This is an excerpt from episode 193 of The Editors.
Rich: Are you kidding me? No, seriously, are you kidding me? We will discuss this and more on this special “Are you kidding me?” edition of The Editors. I’m Rich Lowry, and I’m joined as always by the Right Honorable Charles C. W. Cooke, by the Sage of Authenticity Woods, Jim Geraghty, and the notorious MBD, Michael Brendan Dougherty.
Jim Geraghty, epic events since our last podcast in the Democratic race that basically falsify everything we said last week. I have to congratulate you, Jim, you’ve gone from being right about Bloomberg and wrong about Biden to being right about Biden and wrong about Bloomberg.
I just have to say, this is the most astonishing comeback of my adult lifetime. Ten, 15 years ago, we had John Kerry coming back in 2004 from the dead, but that was prior to anyone voting. He comes back and wins Iowa. John McCain also was dead before anyone voted in 2008, has a surprising third-place finish in Iowa, which he was playing this touch-and-go game with and wasn’t really competing in, and then wins New Hampshire. But to finish fourth in Iowa, to finish fifth in New Hampshire, to have your strongest showing a really distant second in Nevada, and then to win South Carolina, not just to win it, but to win it by 30 points going away, and then sweep states all across the country in Super Tuesday, it’s amazing.
My theory, Jim, and this seems really counterintuitive to say and maybe too slighting of what Biden managed to do here, but it was a little bit more, to me, it seemed more like African-American voters deciding they were going to lift up Joe Biden rather than Biden winning over African-American voters, although he had some good moments prior to South Carolina, especially in the CNN town hall when he got the question from the black pastor whose wife had been killed in the church shooting. And it was the party deciding to lift Biden up, and this amazingly coordinated effort where Buttigieg and Klobuchar get out—
Jim: Beto. Beto too.
Rich: And Beto endorses him with those two others. What do you make of it?
Jim: First of all, Rich, I’m going to ask you and Sarah, can you go back a few weeks after Iowa and New Hampshire when I said the Biden campaign, after being bullish on him all of 2019, that it had been a failure, can you just go back and erase that one? Because I want to gloat about being on the Biden bandwagon, or at least thinking Biden was much stronger than most people thought through most of 2019. You’re right, he went out and did terribly.
For those of us who are not fans of Iowa and New Hampshire, I think it is now a near certainty that Iowa and New Hampshire will not be going first the next time Democrats have a presidential contest. I don’t know if they’ll stay near the front. I don’t know which state will go first. But looking back, considering just what a central component the African-American vote is to the modern Democratic Party, it is asinine that they didn’t go to a vote with a significant African-American population until the fourth contest. Iowa and New Hampshire are just not representative. They just are far too white. They’re far too old. It is far too much of a wine-track candidate campaign than a beer-track candidate, to use that metaphor.
That was what was really holding back Joe Biden. His national polls had always looked pretty good, started to slide after those terrible starts. As much as I would like to say I always knew that good old full-of-malarkey Joe was always going to do great, look, he’s the same guy he was a week ago or two weeks ago or three weeks ago. What really happened over the last couple weeks is that the Democratic Party started to look seriously at the prospect of a Bernie Sanders nomination.
Look, Donald Trump is an incumbent president running with a good economy. Democrats, they’re not fooling themselves anymore that this is going to be easy. Yes, Trump has all kinds of weaknesses, and he says one crazy thing a day, and nobody knows how the coronavirus is going to play, but all in all, knocking off an incumbent is hard.
Not only could Bernie Sanders not win; Bernie Sanders could lose by a lot, and he could get the party thrashed in Pennsylvania with his fracking ban. He could get the party destroyed in Florida with his Castro comments. Democrats in the state who think they’ve got a decent shot to pick up, maybe even get a majority in the state legislature in Texas, they’re going to get crushed. I lay this all out in today’s Morning Jolt newsletter. There are 84 state legislatures that are up on the ballot in 2020. Nominate Sanders, you’re going to lose a lot of places that the Democrats don’t want to lose.
At this point, the Democratic establishment is “Holy smokes, who do we have who could have the highest floor? If we lose to Trump, that’s going to be bad, but we don’t want to lose everything if we lost to Trump. Who’s our safest pick?” The consensus became that Joe Biden, gaffe-prone, rapidly aging, seems-kind-of-confused Joe Biden, was the safest option. I think that actually is probably a . . . There’s a great deal of logic to that choice.
It is now ride or die for the Democratic establishment. I don’t think he’s a guaranteed pick. But you’re right, this is a phenomenal comeback. By the way, when Bill Clinton called himself the comeback kid, he really hadn’t come back all that much. It’s a really remarkable turn of events, but it says, “Hey, you know what, these first two states really aren’t that representative. African Americans really are the heart of the party and can effectively pick the winner.”
