- Joe Biden was by far and away the big winner on Super Tuesday, buoyed by the Democratic establishment lining up behind his candidacy to stop Bernie Sanders‘ momentum.
- But Biden hasn’t clinched anything yet, and he’s just as flawed a candidate as he was a week ago when his campaign was on life support.
- Biden carries a lot of the same policy baggage as Hillary Clinton, and will be opposed by the Sanders wing of the party just as vigorously.
- Biden’s also an uninspiring campaigner and a terrible debater, which doesn’t bode well in a head-to-head matchup with President Donald Trump.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Scared out of their wits at the prospect of a Sanders nomination, mainstream Democrats have been calling for the field to coalesce around a single moderate alternative.
After Biden’s abominable showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, it seemed as if it might take some time for the centrists to drop out and line up behind a standard-bearer, hindering Sanders chances of taking a plurality of delegates and making a strong case for the nomination.
But then Biden exceeded expectations in South Carolina — a state he was always projected to win handily — and the moderate dominoes started to fall.
First billionaire Tom Steyer dropped out, ending a pointless campaign that nonetheless drew some moderate support in the South.
A day later, Biden’s main competitor, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who finished in the top two in both Iowa and New Hampshire, stunningly withdrew just before Super Tuesday and endorsed the former vice president.
Then another of Biden’s Midwestern rivals, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, dropped out, endorsed him, and helped deliver her home state of Minnesota, where Biden was awarded 38 of the state’s 75 delegates.
Other 2020 Democratic flameouts, like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, endorsed Biden.
This wave of endorsements likely mattered in ways that they normally wouldn’t, by virtue of their sheer overwhelming volume doled out in a short and opportune period of time.
Biden is now officially the establishment candidate, but he’s still got the same baggage
In lining up behind Biden, mainstream Democrats probably stopped Sanders’ from mathematically clinching the nomination before July’s Democratic National Convention.
While the moderate wing of the party seems to have put Biden on track to be the nominee, it didn’t make Biden any better of a candidate than he’s been since launching his campaign last April. That could be a problem when it comes time to face President Donald Trump.
Since Biden hopped into the race, there have been as many as 25 candidates in the running. There were 10 debates, the first two of which were two-night doubleheaders. But Biden could not pull away from the pack until this week, even though he is the former two-term vice president to a historic president beloved by his party, and is generally well liked by Democratic voters.
And while his failed 1988 and 2008 presidential runs mean nothing to 2020’s voters, it’s important to remember that Biden hasn’t had to run against a competitive opponent since he first won his Delaware Senate seat 48 years ago.
He’s also not Hillary Clinton, who was at least a history-making candidate as the first woman on the top of a major party ticket in 2016 and widely touted as “the most qualified candidate” ever.
However, Biden shares a lot of Clinton’s baggage that made it such a challenge to beat the Vermont democratic socialist in the 2016 primary.
So while the establishment may have made it impossible for Sanders to win outright, they have not vanquished him. And if you thought the intraparty bitterness was destructive in 2016, try to imagine the carnage of a convention decided by superdelegates.
To beat Trump, Biden needs something he’s never had — voter enthusiasm
Sanders scares the hell out of the Democratic mainstream, but he’s a street brawler on the debate stage and his supporters are highly motivated. Biden, well, his greatest asset is that voters know who he is.
Biden represents the mushy center-left of a party that struggled to beat back Sanders’ insurgency four years ago, then lost to a reality-TV host who had the worst favorability ratings of any presidential candidate ever.
Biden’s entire campaign has relied on “electability,” rather than selling a new vision for America. And while Biden stacks up well in head-to-head matchups against Trump, so does Sanders.
There’s always a chance this works out the way the Democratic bigwigs intended: They nominate a popular centrist who promises a return to normality, wins over moderates tired of Trump, and secures the general election in November.
But that would require a candidate who can drive enthusiasm among some of the more marginal members of the Democrats’ coalition.
Clinton ran on essentially two planks in 2016: Trump is bad, and I’m a historic candidate. Biden can run on only one of those. Biden can run on only one of those.
He doesn’t generate nearly the same kind of personal animosity, nor will he have to face the latent sexism Clinton endured. But Biden otherwise brings a lot of the same policy baggage to the table, with none of the “shatter the glass ceiling” excitement.
In Biden, the mainstream Democratic deciders have chosen their white knight. Now they’d better hope he becomes everything he’s never been as a candidate, and in a hurry. Otherwise it’s Bernie’s party, and possibly four more years of Trump.