Littwin: As the world turns in the upside down Super Tuesday primary, how did Biden wind up on top (for now)?

DUBUQUE, IOWA - APRIL 30: Guests wait for the arrival of Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden for a campaign event at the Grand River Center on April 30, 2019 in Dubuque, Iowa. Biden is on his first visit to the state since announcing that he was officially seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Biden was the early favorite before everything went wrong for him. After semi-miraculous Super Tuesday, he has a chance to be favored again. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Guests wait for the arrival of Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden for a campaign event at the Grand River Center on April 30, 2019 in Dubuque, Iowa. Biden was the early favorite before everything went wrong for him. After semi-miraculous Super Tuesday, he has a chance to be favored again. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In case you’re wondering what the hell happened Super Tuesday night, here’s the easy answer: The political world turned upside down, and now it’s Bernie who needs a good pair of gravity boots.

And yet, many of the pundits who believe that Joe Biden, with his miraculous showing Tuesday, has the race in hand today were many of the same who foresaw Bernie Sanders piling up an insurmountable lead on and after Super Tuesday. I think we have a lot of twists and at least few turns left in this race. Why would anyone think otherwise?

Bernie was polling at 29 percent nationally at the time of the Super Tuesday runaway predictions. As some (blush) might have repeatedly mentioned, nobody becomes a consensus candidate with 29 percent of the vote.

The easy read on Bernie is threefold: One, many of those who prefer Bernie’s ideas to Biden — does Biden actually have any new ideas? Just askin’ — are worried, with cause, about his chances of beating Donald Trump. 

Two, Bernie not only hasn’t grown his base, it seems as if he isn’t trying to grow his base. Insurgents rarely win nominations, particularly those insurgents who loudly compare the rot in the Democratic Party (which surely exists) with the rot in the Republican Party, a party that just happens to be backing a guy who is, to coin a phrase, an existential threat to American democracy. Bernie can’t win without the support of mainstream Democrats.

Three, we’re still waiting for the youth-driven revolution. The barricades are badly in need of reinforcements. One state where the youth vote showed was Colorado, which probably explains Bernie’s victory. But as many have noted, the big surge nationally came not from young voters, but from suburban voters, just as it did in the 2018 midterms. Bernie, who did not win more than 36 percent in any state other than Vermont, has yet to prove he doesn’t have a ceiling. He needs to prove that  — and soon — by figuring out how to embrace those who like his ideas, but are wary of him as a candidate. Running ads in Florida citing Biden’s somewhat fluid past positions on Social Security won’t do it.

And yet, it’s a mistake to give up on Bernie. It’s a two-person race. I’m not sure why Elizabeth Warren hasn’t dropped out yet, but her campaign says she’s reassessing, and we know what that means. And Biden remains a notably weak candidate. His victory speech Tuesday, even with a teleprompter, was all over the place.

Not to be too cynical about it, but since Biden won in states Tuesday in which he never campaigned or spent a nickel, it looks as if less of Biden — who ran a disastrous campaign at nearly every moment until the last few days — could mean more of Biden. On the other hand, he was there for his semi-miraculous win in Texas, along with every former Democratic candidate he could find.

But in a two-person race, it’ll be two-person debates — in which Biden has not exactly shone — and it will be a lot of the same looks at Biden that took him from early pre-voting favorite to Iowa-New Hampshire disaster. Maybe Dr. Jill Biden can wrestle him a few more supporters.

Can Biden be a better candidate than he showed before South Carolina? Three good days do not a candidate make, or something like that. Everything came together for him, including the endorsements of the candidates in his lane. He’ll now have money going forward. Mike Bloomberg — who spent half a billion dollars to win no states — has dropped out and endorsed Biden. Bloomberg’s failure, I must add, is a victory for democracy.

The idea of a coup, though, is Bernie-supporter crazy talk. I believe Marianne Williamson is pushing that line of thought. Does the Democratic establishment support Sanders? No. Does Sanders support the Democratic establishment? No. Why wouldn’t one oppose the other? It’s not a conspiracy. If Bernie can sell Democrats on the notion that he can beat Trump, I believe he can still win the nomination.

It was the African-American vote and Jim Clyburn’s endorsement, not the Democratic establishment, that saved Biden. The establishment was hoping Bloomberg and his billions would save them when it seemed Biden was dead in the water. Biden’s huge victory came with no money in his pockets. Something different happened. As Nicole Wallace wisely pointed out on MSNBC Tuesday night, in 2008, it was white voters in Iowa, where Barack Obama won, who convinced black voters in South Carolina that Obama was electable. And in 2020, it was black voters in South Carolina who convinced white suburbanites that Biden was electable.

One of the strangest aspects of this race is the Elizabeth Warren campaign. First, Biden should thank her every day for eviscerating Mike Bloomberg and basically eliminating him from the competition despite his billions. But Warren — far more than Bernie — is the victim of people who doubt her electability. That includes people in her own state, where she finished a humiliating third.