As much as we’ve had fun making fun of Pete Buttigieg . . . Oh, by the way, now that he’s out, I’ve finally learned how to pronounce his name. Buttigieg and Klobuchar, separately they weren’t that much, but she had about 5 percent in a whole bunch of states, and he had anywhere from 8 percent to 13 percent. You put those together, and you put most of those votes in the Biden pile, all of a sudden you have a big change. He consolidated the pieces of the Democratic Party establishment like Voltron at just the right moment.
Rich: Michael, your theory of the race was Bernie gets out of the gate strong and there’s just no stopping him; he’s going to sweep. There clearly was a tapping-the-brakes aspect to this, perhaps even a slamming-the-brakes aspect to this.
Michael: Yeah. I was wrong. I feel like I’ve been the New York Times needle that bounces back and forth on Election Night on some of these guys. I just was looking it up. On January 27th, I said the coming Biden and Bernie Show and said that the race would narrow down to the two strongest candidates in their lanes, and the debate would be really clarified, left or center. But I also noted that Bernie was surging at that time, and I was watching that surge and I was watching Biden leak and leak and leak in the national polls and drift downward, to the point where I thought, “It’s over. Bernie is going to run through a divided field.”
Even five days ago, Biden was polling fourth and fifth in some of the states he won last night. He was below the 15 percent threshold in half the states he won last night, if you looked at the polling a week ago. What I’ve learned, or provisionally what I think I’ve learned, is that I should not trust second-choice data. There’s all this data saying Bernie was the second choice of most of the supporters of other candidates. The favorability, Bernie was the highest. I shouldn’t have trusted that.
And I probably should’ve taken more seriously Bernie’s less pleasant performance in the last debate before South Carolina. I think Biden benefited tremendously by not having a debate between South Carolina and Super Tuesday, where he might be one-on-two or one-on-three and have a lot more speaking time and might get exposed a bit more. I still think that’s a risk issue for him going forward.
I’ve never seen anything like this kind of comeback. If you look at the demographic groups that Democrats had trouble with in 2016, they’re all the groups that Biden does best with in the Democratic Party: non-college-educated whites, African Americans, and suburban women. Suburban women turned back out in 2018 for Democrats. If you recapture non-college-educated whites and get African-American turnout high enough, that’s a recipe for beating Trump.
Rich: Charlie, I think one odd aspect of this with regard to Biden is usually the front-runner . . . You would’ve thought this for about a year where he was leading the national polls. I was skeptical. Michael was skeptical. But you could’ve just looked at the national polls and said, “Okay, Democrats think this is a really strong candidate and is better than these at least superficially appealing alternatives, all of them, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, all the rest.” Now there’s something to this where it’s just like he’s not great, we don’t love him, but he’s better than an alternative that, to a large part of the party, a swath of the party, at least, is unacceptable, Bernie Sanders.
Charlie: Yeah, I was looking back through my predictions and my analysis over the last two months, and I felt like the British comedian Eric Morecambe playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto, where he says, “I am playing all the right notes, just not in the right order.” The early impression I had of Biden was that he was formidable, and then he wasn’t. I started to think, “Well, he’s never been formidable. He’s never won a primary.” I said to Michael a while back that if Bernie won the early states, there would be a backlash in the Democratic Party. There’s no way they were going to let him run away with it.
Michael: You were right.
Charlie: There would be a freakout. Well, I was, and then I wasn’t, Michael, because I bought into the idea that he had the easiest path, that Biden was finished, that everyone else was going to stay in in such a way as his 30 percent, 40 percent would prove enough, and that we would end up at a contested convention with Bernie in charge of a plurality of the delegates and unable to be dislodged.
Now we’re back where we started. Joe Biden is the front-runner. Joe Biden does best in national polls. Joe Biden seems to appeal to a greater cross-section of the party than anybody else, notwithstanding whatever shenanigans the other candidates have engaged in.
It remains to be seen whether this is ultimately a good thing for the Democratic Party. It’s probably a good thing for the Democratic Party that Bernie Sanders is not going to be their nominee. It’s not just fracking in Pennsylvania. He seems uniquely toxic in the suburbs. He seems built in a laboratory to lose Florida.
But Joe Biden is best when Joe Biden is invisible, when he’s silent. Joe Biden hasn’t done a great deal. He is the default pick, it seems, the default pick before the primaries started and the default pick now that Bernie Sanders looked as if he might run away it. It’s almost impossible for me to comprehend what a Biden–Trump election would look like. I can’t even—
Michael: You’re comprehending it. I can tell by your laughter.
