Sunday, March 8, 2020
The Democratic presidential primary took a dramatic turn over the
last ten days. The relevant event sequence:
- Joe Biden became the immediate favorite when he announced his run
for president. His polls held relatively solid well into last fall,
when he started to lose ground in the intensely contested bellwether
states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
- About the same time, Bernie Sanders caught up and passed Elizabeth
Warren in the polls, becoming the main challenger to Biden, and more
generally to the Democratic Party establishment.
- As Biden began to fail, billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg
entered the race, as did Deval Patrick. The latter had no traction, but
Steyer spent $100 million to make a splash in Nevada and South Carolina,
and Bloomberg $500 million on Super Tuesday states. All that advertising
money didn't help them much as candidates (Steyer finished 5th in Nevada
and 3rd in South Carolina; Bloomberg's sole Super Tuesday win was in
American Samoa, where Tulsi Gabbard finished second), but they defined
issues that ultimately helped Biden.
- Sanders won the popular vote in Iowa, increased his margin in New
Hampshire, and won a very solid margin in Nevada. Meanwhile, Biden had
faltered badly in Iowa (4th place in first-round voting, 14.9%) and in
New Hampshire (5th place, 8.4%). Sanders pulled ahead of Biden in
national polls for the first time, and was widely considered to be
the front-runner in the race.
- With the "threat" of Sanders firmly established, and Bloomberg
pretty severely hobbled in his first debate performance, panic ensued
among mainstream Democrats. They lashed out frantically at Sanders,
but cooler heads realized that Biden was their most viable alternative,
and they organized a raft of endorsements and money to inject into his
struggling campaign. He had always polled better in South Carolina than
any other "early state" -- and his most effective "moderate" opponents
(Buttigieg, Klobuchar) had never had any organization or appeal there,
so it's not like they had any other options.
- Following an endorsement by Rep. Jim Clyburn, Biden bounced back
with a very strong showing in South Carolina -- not as high as he
had polled for most of 2019, but stronger than most of us expected.
- Biden's South Carolina win became a signal for Democratic Party
regulars to unite behind him, against Sanders (and Warren, who helped
split the progressive vote). Steyer, Steyer, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar
ended their campaigns, the latter two endorsing Biden.
- Biden won big on Super Tuesday, winning 10 states (Alabama,
Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma,
Tennessee, Texas, Virginia) vs. 4 for Sanders (California, Colorado,
Utah, Vermont). See breakdown below.
- After Super Tuesday, Bloomberg withdrew and endorsed Biden. He
also promised to keep his campaign organizations active, redirected
at supporting Biden, so in effect he's running a huge pro-Biden PAC.
[PS: This opens him to charges like:
Fox's Ingraham Angle labels Michael Bloomberg a "puppet master".]
- Warren also withdrew, without making an endorsement. She has,
however, spent most of the week bad-mouthing Sanders supporters for
their alleged misbehavior toward her campaign.
I imagine someone will eventually emerge claiming to be the genius
behind Biden's transformation, but it's possible there's no conspiracy
here. It's not that I can't identify actors or linkages -- you can be
pretty certain that when David Brooks wrote his "never Bernie" column
or when James Carville crawled out from under his rock to declare that
nominating Bernie would be insanity that there were people (and money)
behind the scenes pushing them forward. To my mind, the most suspicious
sign was Harry Reid's endorsement of Biden only after the Nevada
caucus, where he might have had an effect similar to Jim Clyburn's in
South Carolina. Sanders' big Nevada win both drove his enemies together
and set up expectations that made Biden's South Carolina win look even
One lesson from this is that Sanders' appeal is limited, mostly to
people who understand his key issues -- a trait he shares with Warren,
although until now, one could imagine him not being so limited by it.
Also, that he is not immune from media attacks, which have accelerated
to new heights recently, and that seems to have scared many people into
looking for a safer choice. Why Biden should be that choice isn't very
clear, other than that he's the only one unlikely to get shafted by the
people who've run the Democratic Party into the ground since the 1970s.
Even people who substantively agree with Sanders, and who respect and
admire him, have non unreasonable fears that the money people behind
the party will do anything to undermine him (a faction that Bloomberg
gave an explicit face to), even if that results in Trump winning a
There are a lot of Democrats who only have one real concern in 2020:
who can beat Trump? Biden has never seemed like a very solid answer to
that question, but if you can't have someone progressive, at least he
seems less limited than Bloomberg, Buttigieg, or Klobuchar. He has a
long record of going along with whatever the party wanted -- be it wars,
free trade deals, favors to the big banks -- without ever picking up
the scent of ideology. He represents continuity with the Clintons and
Obama, but wasn't necessarily culpable for their failures. He can still
feign an emotional attachment to the working class, even though in the
end he always winds up siding with the moneyed interests. He comes off
as a cipher you can project your hopes onto. He is, for instance, the
favorite candidate both of blacks and of culturally conservative whites
(the kind most likely to be racists). The South has a lot of both, and
that's where he cleaned up on Super Tuesday.