The concept relates almost entirely back to Hillary Clinton, who was the woman who lost to Trump, even if she beat him in the popular vote. Warren is not Clinton. Warren’s ideas are more progressive and are extremely popular among Democrats. If you could throw in second choices, Warren would be a legitimate contender even now. And the worst thing is that, according to the polls, women were as wary of Warren as a candidate as men. It’s a strange kind of sexism, not the misogynistic kind, but the stereotyping kind. The only comparisons between Clinton and Warren are that they’re both smart and they’re both women.

So, Warren hasn’t bowed out yet. Those Bernie supporters on Twitter — and, for one, I’m guessing they’re not representative of most Bernie supporters — are showing their usual unwillingness to move toward any kind of coalition. If Bernie’s campaign can’t convince Warren, who agrees with Bernie on most issues, to drop out and endorse him, that would be fairly devastating. And given the ugliness the Bernie Bros have shown her, I wouldn’t be surprised if she simply releases her delegates when she drops out.

Let’s finish up with Colorado, where the vote was weird, to say the least. As someone who loves the weird, that sounds like a good thing. Everyone thought Bernie would win. Why not? There’s a strong progressive base in today’s Colorado Democratic Party and Bernie showed great strength here in 2016, in caucuses, of course. In a primary, few people thought four candidates would be viable — Colorado is the only state that can make that claim — and it shows, I’m thinking, the degree of uncertainty among Democratic voters. Our early voting was certainly kind to Bloomberg, who would not, I’m guessing, have been viable without it. I’d love to know how kind last-minute voting was to Biden, but I’d guess very kind.

Colorado is the kind of state Bernie has to win. So were Massachusetts and Minnesota, which he didn’t. Next Tuesday, the race moves to Idaho, North Dakota, Washington, Missouri, Mississippi and Michigan. You’d think Bernie would have to win Idaho, North Dakota and Washington — and that Biden will win big in Mississippi. Biden will probably be a slight favorite in Missouri. That leaves Michigan as the big prize.

Clinton beat Bernie in all the remaining states that vote in March, including Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia, plus Puerto Rico. You can see Bernie’s problems. But if you want to look back just four days ago, you can see Biden’s many problems as well. And that’s where we are as I write this Wednesday morning. I wonder where we’ll be in a week.

He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

2 COMMENTS

  1. This race is looking more and more like the one in 1920: “Warren Harding’s main campaign slogan was a “return to normalcy”, playing upon the weariness of the American public after the social upheaval of the Progressive Era.” This one will be a return to normalcy versus weariness of or anger about the Trump era.
    Biden can play the role of Harding in another way, too. From Wikipedia:
    * “Governor Cox made a whirlwind campaign that took him to rallies, train station speeches, and formal addresses, reaching audiences totaling perhaps two million” [WHO does that sound like??],

    * “whereas Senator Harding relied upon a “Front Porch Campaign” similar to that of William McKinley in 1896. It brought thousands of voters to Marion, Ohio, where Harding spoke from his home”. [Delaware is a nice place to visit, right?]

    * “…campaign manager Will Hays spent some $8.1 million, nearly four times the money Cox’s campaign spent. Hays used national advertising in a major way (with advice from adman Albert Lasker).” [Bloomberg’s money can be put to good use!]

    * The theme was Harding’s own slogan “America First”. [oops — Trump already has that one]

    * “Thus the Republican advertisement in Collier’s Magazine for October 30, 1920, demanded, “Let’s be done with wiggle and wobble.” The image presented in the ads was nationalistic, using catch phrases like “absolute control of the United States by the United States,” “Independence means independence, now as in 1776,” “This country will remain American. Its next President will remain in our own country,” and “We decided long ago that we objected to foreign government of our people.” [Russia, Giuliani’s trips to Ukraine, Assange in Great Britain, Trump in Saudi Arabia dancing before of the glowing orb….}

    Suppose that sort of election would work to oust Trump?????

  2. So now we have three Democrats standing, not counting Warren,who really has to now say ‘bye. All are old white men, older than me, a woman who came of age in the Kennedy Camelot era: One of the old guys is an autocrat who dyes his hair orange and has already been impeached. Another has policies that sound like platitudes, often incoherent, indicating that he learned nothing from Obama, the man he claims as part of his “we” who didnt teach him how to deliver an llinspiring speech. And Number Three old white guy is a ” socialist,” who dares to have great ideas, and say that Fidel wasnt all bad. ( True, by the way). Although he just survived a heart attack he is adored by young people and Latinos, if not quite enough. And then there are the two billionaires who spent enough on their ego campaigns to end homelessness in America. I think Trump has caused the Dems, with their big shots’ ‘hands on the scale, to use their fear and hated of him to excuse their lack of courage to face real and necessary social and economic change. Glad to live in a state where truth still has a say..And the Sanders victory in Utah was interesting: Mormons know that community matters.

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