The caucus and primary results map after Super Tuesday--Biden 10 states, Sanders 6 + split with Buttigieg in Iowa, Bloomberg U.S, Virgin Island (not shown. Biden surged ahead in delegate count.
Note—I started this post the morning after Super Tuesday. It was painful. And with the subsequent rapid events, I had to scrap, edit, and do-over sections multiple times. Even as I type this and prepare to post, something else may have made the whole exercise obsolete. But for what it’s worth, here is my take.
This is not the post I had intended to write. The plan was to do the Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout endorsements in the March 17 Illinois Primary in the aftermath of Super Tuesday voting. But the results Tuesday night, which the TV talking heads kept calling stunning or “couldn’t be foreseen”, upset that apple cart. The reanimation of Joe Biden’s corpse after a big win in South Carolina and drinking the fresh blood of Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and the long-time-in-the-refrigerator plasma of Beto O’Rourke was a painful gut punch to progressive Democrats especially Elizabeth Warren fans—my personal favorite—and a stake-in-the-heart to Republican re-tread Michael Bloomberg.
Recapping what you have probably already heard:
· Biden swept the South by comfortable margins on the strength of the continuing affection for him among African-American voters. He took Massachusetts despite running behind the combined progressive vote of Sanders and Warren with Maine a near toss-up and scored wins in Minnesota, Oklahoma, and perhaps somewhat surprising in Texas. He did well among older white voters except for a sliver of unrepentant ‘60’s radicals who turn out to vote in greater percentages than other demographics.
· Sanders underperformed expectation and nowhere seemed to build on the enthusiastic base of his 2016 run. He won only his home state of Vermont by a narrower than expected margin plus Colorado and Utah with continuing strong support among younger voters and Latinos in the West. He is still the heavy favorite in the big prize, California but complete results from that state won’t be reported for days and his margin looks likely to be narrower than expected. In a mild surprise, he came in second to Biden in Texas where he led in early returns but where voter suppression manipulations of polling place may have skewed the results. In most states in play, Sanders did not crack 30% of the total vote despite consistent national polling that showed him as easily beating Trump in November. And despite a spate of important endorsements by key Black leaders he did not pick up any increased support from Black voters. Except for Millennials and younger voters, he did not do well among women, many of whom have bitter memories of his 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton and the Bernie-or-Busters who sat out the election in November. He continues to be the strong favorite among younger voters, but their turn-out did not quite match 2016.
· The big loser Tuesday night was Bloomberg. It was a ray of hope on an otherwise dismal night that despite spending hundreds of millions of his own money and torturing us all with unremitting TV advertising for months, flooding social media with ad buys, aggressive direct mail, and hiring staffers by the carload all he had to show for it was a win in American Samoa. Americans were flat out not buying what he was selling and resented another Billionaire trying to buy the election and they recognized a Democrat by convenience only as an unwelcome interloper. He counted on Biden’s collapse to become the savior of panicked anti-Sanders establishment Democrats. He missed the necessary 15% mark to earn delegates in Texas and will probably do the same in California. Despite defiant talk early Tuesday, after the results began coming in Bloomberg slunk back to New York to “consider his options.” Wednesday he announced he was suspending his campaign and endorsing Biden. He even promised to keep his huge field staff on his payroll until November to work with Biden, which would be a big boost. In retrospect it may be that Warren’s greatest service was knee capping Bloomberg in his first debate effectively exposing him as the weak candidate he really was.
· Warren failed to even win her home state of Massachusetts, coming in third there despite her general popularity there as a Senator. A strong favorite of many women and progressives leery of the second-coming of Sanders because of her well-articulated and detailed plans on all major issues except perhaps for some voters in Minnesota Warren failed to pick up much support from female drop-outs Kamala Harris and Klobuchar and although she picked up late support from Emily’s List, the feminist super-pac she has not marshalled the support that Clinton commanded last time out. In Michigan Tuesday night she vowed to stay in it to the Convention in the hopes that she could pick up support in up-coming votes in Mid-West Rust Bucket states and New York. But she would have to battle Sanders’ appeal to Obama-turned-Trump voters and the mathematics of Biden becoming and “inevitable” choice. He hopes to survive to become a second or third ballot alternative to beat Biden at the convention rapidly evaporated. There was natural pressure on her to drop out and join with Sanders in a unified progressive front but personal relations between the two former Senate colleagues and progressive allies have become strained to the breaking point. On Thursday Warren bowed to the inevitable in a gracious and moving statement in Massachusetts.
For every American who desperately wants to see our nation healed and some decency and honor restored to our government, this fight goes on. And sure, the fight may take a new form, but I will be in that fight, and I want you in this fight with me. We will persist… Gender in this race, you know, that is the trap question for every woman. If you say, “Yeah, there was sexism in this race,” everyone says, “Whiner!” And if you say, “No, there was no sexism,” about a bazillion women think, “What planet do you live on?” I promise you this: I’ll have a lot more to say on that subject later on.
Warren demurred from making any quick endorsement. Ultimately, of course, she will. In the meantime both of the Old White Men will court her and probably offer a Vice Presidential nod. But Warren, who cares deeply for her avid supporters, will undoubtedly want to see what they think. Judging from comments I have seen that could break either way.