Charlie: I can’t begin to imagine what it will look like on the stump. I can’t imagine what it would look like in a debate. I can’t imagine how we’re going to discuss it. The joke I’ve been making in the last few days is “Well, Donald Trump is now the youth candidate.” He’s 73, and Bloomberg 78, Sanders 78, Biden, I think, 78 as well, or within one year of that. I didn’t include Elizabeth Warren in my calculation because she’s always been a piece of glass.
Joe Biden is not in great shape, and I suppose we’ll learn how much that matters, how much one has to campaign, how much his not being in great shape could be exploited by President Trump if he does become the nominee. Thus far, he has managed to stay in a commanding position, although we didn’t know it for a while, without really doing anything. That’s got to be good for him in some ways.
Rich: The Trump–Biden race would be one where both would benefit from just going away and just occasionally giving speeches on teleprompters, but neither of them will do that.
Michael: Can we speak—
Charlie: Rich, there was a TV show in England in the early 2000s called Space Cadets, where they found these guys who were suggestible off the scale. They did this psychological testing. They told them that they were being sent into space, and they set this all up and they filmed it, and put them in this fake space rocket, had a fake launch, and antigravity and all that stuff. They really believed it. It was actually kind of incredible. I wonder whether we ought to do the same thing with Joe Biden and Donald Trump, but just with a presidential campaign. We put them somewhere on an island and we tell them they’re running for president, and then we don’t listen to anything they say. We just get on with our lives. Probably both win if we did that.
Michael: That’s your fantasy. I wanted to speak to it from the other side, which is I know a lot of my fellow conservatives were happy to see the Democrats reject socialism last night. I was less worried about socialism. I don’t think Sanders is a very good shot to win. I also like populist movements. I like upsetting the establishment.
But I am actually troubled by the fact that the Democrats, the party apparatus, lifted Joe Biden up when he is clearly mentally, I think, incapable or unfit to be president. Now, Trump has moral issues that corrupt his thinking, I think, in certain ways. He has ego issues that corrupt his thinking in certain ways. I think Joe Biden looks clearly unwell, and I am deeply troubled and alarmed that American institutions like the Democratic Party would just conclude that that’s not a real issue to be worried about.
I’m very worried about this, and I’m worried about the idea. I’m worried that people have looked at what the Trump administration has turned out to be, that many of Trump’s unique signature deviations from the party turned out to be not serious once he got into office. Some of them were, on trade maybe, but many of them weren’t. A lot of traditional Republican interests got served very well. I’m worried that Democrats are doing the same thing of putting up a guy who can’t put up a big fight and who’s in many ways a figurehead for the interests at the top of the party that are incumbent.
I just worry about what it says about our country, frankly. We face really serious challenges, and I was really uncomfortable and alarmed by what I saw last night. I’m alarmed that these two . . . It looks like it’s going to be a Biden and Trump race. It just alarms me.
Rich: Jim, before we move on to other candidates, another Biden question here. One reason certainly I, and I think most of us, figured that Bernie would get an insurmountable lead, or at least some lead, in delegates after Super Tuesday is the experience of Republicans combating Trump, a candidate 30 percent, 40 percent support fairly early on in the primaries, but the field didn’t clear. It didn’t cohere. There wasn’t really a serious Stop Trump effort. And it seemed as though it was impossible for Democrats to pull off such a coherent effort as well. It didn’t seem very likely anyone was going to get out in time. Bloomberg was in and would, at least, complicate the picture for Biden. It was reasonable to assume that Bernie would be the strongest on Super Tuesday, but they pulled it off.
I think one reason, as people have pointed out, was that the immediate prior president of their own party is actually beloved rather than loathed the way George W. Bush was by a lot of the party in 2016. The level of distrust and hatred for the establishment on the Democratic side, obviously a lot of that motivates Bernie Bros, but I don’t think it’s pervasive on the Democratic side as it was on the Republican side in 2016. And the alternative to Bernie was someone that no one hated, Biden. Everyone could feel comfortable getting on board and endorsing him, whereas the alternative, it was clear in 2016, once we got there, to Trump was Cruz, and no one liked Cruz. Everyone had these deep rivalries with him. No one wanted to help him, and that was a major distorting element in the 2016 process.
That just didn’t apply here. You got this kind of . . . The Bernie people are going to call it a conspiracy. It was a kind of conspiracy. It was a coordinated effort behind the scenes to make this happen, and they pulled it off and it had a big effect.
