Written by Ben Szioli
The Georgia primary was supposed to be held today, but it was postponed until May 19th. Hawaii, Alaska, Wyoming, and Wisconsin are the only states voting in the next 30 days. So while Arizona, Illinois, and Florida may have gone incredibly badly for Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), a race that was quickly getting out of control has grinded to a halt. Senator Sanders will get a chance to breathe during his quest to somehow come from behind and beat Former Vice President Joe Biden (DE).
That Hail Mary I mentioned last week? Intercepted. Touchback. But like I said, there are still a lot of timeouts to be used. This game just isn’t over, as much as Former Vice President Biden wishes it were. He can’t just spike it.
Biden’s commanding 50% polling average looks unassailable, but the graph of his polling against Sanders’s is not a visualization of a lost race. Sanders’s current 17-point deficit is similar to the hole he found himself in earlier this primary season. That deficit was overcome, and Sanders’s campaign hopes that this deficit can be, as well.
Yes, Biden’s instantaneous consolidation of voters from Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (IN) was shockingly efficient. However, Sanders has had his own steady upward trend to polling levels he has yet to see so far this campaign: 35% and climbing. And, while it is not a state primary, Sanders secured a win in the Democrats Abroad primary, which is worth a few delegates and shows that at least some electorate in the world will still choose Bernie over Biden.
By the time April 28th rolls around, when New York and Pennsylvania vote, who knows what the polling could look like. Shockers in the small states between now and then could help Sanders, but what he really needs is to finish up strong in the delegate-rich Northeastern states with which the primary schedule is backloaded.
In the meantime, it is clear that in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bernie has stepped up and moved beyond the presidential election to focus on helping the American people in whatever way he can. He has been using his internet platform to talk about healthcare and equality in the face of disaster. He used his mailing list to raise more than $2 million to deal with the effects of COVID-19.
Sanders has emerged as what some call the “de facto leader” of the Democratic Party, at a time when Joe Biden can barely be found in the public eye. His campaign is limiting press exposure and public appearances, a strategy used by Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (NY) in her 2016 run against Sanders.
So, while Biden is running down the clock, he’s also risking giving Sanders the time he needs to get the ball back in his hands and get back into the game. Biden wants to skip to the part where they all walk out onto the field to shake hands as the clock finishes counting down, and you just can’t do that.
This primary is just more than halfway done. Biden has a commanding, if not crushing, lead. But like Former Secretary of State Clinton before him, Biden needs to learn that you cannot will your way into a victory. The powerful are unaccustomed to having their proclamations go unheard and their commands unheeded. While this primary race may inevitably go in Biden’s favor, it isn’t over just because Biden says it’s over.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN (DE)
Biden is clinging to his lead while pivoting to the general election. He has assembled a VP shortlist, he claims, and it’s all women. Interestingly (and worrisomely), Biden says that he will choose a VP that ideologically matches him. The implication is that he will not choose a progressive VP as an olive branch toward Sanders supporters.
This is a dangerous game of chicken. Using force to crush the opposition wing of your party is a good way to clamp down on control, but it also risks an unbridgeable ideological rift that could doom Biden before he ever seals a spot on the ballot.
After being criticized for his absence from public appearances, Biden began issuing online coronavirus updates to present a contrast with President Donald Trump (FL). Though marred by his typical mushmouth manner, these talks may still be “presidential” enough to put Biden in the White House, compared to a President Trump who is flying by the seat of his pants, in direct opposition to multiple of his own health officials.
Quietly, former NYC Mayor and 2020 presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg reneged on an agreement to fund Biden’s campaign. Instead, Former Mayor Bloomberg axed the entire staff of his new political organization, giving $18 million to the DNC rather than the Biden campaign. I can’t speculate with any precision, but perhaps this reflects a lack of confidence in Biden on Bloomberg’s part. While no one expects Bernie to win, a contested convention is still possible. RealClearPolitics actually favors Former Secretary of State Clinton over Sanders in its betting odds. If Bloomberg expected Biden to flop, but didn’t know who would be his replacement, then it would make a lot of sense to leave the money with the DNC to be spent on whichever nominee is selected.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (VT)
It seemed like it was all over for Bernie just a few short weeks ago, but suddenly, the whole primary sideshow is nowhere to be seen. Democrats are desperate to move on to the general election, so much so that they are trying to ram through the rest of the primary without coronavirus delays. But still, the schedule has been hollowed out, with no large states voting until the initial COVID-19 quarantine ends.