· In the end, Biden was the beneficiary of what Chris Mathews used to call “Big Mo”—momentum. Not only did he gather most of the votes of the late drop-outs, he got the lion’s share of late deciders. Many of these were Democrats who always said that they would support anyone who could beat Trump even if he/she did not agree with them on all issues. Even a majority of Democrats who agreed with Sanders and Warren on issues like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, student loan forgiveness, and income inequality feared that Bernie’s socialist brand would frighten voters away in November. It might not be fair and you can blame the media or a cabal of party elites but the perception was undeniable. I have known Sanders and Warren supporter who came to that conclusion in the last days and bit their tongues and voted for Biden. Ideological purists will complain that this was the worst sort of lesser evilism but I think it was something else—it was a defensive throw-on-brakes-the-runaway-train-before-it-hits-the-washed-out-trestle for a last shot to beat Trump and avert out-and-out fascism. At stake are critical Supreme Court appointments and rolling back the most dangerous of Trump’s many executive fiats with the support of a Democratic House majority and maybe even control of the Senate. Not such an irrational thought even if Biden will not move forward with the most ambitious progressive reforms and programs.
All of that you probably have already heard. But if the contest has finally been narrowed down to a mano a mano brawl between Biden and Sanders, what is the way forward? It’s not really over yet. Sanders has a narrow path to the nomination if he does well in the Rust Belt states, Pacific Northwest, and New York especially with a boost from Warren and/or her supporters. He could still arrive at the convention with the most elected delegates or at least close behind Biden. But there is not much room for him to pick up additional support from the so-called super delegates who are mostly office holders and party regulars. And there seems no way for him to scoop up more support after a first ballot.
But things could still change before the Convention.
· Biden can be Biden—commit some gaffe or series of gaffes that make him look either doddering or like an idiot.
· At his age a health crisis is not out of the question. Nor is, alas, an assassination attempt.
· The Coronavirus could become pandemic or an unforeseeable national emergency could alter the election environment overnight.
· Some of the mud slung by the Trump campaign, Rudy Giuliani, or partisan Senate investigations could stick, at least in the public mind.
· Chaos stirred up by Russian election meddling could sow greater division among Democrats, possibly even engendering a full scale party split.
· Worst case scenario—Trump could become emboldened enough to stage a real anti-democratic (note small d) preemptive coup.
In a tight two-person race much will ride on each candidate’s selection of a running mate and the timing of the anointment. Unveiling one at Convention is an old-fashion non-starter. Each needs to make a choice that would broaden their base and reach-out to parts of the party where they are weakest. But both may have trouble overcoming their own predispositions.
Sanders with a clear ideology will want someone committed to his vision. Elizabeth Warren would fit that bill perhaps picking up support from women but she is unlikely to settle for second place instead of an influential Senate seat unless she feels that Sanders’ age will make him a one term president. His ticket would get the greatest boost from a strong Black second. Kamala Harris probably wouldn’t consider it. Corey Booker or a senior House Democrat might. His best bet would probably be former Georgia governor candidate and anti-voter repression activist Stacey Abrams who has already announced her willingness to run for vice-president on any Democratic ticket. It would be a wise choice for Sanders, but he is still apt to pick a more obscure white guy with solid social democratic credentials.
In his heart of heart Biden has just one dream running mate—Michelle Obama which would tie him more strongly than ever to the Obama/Biden team that he made the centerpiece of his early primary campaigns. Barack Obama did not endorse Biden or any other candidate in the primaries but each of the final four ran spots with the former president singing their praises. Privately Obama made no secret of his feelings that Sanders must be stopped and he was widely seen as helping orchestrate the quick withdrawals and Biden endorsements by the other proclaimed moderates. Rumors swirled that despite long denying any political aspirations for herself Michelle could be available as a fire wall to save Biden. Now that he might not need a firewall, could Michelle consider the second spot? It would make her an immediate favorite in 2024 if Biden opts for a single term. The most admired American woman would certainly be an attractive pick. But I am dubious about whether she is really up for it.
Absent Michelle, Elizabeth Warren would be a good pick to unify the party, but the same arguments against her acceptance—minus, perhaps, a personal feud—apply as to her availability to Sanders.
Biden has his Black base loyally sewn up so he doesn’t need any other Black person except Michelle on the ticket. He could really use a woman. Klobuchar does not expand his base. Perhaps he could consider former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill who is available without leaving a critical Senate seat, or former Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards. I suspect trolls have circulated speculation that he might even tap Hillary Clinton—a move that would signal a direct attempt to drive Berniecrats out of the party.
On the other hand he could pick a much younger running mate to reassure those who worry about his age—Buttigieg and O’Rourke are the most obvious choices but Representative Juan Castro could drain support for Sanders among the Latino voters he has been courting.
All of this, of course, is just hot stove league bull shitting.
For many of us now the wounds of Warren’s shipwreck on the shoals of misogyny are too raw and painful to play the game. Eventually, as Facebook friend said, “We will be good soldiers and unite behind the nominee [probably Biden] but we need some time to rage and grieve.”