Jim: Well, there’s a part of me that really wants to get in the faces of the Bernie Bros and say, “This is not a conspiracy. This is coalition building. This is politics. This is how you win the game. You look at people who are lower than you in the rankings and you say, “Okay, if you drop out and endorse me, I will give you X.” Could be the running mate spot, could be a cabinet position, could be “The party will remember you jumped on that grenade for us and helped us out. We’ll help you out.” This is how you build coalitions in politics.
The decisions of Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg really make the decisions of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and John Kasich and Jeb Bush and the rest look foolish. If you look back, Donald Trump got something in the neighborhood of 45 percent, maybe 46 percent of the popular vote cast in the Republican primaries of 2016, meaning that there was a majority out there who wanted somebody better, but that 55 percent or so could not coalesce behind one candidate. John Kasich chose to run for president of Ohio, and he ended up making sure that there was never going to be a one-on-one matchup. There was a rumor that the Cruz campaign wanted to put together some sort of Cruz–Rubio unity ticket. I think it was Luke Thompson who told us that Rubio dithered and then nothing happened. That looks foolish. Jeb Bush staying in as long as he did was foolish.
The other thing is there’s a lot of people speculating that this is Obama behind the scenes calling up the Buttigiegs of the world and saying, “Okay, you’re not going anywhere. It’s time to get out. You help out Biden now, everybody is going to remember and be willing to do you a favor sometime down the road.” The elder statesmen in the Republican Party in 2016 were Jeb Bush’s brother and Jeb Bush’s father. There was no ability for them to believe that they were making a good . . . Now, here is the thing. If they had come out and said, “Ted Cruz is the prudent choice,” over Jeb Bush, that would’ve been eye-opening and might’ve actually united people. There was no reason for any Republican to say, “Well, George W. and George H. W. Bush think that Jeb is the best choice, so we should all line up behind them.” There wasn’t any respect.
We talk about the decline of the parties and how they’re not as dominant a force in our politics anymore. There’s also just not elder statesmen. There’s just not a Henry Hyde type who’s been around forever where, no matter who you are, you respect this guy; he’s been in the trenches with you; he’s fought the good fight; E. F. Hutton, when he speaks, people listen. In the Democratic Party, it appears that Obama might still be able to play that role, and just as we were . . . I put a Corner post saying, “Look, Democratic establishment, if you want to have this fight, have this fight. Come out and make your endorsements. Go out and make your negative attacks. Unite behind somebody.” Rich, much to my shock, they actually did it.
Michael: Democrats also have much warmer feelings towards Obama than I think Republicans had towards Bush at the same point in the cycle. None of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees have seemingly looked like they’ve sided with the other party on a major legislative thing the way John Roberts did during the Obama years. Obviously, George W. Bush left with a mess, left over for his successor, both a financial crisis and two wars that looked like they were going nowhere fast. That is another reason why Republicans couldn’t coalesce in 2016 against Trump, and maybe why Democrats could. The lunch-bucket Democrat vote, that still exists and still has pull, both African American and white.
The other thing Bernie doesn’t . . . Bernie’s coalition is narrow and ideologically of one type, whereas Trump’s was diverse. Trump was notably winning in the northeast and the south, two parts . . . The conservative movement had been built in the midwest and the southwest in its history, going back to the ’30s through ’60s, so Trump was doing something different.
The other thing is one trouble I think Bernie had, I think, is a long-term thing in the Democratic Party that I should’ve been more attentive to because I’m attentive to it in other contexts, is that upwardly mobile whites have been coming into the Democratic Party since the ’94 Republican Revolution. They’ve been leaving the Republican Party and joining the Democrats. Those are the people that stopped Obama from even touching 529 college-savings plans. Did we really think that they were going to just line up behind a socialist? I don’t think so. They’re a tremendously important constituency in the Democratic Party. They do a lot of volunteering, and they donate a lot of money.
Rich: Charlie Cooke, exit question to you. Percentage odds that Joe Biden will win the Democratic nomination? This exit question is a little less embarrassing for you than the rest of us because we answered a version of this question last week.
Charlie: I think it’s pretty high now, 65 percent, 70 percent. There’s still some states that could be good for Sanders. There’s always the possibility there’ll be another zigzag, but probably not.
Rich: Jim Geraghty?
Jim: I’m going to put it around there, maybe 70 percent, maybe 75 percent, but the Bernie Bros are not done yet.
Michael: I’ll go a little higher, 75 percent, because the race still has a couple big Southern states, Georgia and Florida, coming up, where I think Biden is going to do very well and look like he’ll put a capper on it. The 25% is because I think he is capable on a debate stage of having a Rick Perry-like viral meltdown that makes everybody question, in what is obviously a fluid race, why he should be the nominee.
