Political scientists will long examine the many factors that brought about this seemingly impossible reversal: former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg’s epic implosion in two debates; Biden finally finding his voice in the South Carolina debate; Rep. Jim Clyburn’s passionate endorsement of Biden and the support of African American voters in South Carolina propelling Biden to an astonishing margin of victory Saturday; rivals Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer clearing the field to give Biden a shot at Sanders; and a slew of endorsements.
But this much needs no further study: On Super Tuesday, voters across 14 states collectively delivered an emphatic message on the single biggest day of the primary season. They don’t want a revolution. They just want to oust Donald Trump.
In all 12 states where exit polls were conducted, early results showed that majorities said finding a candidate who can beat Trump is more important than having one who agrees with them on major issues. And overwhelmingly they said that man is Biden — by 2 to 1 in some cases.
This hunger to beat Trump led to a remarkable night for Biden and for what Sanders derides as the Democratic “establishment” — and an unexpected reality check for the Sanders revolution.
In the swing state of Virginia, Biden beat Sanders 53 percent to 23 percent, a shellacking equal to Biden’s margin of victory in South Carolina. Biden racked up another lopsided win in North Carolina. Mere days ago, both states had been thought to be competitive.
As the night went on, he added wins in Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Arkansas and even Massachusetts, where he eclipsed not just Sanders but also home-state Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Early returns showed Biden holding onto enough support in Vermont to win delegates in Sanders’s home state, a feat Hillary Clinton failed to achieve four years ago.
The few bright spots for Sanders were hardly encouraging for him: They were states with heavy early voting such as California and Colorado, where many cast ballots before a surge of support to Biden in the past few days.
Democrats on Tuesday rescued themselves from a repeat of what happened to Republicans in 2016, when a populist outsider vanquished a cluttered field and no “establishment” candidate had a clean shot at Trump.
But now they have a different predicament. Democrats find themselves in a bit of a rerun of the Sanders-Clinton race of 2016. Whatever happens in the rest of the primary season, Sanders will have substantial support — and a large number of delegates. If he loses to Biden and doesn’t embrace the Democratic ticket, his supporters might stay home in November, handing victory to Trump.
Sanders adviser Jeff Weaver made clear in an interview with NBC on Tuesday that the candidate would continue to lacerate the Democratic “establishment.” Weaver suggested that Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke and Klobuchar are “establishment” politicians — something that Sanders, despite his 30 years in Congress and 40 years in elected office, somehow is not.
In a sign of the ugly politics to come, a group of left-wing commentators that has championed Sanders, the Young Turks, sent out an email Tuesday afternoon about Biden’s “cognitive decline” and asking: “Why can’t we admit that Joe Biden is fading?”
But while Sanders retains enough power to bring down the party, it’s a lot less clear after Tuesday that he has enough power to lead it. Far from bringing new blood into the Democratic primaries, it appeared that in some places turnout was particularly high in places where he did poorly.
Super Tuesday revealed a party still divided by ideology and demographics. Democrats were split on Medicare-for-all. As usual, Sanders did well among the very liberal, Biden among moderates. The young voted by a lopsided margin for Sanders, while older voters turned out for Biden.
Those divisions won’t disappear anytime soon, which is all the more reason for Democrats to focus on the one thing they all agree on: beating Trump. The voters just made clear they believe Biden is the one to do that.
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