I have been paying attention to presidential elections since 1988. I know that is not all that long compared to some who may be reading this, but it is long enough for it to mean something when I say I do not think I have ever seen anything like what has happened among the Democratic candidates for president over the past few days.
Last Saturday, Nevada held its caucus. Bernie Sanders won, with nearly half of the vote. The remaining half went to Joe Biden (20%), Pete Buttigieg (14.3%), Elizabeth Warren (9.7%), Tom Steyer (4.7%) and Amy Klobuchar (4.2%). Sanders essentially tied Buttigieg in the first caucuses, held in Iowa on February 3, with only 0.1% separating them. Following them were Warren (18%), Biden (15.5%) and Klobuchar (12.3%). About a week later Sanders and Buttigieg switched places in New Hampshire, with Sanders winning with 1.3% more of the vote than Buttigieg received. But there Amy Klobuchar finished third. A strong third, with 19.8%. After her it was Warren (9.2%), Biden (8.4%), Steyer (3.6%) and Tulsi Gabbard (3.3%). At that point it was clear that Bernie Sanders was a force to be reckoned with, that Pete Buttigieg had managed to drum up more support than most anyone would have thought possible when the crowded Democratic field was taking shape…and that Joe Biden was in trouble. Ahead of the New Hampshire vote, USA Today said, “the former vice president is battling for his political future in a state that has a history of determining who the nominee will be.” Biden had told a gathering in New Hampshire, “Excuse my language, but I’ll be damned if I stand by and watch us lose this country to Donald Trump a second time.” And then he went on to finish fifth. Of course, it did not help Biden any that when a young woman asked him about his unimpressive finish in Iowa, and said in response to Biden’s question that she had been to a caucus, Biden called her a “lying dog-faced pony soldier” in a Q and A that then went viral. The USA Today article also quoted Quinnipiac University Poll analyst Tim Malloy as saying that Iowa had hurt Biden’s perception of electability, which was what many had considered his biggest asset.
So, what happened after New Hampshire? Nevada had its caucus eleven days after New Hampshire’s primary and then, on February 29, South Carolina held its primary. Note that in the first three contests Biden had finished fourth, fifth and second, with his 20% second-place finish in Nevada his best showing of the three. Many called South Carolina a must-win for Biden, and no doubt it was. He touted the fact that he had “worked like the devil” to win the state and his popularity among African American voters figured to be a factor in the outcome. In the South Carolina Democratic debate, though, the tenth one of the campaign season already, Biden did not acquit himself all that well. CNN said that Biden “turned his outrage meter WAY up” in the debate and made some points, but also observed, “Biden is still not a terribly good debater, however. He repeatedly stumbled as he tried to make his points.” Not only is not a terribly good debater, he looked old and weary during the debate. All of that pales, though, when considering that Biden also asserted that “150 million people have been killed since 2007 when Bernie [Sanders] voted to exempt the gun manufacturers from liability, more than all the wars, including Vietnam from that point on.” Jeffery Martin was being polite when he wrote for Newsweek that Biden had “misquoted statistics” about gun violence. Biden did not misquote—he seemingly made them up. According to the Center for American Progress, the number of gun deaths from 2007 to 2017, whether violent or accidental, was 373,663. In other words, Vandana Rambaran was not as kind but was much more accurate when she wrote on FOXNews.com that Biden had “grossly overstated the numbers.”
What about the others in the debate? Pete Buttigieg was “at his absolute best” CNN said, and Amy Klobuchar “did more with fewer opportunities than almost any other candidate on stage.” Elizabeth Warren was “totally fine” CNN claimed, though it also acknowledged that that was likely to make much difference for her. Michael Bloomberg was participating in his second debate. It would have been tough for him to do worse than he did in his first, so when CNN said that he “was better in this debate than in the last one” it could not help but quickly follow up with “but he wasn’t good.” When even CNN points out that Bloomberg “committed a near-Freudian slip early in the debate when he started to say he ‘bought’ a Democratic House majority before re-calibrating…” you know it wasn’t a good night for him.
That debate was held on February 25. The day before, Biden spoke at a Democratic Party dinner in South Carolina and said, during his comments, “My name’s Joe Biden. I’m a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate.” Yikes. Biden left the Senate twelve years ago. So common have such Biden blunders become that Ken Pittman, who hosts a radio show in Massachusetts, wrote, “I’ve tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it is now time to consider whether or not former Vice President Biden is showing early signs of senility, dementia, Alzheimer’s or some other affliction of one’s mental capacity and predominantly in our senior citizens.” I couldn’t agree more.
Still, on March 29, Joe Biden did something he had never done before, despite this being his third presidential run. He won a primary. He did what Sanders had done in Nevada, winning nearly half of the vote (48.4%) and Sanders did what Biden had done in Nevada, coming in second with about 20%. Tom Steyer had his best showing yet, with 11.3% and a third place finish, followed by Buttigieg (8.2%), Warren (7.1%), Klobuchar (3.2%) and Gabbard (1.3%). (It should be noted that Gabbard has not qualified for the last several Democratic debates).
This is when the craziness began. Tom Steyer “suspended his campaign” (which is political speak for “dropped out”). He had achieved, by far, his best performance, but he decided it was not good enough. “I said if I didn’t see a path to winning, that I’d suspend my campaign. And honestly, I can’t see a path where I can win the presidency,” he said. He had banked on South Carolina, too, having spent more time and money there than anyone else. And, despite his third place finish, he received no delegates from South Carolina, leaving him still sitting on zero after the first four contests.