The weak link in Biden's campaign is Biden himself. He's 77, looks
fit for that age, but it's easy to find clips where his mind wanders
and his mouth goes elsewhere. He failed miserably in the first two
contests this year, where voters have a year or more to check the
candidates out up close. On the other hand, he won several states on
Super Tuesday where he never appeared, and didn't have much if any
campaign presence. He has a long record with a lot of dubious votes
and speeches, and he'll get a lot of flack over that record. It is
far from certain that he can withstand the intense scrutiny that a
presidential campaign will entail. Sanders is unlikely to go beyond
Biden's political record, but expect the Republicans to be ruthless
not just at picking apart Biden's weaknesses but on inventing things
from whole cloth. His mental agility, such as it is, will be tested
Sanders will continue to contest the nomination. As Yglesias points
out (see below), next month's primaries present some rough challenges
for Sanders, and he is playing catch up now, in a process which is
biased (if not necessarily rigged) against him. He has gained one big
thing from Super Tuesday: he now has a single opponent to define
himself against. He needs to do three things viz. Biden: he needs to
emphasize the moderation of his views and ingratiate himself with the
main current of the Democratic Party (which, issue-wise, is now well
to the left of Biden's record, although it's important to make those
positions less threatening and more intuitively reasonable); he needs
to expose Biden's dangerous incompetency, and the risks the Party is
taking in entrusting him with the nomination; and he needs to convince
voters that he can be much more effective than Biden at standing up
That may be a tall order, but I for one am already convinced on all
three counts. The challenge will be in making those points resonate
with less informed voters, and in effectively dodging the flak that
the media will hurl at him, based on prejudices that are already
When I started thinking about what to say this week, I came up with
three possible scenarios for Elizabeth Warren. She's since taken one
of those off the table, so I won't belabor it, but simply note that
had she stayed in the race, she would have needed to do two things.
The most obvious one is to attack Biden's personal competency (while
respecting, if not necessarily agreeing with, "moderate" positions).
The other is that she would need to catapult herself to the front of
Bernie's movement, usurping his positions but arguing that she would
be more effective at implementing them. The hope would be that after
the near-death experience of Super Tuesday, Bernie's supporters may
be more open to her taking charge, especially if she proves herself
the more effective opponent to Biden. She could even wind up making
Bernie her VP. Of course, this would have been difficult to pull off,
and she wouldn't have much time, especially for the period when she
is dividing the progressive vote. But she was pretty effective at
knocking Bloomberg off his chariot, and she could go after Biden more
directly than 78-year-old Bernie.
Her other choices were to quite the race (as she's done) and pitch
herself to be VP either under Bernie or Biden. She could conceivably
be very effective in that role. The problem with going with Bernie is
that it's an uphill fight. The question with the latter is whether
Biden thinks he needs her that much (after all, many Biden backers
hate her as much as they fear and loathe Sanders). The plus side is
that it would end the primary process almost immediately, limiting
the risk that Bernie might expose Biden's ineptitude. Besides, VPs
are historically insignificant (but given Biden's age and problems
and Warren's vigor, she could take advantage of the role).
Bernie Sanders says he will drop out if Biden gets plurality coming
into Dem convention. He's argued that Biden should do much the
same thing if Sanders is leading going into the convention, but with
his reserve of unelected second-round delegates, Biden hasn't agreed.
This anticipates a graceful exit if his campaign can't rebound in the
couple months remaining. I can't blame Bernie if Democrats prefer to
go with Biden and his long record of indifference and failure. Greg
Magarian commented in Facebook on the article:
Bernie Sanders promises to make the nomination of Joe Biden painless
if the moderate is leading come July. He says Elizabeth Warren deserves
time and space to decide her own path forward. He won't run on a unity
ticket with Biden because two old white guys is at least one too many.
If you've been swallowing, or parroting, the tired narrative that
Sanders is nothing but a crazy, misogynistic ideologue who constantly
trashes the party and only cares about himself, I respectfully suggest
that you listen to what the man says -- all of it, not just the pieces
that fit your ingrained narrative. He's an exceptionally decent politician,
with plenty of flaws, who's in this to help people.