Rich: I was 70 percent on Bernie last week, which, let the record show, was lower than everyone else, but was still really high, so I want to reserve 10 percent for something crazy happening, acts of God, something at the convention. Then I’m 60–30 Biden, but two-to-one feels a little bit much to me, so maybe I’ll go 55 Biden, 35 Sanders. I go with that number because I think we haven’t seen Biden under pressure in a long time. He’s been an afterthought in this race for a very long time, including in the debates. He’s a terrible performer. He’s perfectly capable of blowing himself up. Bernie is going to start taking the wood to him, and we’ll see how he reacts to that, and whether Bernie finds anything that gets some traction. He’s up, apparently, with ads hitting Joe Biden on Social Security in Florida.
The worm has turned in this race a couple times, so maybe there’s another turn there. Obviously, Biden is a favorite now. He has a delegate lead, and some big states coming up where he’s going to romp, which is the problem Bernie had on Super Tuesday, with the exception of Vermont, which was actually not as sweeping a victory maybe as he would’ve expected. His victories were narrow, whereas Biden in his strong states just wiped the floor with Bernie. You’ll see that probably in Florida, certainly in Georgia, Mississippi. Bernie could win Michigan, but he is not going to get the delegate haul out of there that Biden is in these states where he could win with 60 percent of the vote.
MBD, Bernie. What did you make of his performance on Super Tuesday? A couple of things stand out to me. One, relative to 2016, he had widened out his support among Latinos, really worked that and made it seem like he could win Texas, didn’t, but there’s a reason why he won California. There’s a lot of focus on the demographics in gender support, but a huge element here for Bernie’s inability to widen out more was age. Old people are not going to vote for Bernie Sanders, perhaps because they remember what socialism was, and also are just less enamored with the idea of a revolution.
Michael: Right, and young people don’t turn out in the same numbers that older voters do. This was always a concern of his. When Obama ran against Hillary in 2008, there was a similar age dynamic, but it was less pronounced, with younger people preferring Obama. But Obama was very good at get-out-the-vote operation, very advanced for his time. It was astonishing to watch. In 2008, it was a big deal to go to a rally and say “text this number,” and then all of a sudden you’re on a list and you’re being told when to get out. That was a level of contact that was not achievable before then. I don’t know if Bernie has built that out.
As well as Bernie did with Latino voters and how that helped him in California, the Hispanic vote has always been this theorized pot of gold that is going to put someone over the top, whether it’s a Republican or Democrat, in every race. It’s valuable, but it’s not as large as people think. There’s actually a huge lagging . . . There’s a huge lag in the Latino population of residents in the United States and the Latino population of voters.
And Bernie didn’t do well among blacks or non-college-educated whites of any age, which actually makes you wonder, is this what socialism usually is, which is a revolution of the guilty bourgeoisie, where, in fact, it’s college-educated, relatively high-earning, but not the highest-income people that turn to socialism as an ideological project and as a substitute religion, rather than as a felt need based on the organization of a working class? Where are Bernie’s working-class voters? I question whether he can win Michigan, actually, after seeing these results and seeing how well Joe Biden does among those voters.
I also think the Cuba thing hurt him. By that point in the race, in the debate before South Carolina, there was finally this intense focus like, “Okay, Bernie might really be the nominee. Let’s really look at him closely,” and he gives this answer on Cuba. His apologists are saying, “Oh, it’s no different than what Obama said.” Well, Obama was already president, so it doesn’t matter. Bernie was weirdly defensive, and he flashed that 1930s-through-1970s-style left-wing sectarian attitude of “You’re crazy, and I’m going to start talking about American crimes when a socialist’s crimes are brought up” that is just unappealing and repellent.
I don’t know. I also think the Bernie people are going to try to console themselves with this idea like, “Oh, this was a big conspiracy to take it from us.” Well, you also have to, as Jim was saying, and you, Rich, too, you have to build out your coalition. You have to reach out to other groups, other voters. Just going to every college campus is not going to be enough.
Rich: Charlie, it may turn out here that what really stopped a socialist from winning a major party nomination and getting on the cusp of the American presidency was African-American voters, who were completely disenchanted with this guy and were desperate to have someone who was more pragmatic and “electable” and relatively moderate.
Charlie: I don’t know why that should surprise us. The African-American vote is heavily Democratic, loyally Democratic. It’s not socialist. African-American voters are more religious than white voters on the left, anyhow. Bernie Sanders did especially well, does especially well, among people without religion. African-American voters are more moderate on a number of questions. They, oddly enough, tend to be less woke, despite the origin of that term, than white progressives. They tend to be more moderate on certain economic questions than white progressives. Bernie Sanders doesn’t intersect particularly well with African-American voters.
