he and his people pushed in 2016 to ensure that the Democratic nominee needs a majority of delegates. He’s not only not going to get it, but he’s not going to come particularly close, especially without a plethora of caucuses to help him.
Why Bernie has done so badly with black voters is a combination of a few factors. It’s hard to beat the personal appeal of someone who served as a subordinate to a black man in front of the nation for two terms, which Joe Biden did, like Hillary Clinton. Bernie’s cultural cues as a Vermonter are all wrong; he often speaks of racism as if it flows downstream from classism, when the overwhelming majority of black people think racism functions as its own entity. And Bernie also makes big, vast policy promises, when voters of color tend to, quite justifiably, be a little more skeptical about what a broadly center-right white general electorate is going to accept from a Democrat. (If Obama couldn’t get anything better than Obamacare passed, what makes Bernie thinks he’s so special?)
Most Democrats are deeply worried about making the wrong choice this year, which is why they were so easily united around Joe Biden. They want someone who will just make Trump go away, and too many of them fear Bernie has the potential to make the election harder than it needs to be. Biden offers them, simply, a ‘normal’ candidacy.
Which brings us to the idea of Joe Biden.
The last we heard of Joe Biden before a few days ago, he was calling voters strange names, telling them to vote for other people, and challenging them to push-up contests. He finished in a historically terrible — for a VP — 4th and 5th place in the first two nominating contests, where voters saw him up close and personal and decided not to back him. Mike Bloomberg even stole his thunder for a few weeks, and helped to take people’s eyes off of Biden.
They’ve been off of him for just long enough for people to forget that he’s not a good candidate. He’s always had obvious flaws, sure, but in his 2012 debate with Paul Ryan, he was sharp, coherent, and personable. We rarely even see flashes of that Joe Biden anymore in his relatively few public events, and it’s just as likely that he will say something reminiscent of Sarah Palin than that he will speak words that excite or elevate. Trump’s disinformation bubble has a ready-made narrative: Trump was trying to expose the corruption of the last administration and the Democrats impeached Trump to try to hide what he’d uncovered about the corrupt crook the Democrats are trying to prop up; Biden is as corrupt as Hillary and so is his family. It’s all bogus, but if Biden was really shocked that Trump and the Republicans are going after his family, then he is unfit to be the nominee; he doesn’t know what he’s up against. Biden lacks Hillary’s stature and intelligence and command of detail, too. The advantage he is said to have over her is a superior connection to working-class white voters, but we will see what remains of that advantage when the Trump propaganda machine is done with him.
I will be all-in for Biden as the nominee, cross my fingers that he picks Warren for his VP, and pray that this inferior candidate’s ‘return to normalcy’/make-the-drama-stop pitch will appeal to just enough concerned suburbanites that we can put an end to this nightmare of a presidency. I hope Democrats can all wake up to the fact that removing Trump is still an emergency. Bernie doesn’t owe anyone anything and is likely to stay in the primary race until the end, and his supporters need to be responsible. We can’t allow the sting of losing the primary to get in the way of removing this criminal con man clown president from power. In the meantime, I’ll cross my fingers for a miracle that puts Bernie back into contention. But that looks unlikely now.
The Democratic Party learned the lessons of the 2016 Republican primary after all: they realized that their nightmare scenario really could come true and a left-winger could really win the nomination, and enough people wised up to the reality of the situation in time to stop Bernie. Now they had better hope and pray that Biden wins, because if he doesn’t, the center-left will have lost us two winnable elections in a row against an extremely dangerous president. It seems deeply unfair to me that the same people who blew it last time should get to pick the nominee again, and one who is an inferior version of the one who already lost, at that. (Can anyone really imagine an 80-year-old Joe Biden announcing for a second term, by the way?) But that’s where we are. Let’s pray that the party can make it through the rest of this election in one piece.