Elsewhere in my Facebook feed are a bunch of diatribes against
Sanders, some complaining about his "arrogance" (for running in the
first place?), many more explicitly aimed at his supporters, accusing
us of all sorts of vile behavior. I try not to take this personally,
but after repeated slanders it's hard not to feel some solidarity with
the victims. Sure, maybe some people say some things that are ill-advised.
I'll even admit that I can say some disrespectful and even hurtful things
about politicians I seriously disagree with, but I usually try to focus
on issues and rarely project my critiques onto ordinary people who merely
happen to favor someone I don't. The most famous recent case of a campaign
generalizing about its opponent's followers was Hillary Clinton's "basket
of deplorables," and that proved to be bad politics as well as a gross
generalization. She was, of course, talking about Trump supporters, who
by definition are at least willing to tolerate one of the most hateful,
corrupt, and dishonest campaigns in US history, but even so, calling
people names just turns them off and estranges them further. I'm sick
and tired of being called names by partisans of Democratic candidates
who themselves have little to offer and not enough self-consciousness
to recognize their own past failures.
Of course, in addition to the name-calling every now and then you
have to fend off some plain old faulty logic. For example:
If money is everything in politics, why is Biden, who has recently spent
so little compared to other candidates, doing so well? Well, you can say
it's all those "elites" and secret oligarchs, but I don't buy it (no pun
Start with a faulty premise (money isn't everything in politics) and
pile on other misleading and spurious claims. Biden started with name
recognition, credibility, and long-standing political links -- things
that even with incredible amounts of spending Bloomberg and Steyer were
unable to buy in such a short time, things that even more legitimate
politicians like Klobuchar and Buttigieg were unable to compete with.
So when the election pivoted to becoming a race to stop Sanders, the
choice who benefited most was the obvious one, Biden. On the other
hand, do you really think that Biden, who can barely put together two
coherent sentences in a row, was brilliant enough to pull this off?
You don't have to be very conspiracy-oriented to suspect that there
are "elites" and oligarchs lurking in the background, pulling on the
various strings that orchestrated this turnaround. After all, we live
in a world where these sorts of things happen all the time. And that
doesn't necessarily mean they have Biden in their pocket, but he is
the beneficiary of their machinations, and if he does get elected,
he will very likely wind up paying for their favors.
The Super Tuesday breakdown by state (delegates in parens, vote
if 5% or more):
- Alabama: Biden 63.3% (44), Sanders 16.5% (8), Bloomberg 11.7%, Warren 5.7%.
- Arkansas: Biden 40.5% (17), Sanders 22.4% (9), Bloomberg 16.7% (5), Warren 10.0%.
- California: Sanders 33.7% (186), Biden 26.4% (148), Bloomberg (13.6% (15), Warren 12.7% (5), Buttigieg (5.6%).
- Colorado: Sanders 36.1% (20), Biden 23.6% (10), Bloomberg 20.5% (9), Warren 17.3% (1).
- Maine: Biden 34.1% (11), Sanders 32.9% (9), Warren 15.7% (4), Bloomberg 12.0%.
- Massachusetts: Biden 33.6% (37), Sanders 26.7% (29), Warren 21.4% (25), Bloomberg 11.8%.
- Minnesota: Biden 38.6% (38), Sanders 29.9% (27), Warren 15.4% (10), Bloomberg 8.3%, Klobuchar 5.6%.
- North Carolina: Biden 43.0% (67), Sanders 24.1% (37), Bloomberg 13.0% (4), Warren 10.5% (2).
- Oklahoma: Biden 38.7% (21), Sanders 25.4% (13), Bloomberg 13.9% (2), Warren 13.4% (1).
- Tennessee: Biden 41.7% (33), Sanders 25.0% (19), Bloomberg 15.5% (10), Warren 10.4% (1).
- Texas: Biden 34.5% (111), Sanders 30.0% (102), Bloomberg 14.4% (10), Warren 11.4% (5).
- Utah: Sanders 34.6% (12), Biden 17.4% (2), Bloomberg 16.7% (2), Warren 15.5%, Buttigieg 9.8%.
- Vermont: Sanders 50.8% (11), Biden 22.0% (5), Warren 12.6%, Bloomberg 9.4%.
- Virginia: Biden 53.2% (66), Sanders 23.1% (31), Warren 10.7% (2), Bloomberg 9.8%.
