The Morning Jolt


What Happened Last Night?

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden addresses supporters at his Super Tuesday night rally in Los Angeles, Calif., March 3, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

The short version of last night: It was the biggest setback for socialism since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Today’s Morning Jolt surveys the political landscape after Super Tuesday’s earthquake wiped out Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren and left Bernie Sanders in really rough shape. That Joe Biden nomination that looked so unlikely just a week ago now looks extremely plausible.

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This Super Tuesday, everything went as well for Joe Biden as he and his campaign could possibly hope. He won nine states, swept the South, won Massachusetts and effectively humiliated Elizabeth Warren, and is now the front-runner once again. The race isn’t over, but it’s now effectively down to two, and the only thing that stopped the night from being a blowout was Bernie Sanders winning California and three other states. Biden is ahead in delegates and heading towards six states that all look like friendly territory. Before our eyes, he is pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in American political history.

Put yourself in the shoes of the Democratic establishment one week ago. Bernie Sanders had won the most votes in the first three caucuses and primaries, and he appeared to be cruising towards the nomination. Sure, he would lose a state here and there, but he appeared set to keep winning pluralities in most states, head into Milwaukee with the most delegates, and force the party to accept him as their nominee this summer.

In the eyes of the Democratic establishment, this was setting the stage for a political catastrophe. Sure, Sanders galvanized a certain segment of the youth vote, but nominating him carried enormous risks. He might have a better shot in Michigan, but he was virtually going to concede Pennsylvania with his proposed ban on fracking — and perhaps any other state that has a lot of oil and gas jobs, such as Colorado and New Mexico. His praise of Castro made Florida unwinnable. House Democrats in swing districts were openly fretting that Sanders could cost them their majority. A Sanders nomination suddenly brightened the outlook for at-risk Republican senators such as Cory Gardner. Eleven states select governors this year, and socialism is not an easy sell in places such as North Carolina or Montana. What’s more, this year brings elections for 86 of the 99 state legislative chambers, and in many states, these are the chambers that will control redistricting after the census. Texas Democrats know their state isn’t going to turn blue in the presidential election but had been making gains in the state legislature.

If the Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders, and the theme of the 2020 election is whether America should become socialist, the Democrats will just get crushed in a lot of places. If you’re the kind of Democrat who doesn’t indulge in fanciful visions of a sweeping revolution, your nightmare scenario is not the Democratic nominee losing to Trump. Your nightmare is Sanders losing to Trump and dragging the rest of the party down with him, ensuring Trump begins his second term with a GOP Congress and, for the fourth time since 2010, a coast-to-coast shellacking that prematurely ends the career of your party’s rising talent in the states.

If you’re the Democratic Party establishment and you want to avoid the worst-case scenario, you desperately want the presidential candidate with the highest floor. The one who’s not going to alienate the soccer moms and white-collar suburban dads. The one who has a shot of boosting African-American turnout above the disappointing 2016 numbers. If you’re the Democratic Party establishment, you push the button that pulls out all the stops to make Biden the nominee.

This doesn’t mean Biden is guaranteed to be the nominee. As of this writing, the Associated Press estimates that Biden has 453 delegates and Sanders has 382. (Keep in mind, these numbers are going to change as California is still counting the votes and may be counting those votes for a while.) To in the nomination, a candidate needs 1,991. Sanders needs to prevent Biden from winning 1,538 of the remaining delegates before the Milwaukee convention.

But as Ryan Lizza observes, Super Tuesday blew up Sanders’s argument that he, and only he, can bring out the massive wave of new voters that Democrats will need to defeat Trump. (Note: They may not need a massive wave of new voters. A big question is whether they can win back the Obama voters that drifted to Trump.) After Super Tuesday, we can say definitively, that the Sanders-driven surge of new voters has not arrived and appears unlikely to arrive anytime soon. The states that had record turnout, such as South Carolina and Virginia, were won by Biden. (Considering the rate of population growth over a four-year period, every primary with a non-incumbent should have record turnout.) As of this writing, Nate Silver’s gadget over at FiveThirtyEight thinks there’s a 61 percent chance that no one wins enough delegates to clinch before the convention. But now there’s a 31 percent chance that Biden wins enough to clinch, and only an 8 percent chance Sanders will win enough.

What happened? For starters, the first two contests being almost entirely white hasn’t mattered as much in past years, but it really mattered this year. No state will ever be perfectly representative of the rest of the country, but Iowa and New Hampshire are ridiculously unrepresentative, particularly of the demographics that make up the Democratic Party everywhere else. Nevada is 10 percent black, 29 percent Latino, and almost 9 percent Asian. It’s mind-boggling that the Democrats ever agreed to a schedule where the first heavily African-American state goes fourth.

