From left, Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, talks before a Democratic presidential primary debate, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Um, what the &%$# happened last night?
The zombie candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, not only came back from the brink of defeat, but now leads rival Sen. Bernie Sanders in Real Clear Politics’ average of national polls, the Democratic delegate count, and the betting odds. Biden’s betting odds stand at 63.1% this morning compared to Sanders’ 34%. Just over one week ago, Biden’s odds stood at 9.1% and Sanders, 56.9%.
Last night, Fox News contributor and former interim DNC chair Donna Brazile told colleagues, “This is the most impressive 72 hours I’ve ever seen in American politics. A candidate who was simply hanging by his little bit of supporters came back.”
And indeed it was. The events which occurred during those 72 hours have reshaped the race. Biden outperformed the most optimistic expectations in South Carolina, and the withdrawal of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar and their subsequent endorsements added enormous momentum to his flagging campaign.
Still, how was such a dramatic reversal made possible?
Looks like the DNC, panicked over Sanders’ wins in Iowa (albeit votes, not delegates), New Hampshire, and Nevada and his surge in the polls, had a busy 72 hours themselves. Knowing that Sanders would almost certainly lose to Trump in a general election, they went into overdrive to ensure that doesn’t happen. Operation Torpedo Sanders and Elect Biden was born.
Klobuchar announced her withdrawal from the race on Monday afternoon. Over the weekend, she’d held a successful rally in Portland, Maine and on Monday, the Klobuchar campaign announced they’d just picked up nine new endorsements in the state. At that point, according to Bangor (Maine) Daily News, Warren had 17 endorsements from state-level public officials, Sanders, 12 and Biden, 2.
Though Klobuchar’s betting odds hit a high of only 6.5% following her strong debate performance in New Hampshire, as a “moderate” Democrat, you never know what might have happened down the line, especially if the nomination were to be decided at the convention. True, her campaign was running out of money, but why wouldn’t she at least hang on through Super Tuesday?
Even more so, why didn’t Pete Buttigieg remain in the race through Super Tuesday? He had won the most delegates in the Iowa caucuses and had finished only one point below Sanders in New Hampshire. The two candidates each received 9 delegates in that primary. (I admit his performances in Nevada and South Carolina were less than stellar.)
Although the case for dropping out could be made for both Buttigieg and Klobuchar, it’s hard to understand why they both chose to leave a day or two before the big night.
Is it possible they were called on by the powers that be at the top of the Democratic Party, who saw this as an opportunity to inject maximum strength into the Biden campaign?
Although the Democratic Party has shifted leftward in the era of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic “establishment” still holds the reins of power and influence. This became clear to all following Rep. Jim Clyburn’s (D-SC) endorsement of the former Vice President several days before the primary and, I think, was responsible for the magnitude of Biden’s win.
According to The Atlantic’s Russell Berman and Adam Harris:
Clyburn is a singular figure in politics. Few endorsements anywhere carry the weight that the House majority whip’s does in South Carolina.
Clyburn is the power broker in the state; his “world famous” fish fry is a requirement for any candidate who hopes to be competitive there. According to cable-news exit polls, 47 percent of primary voters in the state said Clyburn’s endorsement was an important factor in their decision making.
Additionally, an article in The New Yorker discusses why Clyburn’s endorsement was especially powerful at this time.
Emily Clyburn, who had been married to the congressman for fifty-eight years—they met when they were students and got arrested at the same civil-rights protest—died in September. The veneer of seniority and gravitas that accompanies Clyburn was burnished by an additional layer of public sympathy, which is why it meant something that he framed his endorsement of Biden not only in terms of his own relationship with the former Vice-President but also in the context of his late wife’s regard for him. “We often talked about the leadership of this country,” Clyburn said. “And there’s nobody who Emily loved as a leader in this country more than she loved Joe Biden.”
It certainly wasn’t money that helped Biden blow the doors off in South Carolina. His campaign had spent only $2.2 million in the state compared to the $18 million spent by Sanders.
Absent a concentrated effort by the Democratic establishment to boost Biden, Sanders might have cleaned his clock on Super Tuesday.
It’s déjà vu, like the song says, we have all been here before. Just as the DNC conspired to prevent Sanders from winning the nomination in 2016, they are plotting against him now.
Berman and Harris believe it was Sanders’ “landslide victory in Nevada jolted the party awake.” That’s when the machine switched back on after a four-year slumber.
As the Democratic establishment concentrates all their might on promoting Biden, one really has to wonder why they are backing such a flawed candidate.
(Note: My colleague, Bonchie, addresses this question in a terrific post which can be read here.)