Some scattered links this week:
James Arkin/Marianne Levine:
Biden, Bullock boost Dems' Senate hopes. Bullock didn't have much
to offer as a presidential candidate, but in states like Montana we'll
take whatever we can get, and that state could do much worse. One might
make a case that Sanders would be an asset to down-ballot races if he
could dramatically boost turnout, but that isn't clearly established.
On the other hand, I don't doubt that him heading the ticket would be
a lightning rod for Democrats trying to run in red-ish districts, and
don't have any real answer for that (other than that, in the longer
term, Sanders' programs will do much more to solve serious problems,
especially in red-ish districts).
Sanders faces a challenging 30 days in his quest to defeat Biden.
Elizabeth Warren's exit interview is a warning for the dirtbag left.
I'm really getting tired of being called names by politicians trying to
distance themselves from the left. Isn't "dirtbag" just a nastier, more
direct way of saying "deplorable"? And what exactly is it that makes us
on the left so deplorable? Wanting health care, education, affordable
housing and food secured as a right? Wanting clean air and water, and
a stable environment? Wanting an end to war and violence? Wanting an
end to racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination? Wanting the
political process to be free of distortions caused by privileging money?
Of course, it's possible that some of the people who habitually attack
leftists think they want some of those things, too, but what chance do
they have of succeeding when they spend so much effort attacking people
they should be allying with? [PS: The term "dirtbag left" seems to be
a self-description from the podcast Chapo Trap House, something
I've never heard and know next to nothing about. They did an interview
with Sanders, which Beauchamp and/or Warren seem to think is enough to
implicate them in every bit of crude humor they allegedly indulge in.]
Netanyahu wins big in Israel's elections -- but not enough to secure
full control. One section here is called "The big policy stakes
of the Israeli election," but it's hard for me to find any. The one
sticking point of contention is whether Netanyahu should be protected
from going to jail for his corruption.
Matt Gaetz made light of coronavirus by wearing a gas mask. Now one of
his constituents has died.
Mike Bloomberg's belly flop was a great moment for democracy.
As a Super Tuesday state resident, I ask you to trust me on this: you
could not escape Bloomberg's presence on air, online, and in your mailbox.
He spent more to win the presidential election than any general election
candidate in American history, and he reached that lofty perch nine months
before Election Day. That doesn't even include what he spent to buy
political support, from candidates he previously showered with campaign
contributions and mayors whose initiatives he funded through his philanthropy.
Thomas B Edsall:
We're the closest we've ever been to campaign finance reform:
Talk about understatements: "But the fight is far from over." The
thing that I remember is that after the 2008 election, Democrats
controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency yet didn't
lift a finger to limit the role of private money and the influence
of big donors. Maybe that was because Obama significantly outraised
McCain? And that he recognized that as the incumbent president, he'd
be able to do that again in 2012?
David A Farenthold/Joshua Partlow/Jonathan O'Connell/Carol
Newly obtained documents show $157,000 in additional payments by the
Secret Service to Trump properties.
Judge slams Barr, orders review of Mueller report deletions.
Elizabeth Warren should endorse Bernie Sanders -- not for him, but for
herself and her mission: "Warren stayed out of the 2016 Democratic
primary, and it hurt her badly."
John F Harris:
2020 becomes the dementia campaign: "Biden and Trump partisans trade
charges of senility in an era of aging candidates."
The enthralling brutality of Elizabeth Warren: "What it felt like
watching her go in for the kill." Part of what makes her so attractive
as a vice-presidential nominee.
The US-Taliban agreement is not a peace deal: "It's not even a
Wall Street, encouraged by Biden's wins, breaks out its checkbooks:
"Fearful of the more progressive candidates, some finance executives
had sidelined themselves from the elections until Mr. Biden surged."
Sanders can't lead the Democrats if his campaign treats them like the
enemy. That seems like a fair point, but then consider the subhed:
"What Bernie needs to learn from Biden." Biden is the favorite of the
professional party elite because he's perfectly in tune with their
cater to business interests while only occasionally giving lip service
to the party's rank-and-file voters. Those same elites see Sanders not
just as an outsider but as the leader of a revolt against their rule.
Biden's 'Bernie brothers' remark lights up social media.
Trump is a disaster for abortion rights -- but Joe Biden can't be trusted
to fight for choice. E.g., see Lisa Lerer:
When Joe Biden voted to let states overturn Roe v. Wade.
Bernie's revolution failed. But his movement can still win.
Joe Biden's new plan to end the opioid epidemic is the most ambitious
in the field.
Mike Bloomberg spent $500 million to win nothing but American Samoa.