As one Twitter voice put it, “Black people don’t got time for Bernie and his foolishness.” The majority of Democratic voters in southern states is black. Biden just stomped through those states like Godzilla. Sanders supporters are quick to note he’s doing much better among younger black voters, but they just don’t come out to vote in the numbers of their parents and grandparents.

Secondly, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar separately were never going to rise above also-ran status. But together, their supporters made up anywhere from 13 to 18 percent in a lot of states, and when you put most of those voters into the Biden pile, you get something like last night. Biden didn’t run a single ad in Minnesota. Both supporters and detractors of Biden are murmuring about some sort of behind-the-scenes deal. Welcome to American politics; this is how you get things done. You build a coalition. “You help me by dropping out and endorsing now, I’ll help you out by giving you a nice position in my future administration after November.” If there was an offer to these candidates, Bernie Sanders could have made the same offer. He chose not to because he regards most of the rest of the Democratic Party as a bunch of useless corporate sellouts. It says a great deal about Sanders supporters that many of them see routine horse-trading and coalition-building as cheating.

And now the Democrats will learn the steep price of having a segment of their base that is angry and paranoid all the time, the “dirtbag Left” that sees everything as a corporate conspiracy. Sean King is apparently hallucinating segments of Rachel Maddow’s program.

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The spectacular collapse of the Elizabeth Warren campaign suggests that the national news media is now something of a liability to the Democratic Party, as the media keeps falling in love with candidates who are nowhere near as popular, likable, and appealing as their media coverage suggests. While the people who make up the national media are mostly Democrats, they are no longer representative of Democrats as a whole. They have advanced degrees, make more money, live in big cities or high-end suburbs, and are extremely socially liberal and focused in identity politics. They may vehemently oppose and even demonize Tea Partiers or MAGA-hat wearing Trump fans, but they also don’t have much in common with the churchgoing older African American in a small city in South Carolina, the Latina kitchen worker in the Nevada Culinary Union, or the gun-owning blue-collar recreational hunter in Iowa . . .

. . . Tim Mak with a spectacular scoop:

American Alan Gross, a prisoner in Cuba for five years during the Obama administration, is accusing Senator Bernie Sanders of commending the Communist country when he came to visit him behind bars.

Sanders visited Cuba as part of a congressional delegation in 2014, along with Senators Heidi Heitkamp and Jon Tester.

During the one-hour meeting, Sanders told the prisoner that he didn’t understand why others criticized Cuba, Gross said in an interview with NPR.“He said, quote: ‘I don’t know what’s so wrong with this country,’” Gross recalled.

The Florida GOP will be kicking the wastepaper basket in frustration if Sanders isn’t the nominee.

. . . Perhaps Mike Bloomberg was always going to be too capitalist for the Left and too nanny-state for the Right. But man, would he have been helped by some basic debate preparation and just a little bit of personality or warmth. To you or me, a fortune of fifty billion dollars would solve a lot of our problems, but it carries the cost that no one is willing to be honest with you for the rest of your life.

. . . The Democratic message can and should have been simple: “We will continue this economic growth, without the daily chaos that Trump brings.” Whether or not you, my mostly conservative audience, believe they actually can, that’s the kind of message that appeals to the broadest segment of voters.

ADDENDUM: Some people might look at the enormous twists and turns of the Democratic primary and think, “If this whole thing is so unpredictable, why do people cover this, then?” I happen to think that a lot of the presidential race is indeed over-covered, particularly the early segments. The debates get over-interpreted, the poll movements are treated as more important than they are, political obituaries are written prematurely. (I looked so smart on The Editors podcast in 2019, saying that despite his visible flaws, Biden had a good chance to be the nominee. Then he lost Iowa and New Hampshire badly and I declared his campaign a failure.) Longshot candidates are taken seriously and then flop.

Nobody’s clairvoyant. Many of the handful who foresaw a Trump win in 2016 also believed a “red wave” would preserve the GOP House majority in 2018. Almost no one saw Jesse Ventura becoming governor, Dave Brat knocking off Eric Cantor, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez knocking off Joe Crowley.

This is what makes politics fascinating. In sports, “This is why you play the game.” Upsets happen. Voters can change their minds. Voters can express one preference to a pollster and then vote differently in the booth. District lines that were gerrymandered a decade ago to protect incumbents suddenly don’t look as safe as populations shift and people move around. Everything’s a moving target.

To quote one of the wisest philosophers in the history of Western civilization, “You play to win the game. Hello? You play to win the game! You don’t play it to just play it! When you start telling me it doesn’t matter, then retire. Get out. Because it matters.”


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