It’s been interesting, I think, to watch the disconnect between some of the pundits on the left and what is the base of the Democratic Party within the primary phase, African-American voters. When it looked as if Bernie was going to win, before Joe Biden’s great comeback, we saw people who are not Bernie Sanders-style thinkers or writers twisting themselves into knots to make it look as if it will be okay, “Oh, actually,” said Paul Krugman, “Bernie, he’s not really a socialist. He’s something else. He’s whatever I need him to be now so that I can keep railing against the Republican Party like a lunatic.” Matt Yglesias at Vox: “Well, he won’t do anything bad because of all these reasons, but the good things will be good.”
African-American voters went, “Nope, we are not going to do that. We’re not going to reconcile ourselves to this. We’re not interested. This is not our guy, and we’re not using the considerable power that we have in the party to put him there.”
Now, again, I think Joe Biden won by default. Joe Biden had two things going for him. One, he was there and has high name recognition. The other is he was Barack Obama’s vice president. We may mock him a little bit for having very little to offer other than to point out that he was Barack Obama’s vice president and to say every twelve seconds that Barack Obama is his best friend, or that Barack Obama said this to him, or that when they were working on this together, Barack Obama put his hand on his shoulder and said, “Thanks, Joe. Would you like a Diet Coke?” But I think that does matter. Why? Not just, or even mostly, because Barack Obama was black, but because Barack Obama was very appealing in his positions and in his attitude to African-American voters. Joe Biden has managed to essentially copy that mode and that mien and that platform.
I don’t think we should be surprised by this. The one thing I have to say I am surprised by is the way in which many of Bernie’s most ardent supporters talk about Democrats as if African-American voters just don’t exist in the party. The word they use in the smart circles is erasure. It’s really extraordinary listening to them. Marianne Williamson did it last night. Marianne Williamson said that this was a coup, that Joe Biden was at the head of or had orchestrated a coup against Bernie Sanders. I don’t know what she means by that. If the arrival of a huge voting bloc within the party represents a coup, then what price democracy?
Rich: Jim, Charlie touched on the importance of religious faith, and this is something that hasn’t gotten discussed much but is very marked. One, just an avowed socialist who is basically an atheist. He doesn’t call himself that, but obviously, functionally, an atheist. This is someone, 20 years ago, zero chance to get any traction in the Democratic primaries, but just a sign of the cultural shift that Bernie has been able to make a real go of it. For older African-American voters, this is another reason that Bernie just doesn’t scan for them. No one has made a big deal, or really any deal, of Bernie’s faith, or lack thereof.
A part of Biden’s connection with African-American voters is that Biden understands redemption and grace and, as he’s put it now, and it’s an element of his stump speech, getting knocked down and standing back up. That just has real resonance with the story of Christianity, and especially the African-American experience of Christianity in this country.
Jim: You know, Rich, I don’t know if you guys are having the same kind of experiences, but when you are a conservative political correspondent for a conservative magazine and you write things like, “Hey, Joe Biden might be kind of underestimated” and “Hey, Joe Biden is actually in stronger shape than a lot of other people think,” I don’t know about you guys, but I’m getting some strange new respect from African-Americans who are very pro-Biden and who feel like their guy has been covered, unfairly dismissed, and not covered well.
All last night, I’m getting all kinds of DMs from generally African-American Democrats who support Biden who are like, “See? See, we told you, right?” My favorite one was a comment that just said, “Black people don’t got time for Bernie and his foolishness.” By the way, I’m reading it literally. I’m not attempting to do an African-American accent or affect.
But the gist being that if you’re African American, maybe you’re successful in life, maybe you’re not successful in life, the idea of Bernie Sanders bringing about this grand socialist revolution and how everything is going to be different, that sounds very pie in the sky. That sounds very magical thinking. We should not be the least bit surprising that, of all the primary rivals, it’s Marianne Williamson who’s jumping on the Bernie Sanders bandwagon and not Cory Booker or Kamala Harris.
I think what we’re seeing with Bernie Sanders since he’s had these first three terrific wins in the first three contests, we’re seeing the same Bernie Sanders who’s been in the Senate for decades and gotten really nothing done. Bernie Sanders, for all of his . . . He would probably tell you he’s a humanitarian, but he doesn’t seem to like people much. He doesn’t build coalitions. He doesn’t really work well with others. He had zero impact until about 2016. He has this downright hostility towards members of his own party. He only formally filed any paperwork to be a Democrat to run for president in 2016.
I think what you guys said earlier is completely right. Politics is about coalition building. Politics is not about bringing the purifying fires to burn out those who deviate from orthodoxy from your party. It’s about bringing people in and saying, “Hey, you know what, we don’t agree on everything, but we’re together.”