It was unsurprising that Sanders cleaned up among expatriate Democrats (winning by a nearly 2:1 margin), but in an election where the whole party is united against Sanders, the victory was still somehow unexpected. I was, to be honest, not expecting to see Sanders pick up another state victory. While this is, like I said earlier, not a state primary, it is still a win. And a win is a reason to keep going.
In a sense, I feel that Bernie never believed he could win. In 2012, he considered launching a doomed policy-based primary challenge to Former President Barack Obama. In 2016, he ran after Senator Liz Warren (MA) declined to challenge Clinton. At the onset, he would have had no reason to believe he had a chance to win. The gamechanger was us; Americans; voters. Sanders has been clear for years: this is about us, not him.
But once he developed a strong following, I suspect Sanders was nowhere near naive enough to believe he would be permitted to win the 2016 nomination. And he was not. But he did run, because there should always be a competitive primary. His main goal was not to win, but rather to reveal the rigging behind the scenes in the Democratic Party
On the other hand, though he did have a real chance to compete in 2020, the structural opposition to his candidacy was exactly the same. While Sanders and any intelligent person would have known that he was a contender this year, I also think that he was wise enough to understand that he would be cheated by a unified Democratic establishment again.
From 2012 to 2016 to 2020, Sanders paints a portrait — not of someone determined to win — but of someone determined to compete. I feel that victory was never the goal, and that effort always was. Sanders never offered a good statistical chance of fixing the system, but he did highlight its flaws. The chance that he could realistically win paled in comparison to the power of millions of people who hoped that he would. It was always about the movement, never about the man. It was never about winning, and always about hope.
And so, as long as Sanders is still running and Biden hasn’t secured the 1900-odd delegates he needs, that hope remains. Sanders supporters have protected it for five years now, holding it between each other in the face of a supposedly democratic process that was always profoundly unfair. They hoped for a good leader, for an election win, and for a better future.
There are many people, millions perhaps, who have invested their hope in Bernie Sanders. It is less a question of whether he wins and more a question of how the party chooses to make him lose. Will they discard the hope that those millions have been kindling since before Trump was even taken seriously, all in the name of fighting a president who is a symptom of our disease and not the diagnosis of it? Will they continue to shut out Bernie’s allies and obstruct his policies? Will they even accept his supporters as Democrats?
Sanders is taking this fight all the way to the convention to try to force them into it. His supporters want this, and in fact, if they are to support Democrats in the future, they need it. Whether Bernie receives policy concessions, or input on Cabinet members, or an apology from the establishment, he must be treated right by the party. Otherwise, his supporters will be disillusioned and disenfranchised, and the Democrats will fall apart in the general election. Sanders does not control his supporters. If anything, they drive and motivate him. He cannot make them support any particular candidate. He cannot promise their support away. Only by appealing to the people directly can Democrats secure Sanders supporters. The question is whether the party’s neoliberal platform leaves any wiggle room for Democrats to make that happen.
REPRESENTATIVE TULSI GABBARD (HI)
Absolutely nothing about Gabbard’s campaign has made sense, and the campaign ended as it began, in that sense. Gabbard dropped out on the 19th. On her way out the door, she endorsed Biden, negating the weird “Russian asset” accusations – and infuriating the progressives that used to comprise her base.
After a long sprint rightward, Gabbard slammed the brakes and turned back to the Democrats. In a way, it makes sense, since this comes in advance of the Hawaii primary on the 4th of April. A Biden endorsement (and an exit before her home state primary) would probably have been the only way for Gabbard to keep her Congressional seat. But then, why run at all?
Absolutely none of it made sense.
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PREVIOUSLY IN “STATE OF THE RACE”:
- 11/27/19: Part One
- 12/4/19: Part Two
- 12/12/19: Part Three
- 12/19/19: Part Four
- 12/27/19: Part Five
- 1/14/20: Part Six
- 1/22/20: Part Seven
- 1/27/20: Part Eight
- 2/2/20: Pre-Iowa
- 2/12/20: Post-New Hampshire
- 2/29/20: Pre-South Carolina
- 3/3/20: Super Tuesday
- 3/15/20: What The Hell Happened?
- 3/17/20: Arizona, Florida, and Illinois