On Sunday, March 1, Pete Buttigieg dropped out. That morning he went on “Meet the Press” and indicated that he was staying in the race, saying, “every day we’re in this campaign is a day that we’ve reached the conclusion that pushing forward is the best thing that we can do for the country and for the party.” Suddenly, that evening, he had changed his mind. Buttigieg went back to South Bend, Indiana, and announced that he was finished. Elena Schneider wrote on Politico.com that the result of his decision was “opening up a wider path for former Vice President Joe Biden to become the moderate alternative to Bernie Sanders.”
Monday it was Amy Klobuchar’s turn. Despite the fact that her home state of Minnesota will vote today, Super Tuesday, Klobuchar called it quits. And what did Elena Schneider say of that decision? It “pav[es] the way for Biden to capture a greater share of moderate Democratic votes against Bernie Sanders.” I assume you are noticing a theme here….
Tom Steyer had no delegates, and because of the way the system works it is not likely he was going to gain any…at least not anytime soon. But Buttigieg had 26 delegates and Klobuchar had 7. Sure, those are small numbers, but remember…it’s still early! Right now Sanders has 60 and Biden has 54. Today is what will make a significant impact, as Super Tuesday awards over 1,300 delegates. So why drop out days—or, in Klobuchar’s case, a day—before Super Tuesday? How much money would one really have to spend, after all, to see how it went for another day or two? Well, the Democrats just are not willing to risk it, and for two reasons.
The first reason is Bernie Sanders. Andy Kroll wrote an article for Rolling Stone headlined, “Operation Bernie Block Is in Full Effect.” Indeed it is. “That sound you hear is the collective exhale of the Democratic establishment after Joe Biden’s landslide victory in South Carolina,” Kroll began.
Biden’s victory unleashed a flood of endorsements by party fixtures and card-carrying members of the old guard — former Virginia governor and DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, former DNC chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, former Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, along with dozens of mayors, state legislators, and sitting members of Congress. The New York Times reported Monday night that former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke would also endorse Biden less than 24 hours before voting began in the Texas primary.
Beto O’Rourke? He dropped out as a presidential candidate himself back in November. His campaign slogan was Beto For America, Beto For All, but he made it quite clear that it was really Beto for people who think like Beto…and that included commitment to policies such as the confiscation of guns and the elimination of tax-exempt status for any church or school that opposes same-sex marriage. In other words, you know you’re desperate—especially if you paint yourself as a moderate, which Biden usually does—if you are asking Beto for help.
The second reason is Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg formally entered the race not too long after Beto O’Rourke dropped out, but he then decided to skip the first four states and pour all of his attention, and his considerable personal wealth, into Super Tuesday. The DNC manipulated its debate rules to let Bloomberg into the last two debates, but that’s only part of their Beat Bernie strategy. At this point, though, the fear is that if Steyer, Buttigieg and Klobuchar had remained in the race, and picked up some of those 1,300+ delegates at stake today, the race would drag on and even possibly run the risk of producing a contested convention. There hasn’t really been a contested convention since the Republican Convention in 1976 when Ronald Reagan almost swiped the nomination from Gerald Ford. But if a contested convention really did occur Bloomberg might find himself getting some traction. He even went so far today as to admit that that’s exactly what he needs. According to the AP, he told reporters today in Miami, “It’s the only way I can win.” Bloomberg says he is the only candidate that can beat Donald Trump, but show me a candidate who hasn’t said the same thing about themselves. The Democrats do not really want Bloomberg, either. In many ways he would be another Donald Trump. He brings plenty of his own baggage, and he has a knack for inserting his foot in his mouth, too. See the above reference to buying congressional seats, for one, and his recently resurfaced assertion that farming is so easy that he could teach anyone to do it for one of plenty of others.
The bottom line is simply this: the Democratic National Committee is absolutely determined to run the candidate it wants, and it doesn’t want Bernie Sanders. Not that it should, mind you. He is a committed socialist and he has gone so far recently as to praise Fidel Castro. But that is no excuse for manipulating the process. Sure, right now there can be no definitive proof of manipulation. Steyer, Buttigieg and Klobuchar really might have all decided to drop out over the last three days. Of course, the Astros might have just been banging out a rally rhythm on their dugout trash can, too. But there is a reason that people are skeptical of someone overly objecting to something, and when it comes to Donna Brazile’s comments earlier today on FOX News, Shakespeare’s line, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks,” could not be more fitting. Sandra Smith asked Brazile about RNC’s chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel suggesting that a brokered, or contested, convention is looming and that the DNC would manipulate it to make sure Bernie Sanders is not the candidate. Brazile started her response by attacking the Republicans for canceling primaries (there is really no one opposing Donald Trump for the nomination) and then brought in the Russians before finally shouting, “Ronna, go to hell! This is not about — No, go to hell! I’m tired of it!” McDaniel saw through the smokescreen, too, tweeting, “It’s ok, @donnabrazile, I’d be having a bad day too if my party was still hopelessly divided. Talk of a brokered convention and the DNC trying to stop Bernie obviously hit a little close to home.”
Yes, it did. We’ll have to see what the DNC has up its sleeve after today’s results come in. Who knows, they might even have to let Tulsi Gabbard back on the debate stage!
Photo credit: By Σ – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87818665