The big lesson of Super Tuesday's votes ... and what comes next
Maybe we should skip all the primaries, caucuses, polls and campaign fund-raising.
Just ask Rep. James Clyburn, the undisputed Democratic leader among South Carolina’s influential black voters. He raised his eyebrows, offered a thoughtful endorsement, and all of a sudden we have Joe Biden as the agreed-upon Bernie Sanders rival, co-front-runners to face Donald Trump in November.
We could have saved a lot of time, effort and money by just asking Clyburn upfront. Instead, we built up to a Super Tuesday result that, largely based on that endorsement propelled Biden to statistical victories in eight states and a delegate count that is competitive with Bernie.
All of a sudden, we have Joe Biden, who continues to forget occasionally what state he is in, what day it is or what the words of the Declaration of Independence say, as the sage, thoughtful, intelligent and yet empathetic political healer that this country craves.
Clyburn spoke, black voters—particularly older black voters—responded, and suddenly, as if by magic, all the opposition from Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer not only disappeared but turned around to endorse him heartily, along with the likes of Beto O’Rourke, Tim Kaine, Harry Reid and a ton of other top Democrats.
Once the Super Tuesday results were clear, even Mike Bloomberg, half a billion dollars poorer, jumped on the Biden bandwagon. And Elizabeth Warren has taken the half step of dropping out, though she, pointedly, has offered no endorsement of either Biden or Bernie.
Sanders smells an organized “establishment” response here. I’m not sure about the label, but I agree with Bernie that someone like Barack Obama has been busy pulling political strings here. It’s too organized, too neat, too well-timed for the Super Tuesday contests.
Bernie, whose boundless energy and humane ideas already have had a desirable and wonderfully passionate effect on this presidential campaign, is on the verge of annoying everyone by distancing himself from other Democrats by insisting that only he is pure of heart, and that he has to fight “the Democratic establishment” as well as Trump.
If Bernie doesn’t like to see his colleagues drop out to bless Biden now, he’s really not going to like it when 500 Democratic “super delegates” are available on the second round of a brokered convention in Milwaukee this June to dump most of their votes in Biden’s lap. One way or another it will be a re-run of Bernie having to give way to Biden, as he had to show fealty to Hillary Clinton.
Dynamics of the Race
While others dwell endlessly on the horse race among leaders, I find that I am rather more interested in the role here of ego on the one hand, and the insistence among fans for one candidate or another that only their candidate can be right. That’s what I’ve come to expect of Donald Trump troops, not Democrats.
Instead, from the start, Democrats had put up twenty-plus candidates who individually reflected an array of human frailty. Sure, there was going to be a falling out among those who had trouble raising enough money, or those whose ideas had a hard time touching the earth, or who could actually get a bill passed through Congress or explain Medicare. Compared with Trump, it was kind of charming that actual people with actual flaws could each compete with Donald Trump who lies daily, misunderstands policy regularly and flaunts an insulting, abusive and mean demeanor as he pushes for attention more as monarch than president.
Despite the pushing and pulling of a campaign, Bernie managed to win at least temporary front-runner status by actually winning popular count in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. That has so persuaded his followers that any attempt to criticize Bernie or any of his still-developing ideas was verboten, and to be resisted aggressively online and in person.
I found it fascinating that Bernie Bros reacted harshly when Mayor Pete and Amy withdrew, almost in attack mode against “establishment” Democrats who are liberal, but not in agreement fully with his proposals for free public college tuition, Medicare for All and universal child care, all with less-than-adequate explanation for how it gets paid for. By contract, as a Bernie fan myself, I rather thought the consolidations in the election were good, finally pitting Bernie against a very flawed Biden.
For openers, only a reduced race would let us see whether Bernie can gather an actual majority in selected votes, as opposed to holding leader status based on a quarter of a state’s Democratic vote by virtue of the competition each gathering fewer votes than him. And, perhaps, only a reduced field can test whether Bernie indeed can turn out new voters in the kind of numbers that have not materialized to date.
Now, I’m willing to acknowledge that Bernie will prove a less-able governor than Biden or Warren, maybe even than Bloomberg. The same trait that is his great strength is also his great weakness—the insistence on being right because he is passionate about a more fair and equal society.
The presidency, however, is about running a huge and nearly untamed set of institutions—requiring compromise for success—as well as inspiring its people. That is something Trump has taught us anew.
As Tuesday’s results tell us, enough Democrats are sufficiently frightened by Bernie’s inspirational call for a political revolution to force a winnowing of candidates whose very number would assure him of continued victories.
I think Bernie’s sense of smell is right. These pre-Super Tuesday developments were far from magic. They were a coordinated attempt to stop a Bernie-inspired aspirational campaign, and run on a watered-down version of his ideas that will challenge us in a different way. It’s made it a personality campaign, not an ideas campaign.
Whatever happens, I hope Democrats, at least, remember that Bernie’s ideas have proved invigorating and led us to pursue ideals of a fairer society.