Living in Kansas, and using the DVR or streaming services for most of
what I do watch, I got through the period without watching any Bloomberg
commercials, so I can't say for sure, but Bloomberg got into the race
because Biden was faltering, only to find that hardly anyone liked him.
If Bloomberg's ads broadly supported "moderate" candidates, they likely
helped Biden as much or more than they garnered votes for Bloomberg --
who may be just as happy to have salvaged Biden's flagging candidacy as
he would have been had he wound up being the "moderate" standard bearer.
Had he won the nomination, I'm convinced that Bloomberg would be a total
disaster against Trump. Still, it's a testimony to Sanders that Bloomberg
feared and hated him enough to spend $500 million just to run interference
Mark Mazzetti/Adam Goldman:
Erik Prince recruits ex-spies to help infiltrate liberal groups.
Chris Matthews's misogyny shaped political journalism for a generation.
Matthews "retired" last week, after a string of faux pas -- most notoriously
his comparison of Sanders' win in Nevada to the Nazi invasion of France
(an analogy that would have been more apt or at least more amusing had
he saved it for Biden's Super Tuesday avalanche). My only lament is that
I figure it's likely that he'll unretire to Fox, where his being a lout
and an asshole will be deemed an asset, and left unchecked.
Ashley Parker/Yasmeen Abutaleb/Lena H Sun:
Squandered time: How the Trump administration lost control of the
The next Democratic debate will feature a much smaller stage: Just
Sanders and Biden.
The delegate math for Biden and Sanders after Super Tuesday, explained.
After Super Tuesday, Biden is ahead 184-106. That margin is quite a bit
less than Hillary Clinton's lead over Sanders at this time in 2016 (but
California voted much later back then).
Five ways William Barr is turning America into a dictatorship.
Nathan J Robinson:
Democrats, you really do not want to nominate Joe Biden. Also wrote
Time to fight harder than we've ever fought before, and
What the stakes are.
After Super Tuesday, Joe Biden is a clear favorite to win the nomination:
latest odds have Biden 8 in 9, no majority 1 in 12, Sander 1 in 50. But
Micah Cohen hedges a bit:
Confidence interval: Sanders still hasa shot.
Could Democrats win the battle against Trump but lose the war against
The Republicans, determined to maintain a plutocracy-friendly policy
regime when it comes to taxes, regulation, and public investment (not
to mention voting rights and access to democracy) have had no choice
but to pitch reactionary white chauvinism to white voters in a bid to
stay viable. Trump's triumph in their 2016 primary simply transformed
the subtext into text. Democrats, hobbled by the interests of the donor
class that Hillary Clinton and now Biden represent, have limped along
by promising to be somewhat less poisonous compared to the
alternative. . . .
The platforms of Elizabeth Warren and especially Sanders -- taxes
to smash America's concentrations of wealth, a national job guarantee,
Medicare-for-all, an end to the student debt crisis, a Green New Deal,
a resuscitated labor movement -- demonstrate an ambition and urgency
that at least come close to matching the severity of the challenge.
Should Democrats best Trump, they will have two years (four, if they're
lucky) to pass such changes.
If, however, Democrats don't meaningfully address these problems --
dying jobs and dying communities and dying hope for the future -- it
will only further empower and embolden Republican arguments pitting
working Americans against each other, that government isn't the answer,
and that immigrants and minorities are to blame, while leaving voters
wondering what the point of the Democratic Party is. That's one way we
end up with an even more extreme version of Trump next time around.
Jack Welch's legacy looks very different than it did 20 years ago.
Related: Stephen Meyer:
Jack Welch is dead. Neoliberalism lives on.
How fear of Bernie Sanders has driven the great consolidation in the
Democratic race: "Voters didn't suddenly discover a passion for
Mike Bloomberg is proof that you can't buy a presidency. On the other
hand, Donald Trump is proof that you can, if you can overcome the insularity
of your class and locale -- something the much richer Bloomberg couldn't
To rebound and win, Bernie Sanders needs to leave his comfort zone:
"Current and former staffers say Sanders has run a great campaign --
except when it comes to taking on Democrats like Joe Biden by name.
Can he fix that?" I doubt he can, and I doubt he wants to, not only
because he is an exceptionally decent person but because he realizes
that backlash against exposing Biden's faults will hurt his campaign
against Trump, and won't help his long-term goal of winning through
The Alabama Republican Senate runoff is bad news for Jeff Sessions:
He came in second with 31.65%, trailing Tommy Tuberville, setting up a
runoff. Roy Moore came in fourth this time, with 7.15%.