Littwin: Now it’s time to talk about Uncle Joe, and just maybe about Warren, too

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addresses a crowd at a town hall event at Clinton College on August 29, 2019 in Rock Hill, S.C. (Photo credit: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addresses a crowd at a town hall event at Clinton College on August 29, 2019 in Rock Hill, S.C. (Photo credit: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Last week, before Joe Biden’s surprisingly big win in South Carolina, we had a chat about Bernie and whether it was fair to worry whether he could beat Donald Trump.

Now it’s time for a chat about Uncle Joe.

The one thing I was pretty sure of before the voting began was that Biden was either a weak candidate or, well, just an awful candidate. It’s no coincidence that he had failed miserably in his earlier attempts at the presidency. This time, his team kept him hidden from the media as much as possible in order to avoid the inevitable gaffes. He has been terrible in the debates, where he talked mostly about which bills he had written over the last 40 years rather than what he’ll bring to the table now. (He did much better in the pre-South Carolina debate, by the way. I actually gave him the win, but only by grading on a dramatically steep curve.)

Meanwhile Biden has a history of votes that are problematic for liberals, including his vote on Iraq. Many of us remember his one-on-one debates with Elizabeth Warren — back when Biden was still a senator — on bankruptcy, bank regulation and credit cards. Let’s just say history has shown that Warren was on the winning side in every one.

I thought Biden was done before New Hampshire and certainly thought he was done after New Hampshire. But now that his campaign has been rescued by Jim Clyburn — who ripped into Biden’s campaign team — and by the Clyburn-influenced African-American vote in South Carolina, everything has changed. 

Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, two people in Biden’s moderate lane, have dropped out. Both — along with Beto O’Rourke — are endorsing Biden. One billionaire, Tom Steyer, who was in his own lane, has dropped out. Mike Bloomberg, the mega-billionaire who got into the race to rescue Democrats from a Sanders candidacy, has been a disaster. Assuming he wins no states on Super Tuesday — which is the way to guess — it’s hard to see how he can rationalize staying in the race when the rest of the moderates have coalesced around Biden.

And presumably, it’s now more likely that Biden wins at least a few delegates in Colorado. Certainly, establishment Democrats are rushing to endorse Biden in a movement to stop Bernie. Is it a conspiracy — hint: no — or a fear that Bernie is both too far left and vulnerable in a general election? I worry only about the latter. But I worry just as much, maybe more, about Biden’s chances of winning. I mean, did you see the latest, when Biden told the story of being arrested in apartheid-era South Africa on the way to see Nelson Mandela? It turns out he wasn’t arrested. He was, uh, something close to being detained, slightly, maybe. Or not.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Republicans are making noises about committee hearings on Burisma and Hunter Biden. Here is what’s clear: Trump and his allies will get just as ugly and just as nasty whether Bernie or Biden is the nominee. There is no way around that, no matter whom the Democrats choose.

I’m writing this on Super Monday, the day before Tuesday, when either much will be known or not all that much. Before South Carolina, it looked as if Bernie had a reasonable chance to take an insurmountable delegate lead on Super Tuesday. I’ve been a little skeptical of that, given Bernie’s national polling — according to the latest Real Clear Politics poll of polls, it’s at 29 percent. You rarely build an insurmountable anything with 29 percent of the vote. 

We probably won’t know much about California’s huge haul of delegates for at least a few days. And in Nate Silver’s latest projections in California, he has Bernie leading, but the remaining candidates — Biden, Warren and Bloomberg — all hitting the 15 percent viability mark, although Bloomberg is now falling short in the polling. If three or four are viable, it’s unlikely anyone will be a runaway winner. If it’s only Bernie — and that’s certainly possible — it could be a blowout.

Here’s the main question I have heading into Super Tuesday. What happens if people wake up Wednesday morning, or if it’s a really late night, Wednesday afternoon, with a two-person race between Sanders and Biden, two elderly white males — I can safely say this as an elderly white male myself — who represent opposite poles of the party with a large gap in between where a lot of Democrats see themselves.

Is that where Warren sees herself? Is that why she says she’s staying in the race, although clearly she is a progressive who would take votes away from Sanders, a political ally? They may not be as close personally, however, as they were before the race, particularly after the invective some Bernie supporters have tossed her way and continue to toss her way. Some are now making the absurd accusation that Warren is staying in the race in order to be Biden’s running mate. Let’s just say coalition building isn’t necessarily a strength. 

If it’s likely that neither Bernie or Biden can get enough delegates to win on the first round in Milwaukee, that could — yes, in a very long shot — leave Warren as a compromise candidate who could appeal to both sides of the Democratic debate. Why would she drop out at this point? She won’t be running for president again. And presumably her delegates would be progressive delegates in the end.

Meanwhile, in a surprising — but strangely late — move, EMILY’s List, which supports pro-choice Democratic women, announced its support for Warren, and so did the National Organization for Women’s NOW political action committee. Is this support from establishment Democrats meant to keep her in the race to hurt Bernie? Or is it belated help from likely Warren allies, who waited until all the other women in the race — OK, except for Tulsi Gabbard — dropped out? According to The New York Times, EMILY’s List does not endorse when there are multiple women in a race whose platforms they endorse.

In any case, it’s a lot to think about on a Monday. And the story might be completely different by late, late, late Tuesday night.