This morning, with all but a handful of precincts reporting, it became clear that Joe Biden had a very good night in South Carolina. In fact, he appears to have overperformed against even the most optimistic polls, coming in dangerously close to the 50% mark. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, underperformed a bit, registering just shy of 20%, but that will be more than enough to ensure he grabs some delegates on his way out the door. So congratulations are in order for Uncle Joe. Well done.
With that out of the way, the difference in the media coverage of the Democratic primary between this morning and what it looked like only 24 hours ago is stunning. One of the best examples can be found in this analysis from Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine. You see, it was less than three weeks ago that Chait published an obituary for the Biden campaign, declaring that “Biden’s campaign was a disaster for liberalism and his party.” And yes, you will note that he refers to Biden in the past tense throughout the entire article. Stick a fork in Uncle Joe because he’s done.
This morning, Chait just as boldly declares that “Joe Biden is now the only candidate that can stop Bernie Sanders.”
After Biden’s South Carolina victory, the first primary he has ever won in his three presidential campaigns, things look quite different. The status of Biden’s campaign has not only been upgraded to “alive” — at this point he is the primary, and probably the sole, alternative to Bernie Sanders. At the risk of overreacting in the opposite direction, Biden appears to have taken control of the Democrat party’s center-left voters so decisively, none of his mainstream rivals will be able to sustain a rationale for their candidacy. Michael Bloomberg, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg — all of whom have made Biden-esque pitches to the electorate — will face enormous pressure to leave the race after Super Tuesday, and possibly even before.
Chait is hardly alone. CNBC is expecting a “flood” of new Biden donations to his bundlers. Mediaite interviews a former Obama adviser who declares that this is now a two-person race between Biden and Sanders. The list goes on.
Pardon me for being the toad at the garden party here, but weren’t most of you declaring Biden’s presidential aspirations dead and buried as recently as Wednesday? Has the entire press corps suddenly developed collective amnesia? What happened to Joe’s “declining” mental sharpness? (To say the least.) Or his creepy interactions with women? There were a host of reasons that he was a “disaster.” Apparently, this has all been forgotten after Biden won a single state.
Moving on, let’s look at the current theory, perhaps best exemplified in Chait’s article I linked above. Supposedly, Buttigieg, Bloomberg and Klobuchar will “face enormous pressure” to drop out of the race, possibly before Tuesday, clearing the moderate lane for Joe. Similarly, Warren will need to go home leaving the socialist lane to Bernie. As theories go, the math at least works. There is still more total support for the “moderate” candidates combined than there is for Sanders and Warren.
But there’s one little problem with this vision. The only person who dropped out of the race after South Carolina was Tom Steyer. (No word yet as to where Steyer’s two supporters will migrate.) If any of the others had planned on dropping if South Carolina went badly for them, I think we’d have heard from them last night. Warren was back on the attack immediately, while Buttigieg and Klobuchar both flew out to Super Tuesday states. Doesn’t look to me like any of them are going anywhere just yet.
As far as Bloomberg goes, he didn’t even compete in the first four states. He’s been banking on Super Tuesday from the day he announced. Why on Earth would he drop out now? And speaking of Super Tuesday, Joe Biden has a lot of work to do in a very short time if this is the beginning of his comeback kid story. He’s trailing Bernie by 8 in Texas and is barely ahead of Bloomberg. CNN had Bernie up by twenty in California only one week ago and Biden was even losing to Warren. Sanders has a solid lead in Virginia as well as Michigan.
Klobuchar may take her home state of Minnesota, but Bernie is her only real challenger there. Biden is in single digits. Heck, Sanders is even leading Warren in Massachusetts. The only place I see Biden leading in Tuesday races is North Carolina (which is still very tight).
If Joe Biden limps out of Super Tuesday with only a single win, which still looks entirely possible, why would the other moderates be scared out of the race? I wouldn’t want to predict this too solidly, but we may be poised to see another round of media amnesia on Wednesday morning. At that point, it’s still possible that Biden may come roaring back to claim the mantle of moderate favorite, but the press could just as easily be spreading flowers at the funeral for his campaign. Again.