The moment Bernie won that third contest and he started getting asked about things like Castro’s Cuba, he needed to say something like, “I know I’ve said a lot of things in the past that probably . . .” I won’t do my Bernie voice, even though I could. “I know I’ve said things in the past that have been controversial. It’s time to put that stuff behind us. It’s water under the bridge. It’s time to talk about what kind of country we want to be.” He could’ve even said, “I’ve said all the great things about the Cuban literacy rate. It is worth noting that Castro killed a lot of people too.” He could start emphasizing that stuff, but Bernie Sanders is too stubborn.
Have you ever been in an argument with someone where you don’t even disagree with them that much, but they’re so addicted to the self-righteousness of demonstrating how correct they were and how wrong everybody else was, that they do it in an extraordinarily self-destructive way? That’s what we’re seeing with Bernie Sanders, and now we’re seeing it continuing this morning as his supporters are blaming every conceivable reason, of a Democratic conspiracy or all this stuff, instead of saying, “You know what, our guy just didn’t appeal enough to the people he needed to win over.” It probably doesn’t help that he’s from Vermont, and Vermont has very few African Americans and very few minorities of any kind.
But in the end, Bernie Sanders was like, “Not only am I going to win; I’m going to win without compromising one iota, because the revolution is here.” Guess what? The revolution is not here. The entire crux of his campaign and his argument to Democrats this cycle has been “I can bring in the youth vote. I can bring in all these people who have lost faith in the system, all of these non-voters. They’re going to come out in droves, and just you wait to see the Bernie tsunami.” The Bernie tsunami is a ripple in a puddle. It’s not showing up. You know where there was record turnout, was South Carolina and Virginia, places that were won by Biden.
His entire theory of how the campaign works just has fallen apart before our eyes. Now, this doesn’t mean he’s toast, but all of a sudden it means his entire strategy for the campaign has been proven wrong. He has to hope that he’s got enough momentum from those first three and enough people who are angry and enough people who fall in love with the idea of socialism to carry him to Milwaukee with enough delegates to force himself onto the ticket.
Michael: I wonder if he regrets not getting to Biden’s right on immigration or other issues, where historically Bernie had been pretty tough on those issues. Even on guns, he had once been one of these socialist outliers, which you do get. If you subscribe to Harper’s Magazine, you might find some of these guys out there. Biden was getting drawn in by those hand-raising questions in those first debates to the woke side, but so was Bernie. I think guys like Mitt Romney have proven in the past that you can win a nomination by being to the left of some candidates on some issues and to their right on others, that you don’t have to be all one way or the other.
Rich: Well, and the point Jim was making about Bernie didn’t give at all when he seemed to be the front-runner there reminded me a little bit of Pat Buchanan. Was it ’96 he won New Hampshire?
Rich: You know your Pat history. Then the next day, there was a picture of him out in Arizona hoisting a rifle over his head wearing a black cowboy hat. It was just totally playing to type. Bernie is Bernie, Charlie. He’s played to type for 50 years because that’s just who he is. Someone noted that in the speech last night, he didn’t mention a revolution, which maybe that’s a deliberate adjustment, but it’s just really hard when you’re as doctrinaire as Bernie, and that’s why you’re in the game in the first place, to modulate at all.
Charlie: That’s true. Bernie is Bernie. It’s one reason people like him. He is an unreconstructed socialist, maybe more. He has that reflexive defense, as was pointed out earlier, of tyrannical regimes that you hear from socialists and from Communists. But it seems to me that he combined that, which is an accurate description of the vast majority of his output, with a propensity to change to suit the Democratic Party only on the questions that hurt him.
He felt free to come out and say, “Well, Fidel Castro was all right.” Fine. But he also changed to pick up a less heterodox and more unpopular gun control position. He changed to pick up an open borders position that he had previously denounced. I think he’s indulged much of the woke side of the Democratic Party that is just entirely insane, and not just insane, but that sounds very odd to people. Even if people agree with it, they think, “Why are you focusing on this? What on earth is this endless hyper attention that is paid to LBGTQ5789SPQR issues at the expense of everything else?”
I said this a couple of weeks ago. I think Bernie is less appealing this time around because he’s not the guy who says, “Right, I have believed in what I believe for 50 years. I haven’t changed my mind. I have a real core.” He’s a guy who has indulged some fads and has moved, and so he’s just less interesting and less reliable, and his offering is less attractive.
