This was fine for her and the progressive movement as long as the moderate lane was fractured. Former vice president Joe Biden; former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg; and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) all drew support primarily from the party’s center and right, those who say they are only liberal or even moderate. Those voters were more numerous than the very vocal left, but so long as they were split, whoever became the progressive’s champion could hope to be the nominee by winning large numbers of delegates with a minority of the vote.
All that changed in the whirlwind 48 hours before Tuesday night. Buttigieg’s and Klobuchar’s departures meant the moderates had coalesced around Biden, despite former New York mayor Scrooge McDuck — I mean, Mike Bloomberg — spending an obscene amount of money to try to win moderate votes. But the overwhelming signal to moderate voters was clear: Biden or Bernie.
Warren could have followed Klobuchar’s example and dropped out on Tuesday, endorsing Sanders. Dropping out then and endorsing Sanders would have meant she sacrificed her dream in the short run while uniting the progressive vote behind the clear leader. Had she done that — and assuming Bloomberg would have stayed in the race, given that his entire strategy was to wait for Super Tuesday — it’s likely that many of her voters would have switched to Sanders rather than Biden, and those votes would have easily given Sanders victories in at least Maine, Minnesota, Massachusetts and probably Texas as well.
Instead, Warren’s votes were wasted. She failed to break the 15-percent threshold in Texas or California and finished third in Massachusetts. Sanders lost progressive states he should have won and finished much further behind Biden in states he lost, letting Biden gain many more delegates than anyone had expected. Now that Bloomberg has dropped out and endorsed Biden, there is only one candidate sitting squarely in the middle of the Democratic electorate. Even if she now drops out, it’s too late. Sanders can only win the nomination from this point by savaging Biden in a desperate attempt to convince the merely liberal voter that Biden is too conservative for them. That scorched-earth policy would make any Sanders victory very hollow indeed.
Warren’s persistence has fueled her amazing life’s journey from an economically unstable home in Oklahoma to Harvard and the Senate. But one’s faults are often the flip side of one’s virtues, and there’s a thin line between persistence and stubbornness. Had Warren dropped out on Monday, she might have become Sanders’s vice presidential nominee and the president-in-waiting, given his advanced age. Now she’s just another losing presidential wannabe with the ignominy of getting thrashed in her home state on her résumé. I doubt she has a plan for how to deal with that.