The dominant question going into Super Tuesday was: Did Joe Biden’s sweeping victory in South Carolina come just in time, or was it too late?
Last night’s lessons, in order of how clear they are:
- Mike Bloomberg has provided us a salutory lesson: you can’t just buy a presidential election no matter how much money you have. He flamed out utterly tonight and needs to drop out immediately if he’s serious about defeating Donald Trump being his real and singular goal. Continuing to run would accomplish nothing except to embarrass him even further.
- Elizabeth Warren has been slipping in the polls and will slip even more after being blown out tonight. She should drop out.
- Joe Biden is also proving that money isn’t everything: not only is he winning solidly tonight, but he’s doing it on a shoestring. However, he should attract a lot more money after his performance tonight, and this will allow him to prove that money’s not nothing, either. He’s now in a virtuous circle, with victory bringing in more money and more money helping him win more states, rinse and repeat.
- Bernie Sanders 2020 sure looks a lot like Bernie Sanders 2016. He has his fans, obviously, but he tops out at 30-40 percent of the vote. Like it or not, there’s just not stronger support out there for a revolution, and Bernie isn’t willing to moderate his message to win over more supporters. That’s admirable, in its own way, but it’s not how you win a nationwide election.
- It’s obviously Bernie vs. Joe from here on out. Like 2016, I expect that Bernie will stay in until the bitter end no matter how unlikely an eventual victory becomes. I hope he proves me wrong.
A week ago, prognosticators speculated that Bernie Sanders could emerge from Super Tuesday’s contests with an insurmountable delegate lead of more than 300 delegates. After that, since Democrats allocate delegates proportionally, they said even if a Sanders challenger won a state 55% to 45%, Sanders’ delegate lead would narrow only marginally.
Instead, Biden’s powerful showing on Super Tuesday saw him easily break the “threshold” level – the 15% of votes cast required to collect delegates – virtually everywhere. He carried Elizabeth Warren’s home state of Massachusetts, outperformed projections in Sanders’ own Vermont and won Minnesota against all expectations. Biden prevailed in the southern states, including the mega-prize of Texas.
In fact, at this point, it’s Biden, not Sanders, who leads in delegates.
Bloomberg will now become Biden’s wing-man, potentially committing his vast resources and deep organization to the Biden cause.
Warren, after her poor showing and her humiliating loss in Massachusetts, is “reassessing.” Her only rationale for continuing – that she can bring the Sanders and the non-Sanders coalitions together – hardly seems plausible. It would mean the Democratic Party nominating someone who consistently finishes third or worse in most primaries.
As ballots were cast on Super Tuesday, Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com estimated that Joe Biden would enter the convention with over 1,700 delegates, while Bernie Sanders would claim over 1,300.
To win outright, a candidate needs 1,991 delegates. The Bloomberg, Buttigieg and Klobuchar delegates seem mostly destined to move to Biden. Hundreds of superdelegates are also available to vote for the former vice president on a second ballot if the convention needs it. All that makes Biden now the prohibitive favorite to be the nominee. His resurrection was swift, almost unbelievable and simply unprecedented in the modern history of Democratic presidential primaries.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign was predicated on taking 30% of the delegates into the convention, then demanding the nomination. “Sanders aides believe, he’ll easily win enough delegates to put him into contention at the convention,” The Atlantic reported in April 2019. “They say they don’t need him to get more than 30 percent to make that happen.” (My emphasis.)
So they built a campaign that demanded little of Sanders : no change in message, no effort to broaden the coalition. Like his utter lack of interest in legislating, his campaign had zero interest in building actual majority support. Everything else flowed from there, from his failure to grow Black support (the very same voters who defeated him in 2016) to his tolerance of toxic surrogates and online supporters. It’s easy to make enemies of your detractors if you don’t have to worry about winning their support. But what’s amazing about Super Tuesday results isn’t just that Sanders lost, it’s that he did so by actually shrinking his base compared to 2016. Youth turnout was abysmal. His raw vote totals are significantly down. And where we did see record turnout, it was predominantly in the states that Biden won!
None of this, sadly, is deterring Sanders supporters, who seemed to have amped up the ugliness.
After Super Tuesday, the Democratic nomination has essentially been whittled down to a two-man race between Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, and it’s going to get really, really nasty, threatening a return to the conditions that contributed to a Democratic Party meltdown in 2016.
“I like Joe. Joe is a decent guy, and I do not want this campaign to degenerate into a Trump-type effort where we’re attacking each other, where it’s personal attacks,” Sanders said Wednesday. “That is the last thing this country wants.”
But that’s exactly what the country is going to get, if not from Sanders himself, then from aggrieved surrogates already going nuclear. It didn’t take long for some of them to start passing around a video of Biden’s many stumbles at debates and on the campaign trail and calling him mentally unfit for the presidency, an attack that will no doubt be re-upped if the two men meet one-on-one on the next debate stage.