I wonder, like Michael, what he would’ve looked like if he had taken the Trump-style view on trade, if he’s said, “No, I don’t believe that we should have stricter gun control in the way Hillary Clinton did,” if he’d say, “Yeah, open borders are a Koch brothers conspiracy,” or whatever was the language that he used, and “Look, I don’t want to talk about people of color all the time because I’m a Marxist and I believe that the real distinctions in American life are class based.” But he didn’t. That, I do think, has hurt him.
Michael: Just one last thing. If Biden is the alternative to Bernie, that hurts Bernie, because when he was running against Hillary Clinton and came close, he could hammer her on these six-figure speeches for Goldman Sachs or seven-figure speeches. It was right in his wheelhouse. Joe isn’t quite like that. Joe actually appeals to some of the voters that Bernie might’ve been able to peel away from Clinton. He can’t peel those voters away from Joe Biden.
Rich: Jim Geraghty, exit question to you. If you had to say right now, the Bernie presidential phenomenon, presidential campaign most capaciously defined, including 2016 to right now, has been a success or a failure?
Jim: It has been a success because it has moved the Overton window of what is conceivable and what is plausible in American politics significantly to the left. There are quite a few Democrats across the country who are wearing the socialist label proudly. I think the last week has demonstrated how it hit a hard ceiling, but the story is unwritten.
As we’ve been discussing earlier, Joe Biden, for a front-runner, he’s still the same guy he was a month ago. He’s going to go out there, and he’s going to mess up the Pledge of Allegiance and he’s going to forget God. He’s going to make a lot of gaffes, and all of a sudden you might see Democrats saying, “I’m not so sure about this.” I think right now Biden is probably, as I said in the last, 70 percent chance of being the nominee, but Sanders could be it.
What Sanders needs to do is just win enough delegates to get into Milwaukee, and he’ll be in a very strong negotiating position to say, “Hey, look, you guys cannot win this race without me and my supporters.” It’d be fascinating to see how the Democratic establishment deals with that. It’s so far a philosophical success, if not a ballot-box success.
Rich: Charlie Cooke?
Charlie: I’ve made the argument for a while that it’s a philosophical success because the rest of the party felt a need to copy him in some important ways. I do wonder now whether that’s correct. If Joe Biden does enter into a glide path to the convention and does win the nomination, the appeal of socialism may end up looking somewhat smaller than was previously assumed. Elizabeth Warren took a lot of Bernie’s ideas on, and she’s been an absolute joke. She came third in her own state last night.
One might begin to ask, “Well, where is this appeal? If it’s not among the core voting constituency in Democratic primaries, if it’s not within the Republican Party, where is it? Is this limited to Iowa and New Hampshire and Vermont and the university system?” The counterargument to that, of course, and it is one that we could plausibly see, is that if Joe Biden loses to Donald Trump, then you will see what always happens in political parties, and it’s happened a great deal in the Republican Party on the other side, which is the rise of the voices that say, “Our problem here was that we weren’t pure enough. We went once again with a compromise candidate.”
I’m beginning to wonder whether it was foolish for Kamala Harris to try and pick up some of Bernie’s ideas, it was foolish for Elizabeth Warren to try and pick up some of Bernie’s ideas, and that Joe Biden, who’s the one guy who’s just right from the beginning, really the only person right from the beginning who said, “Nope, none of that,” is reaping the benefits in a country that is still hostile in the vast majority of its enclaves to socialism.
Rich: Yeah, that has been the best thing about the Biden campaign, that insight from the beginning the party wasn’t what it seemed like and what the early candidates thought it was. MBD, Sanders: success or failure?
Michael: Failure. Socialism is falling in esteem now, where a few weeks ago and in the past couple of years, it was rising. I think Democrats have suddenly gotten into the mood they were in after 2004, where they thought, “Okay, maybe we’ve gone too far on certain issues. Maybe we were too hubristic. Maybe this is still a center-right nation, and we have to act like it.” I think people will point out that almost none of the progressive-backed House candidates won in 2018, with the exceptions of The Squad, who usually won in fluky races or fluky districts. Now Bernie is fizzling and he may end up with less at the end of this than he had in 2016. I don’t know, I think Democrats are in the mood to win.
Rich: I’m going to say a success. He created a movement. He’s shifted the Overton window, as Jim points out. A lot of the party has moved his way. He, against incredible odds, was really competitive against Hillary Clinton last time around. Now, this has to be bitter irony for him, in the course of about four days, he ends up right back in 2016, competitive, but a step behind an establishment front-runner that it’s unlikely he’s going to be able to catch. As Michael points out, maybe he’ll end up performing more poorly than in 2016. But all this I count as upside from Bernie. Certainly, the day he got in in 2015, whenever it was, if you thought this would be the course of his candidacy across two presidential elections, I think you would’ve been really surprised.