The irony of Super Tuesday is how few of the states involved actually matter in the general election.
In fact, at this point we’ve really only had three relevant primaries; Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia. Biden might have had a shot at Texas before he announced his intention to appoint Beto as his gun czar (punintended), but realistically the Republicans have been able to reliably count on everything east of New Mexico and south of the 35th parallel for longer than I’ve been alive, barring when “Good ‘ol Boys” like Clinton run.
And Biden ain’t Clinton. He probably wouldn’t even carry North Carolina in the general, since even Obama only managed to do that once, and Biden ain’t Obama either, no matter how much he might wrap himself up in the aura.
So on the 10th we’ll have some more primaries of which Michigan is the only one that really matters, and then on the 17th we’ll have the first genuinely important night of primaries, with Arizona, Ohio, and Florida being the stars of the evening.
After that we’ll have a better idea of which Democratic candidate would fare better in the general election. As it stands, Sanders has carried two states that matter vs Biden’s one, and the general election delegate count from those three is too small for any real difference to be discernible. Sanders had a decisive victory in Nevada, and collectively the progressive wing of the party (Sanders/Warren) appears to have outweighed the moderate (Biden/Bloomberg) in Colorado, and I don’t think anyone expected Biden to do anything short of dominate in Virginia.
Out of Michigan, Arizona, Ohio, and Florida? By general nature I’d expect Sanders to carry the first three and Biden the last, but we’re now in the post-Voltron primary (which is a sufficiently entertaining phrase that I’ll probably be using it a lot going forward), so it’s harder to predict, particularly since Michigan will have its primary before the next debate.
Of the four, I’d actually consider Florida the least relevant in terms of predicting for the general, shocking as that might be, since Michigan and Ohio would give a better sense of sentiment in the Rust Belt that Clinton narrowly lost in 2016, and Arizona a better idea of a candidate’s viability among non-Cuban Latinos.
Winning Florida would be great, but the demographics there are all kinds of weird and it’s hard to predict. Obama carried it twice, but Clinton won his first term without it, and prior to that it had been a red state since Jimmy Carter.
So I find myself wondering what the people who actually have the power to make decisions will do when the time comes. And, to be honest, I’m a bit worried. Of course, even after Super Tuesday, we’re still early enough in the process that everything could change before April 28th when the final votes of consequence will take place, and the Arizona debates could be the pivot point for the primary going forward, with fewer candidates on stage and substantially less overlap between them.
Biden’s candidacy largely revolves around his ability to win Florida, at least in theory, but if the Democrats flip Florida and nothing else they still lose. And while Florida is the biggest single state theoretically up for grabs, it’s a hell of a thing to build your campaign around.
If the Democrats flip Florida and Michigan, but the Republicans flip Colorado, the Republicans still win.
Honestly, I should stop saying “the Republicans” and just start saying Trump because that’s what we’re really talking about here.
By November, it seems likely that the coronavirus will be an unpleasant memory, and if Trump has any sense at all he’ll be pushing hard for the kind of trade deals that will win him votes in the states he pulled away from Clinton in 2016, and those aren’t states that are going to look overly fondly on Biden; they didn’t favor the idea of continuing the Obama administration in 2016 either, after all.
Biden relying on “the Black Vote” is about as reliable as Sanders relying on “the Youth Vote”, so honestly I don’t expect a miracle in North Carolina or Georgia to take place. I fear we’ll be back to the same approximate demographics that elected Trump in the first place, and while Biden fares better against Trump in some key battlegrounds (notably, Florida, oddly enough), that’s not enough, and he fares worse against Trump compared to Sanders in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
Which is why I’m worried.
Because last time around I felt the same concerns, and I was right, even as I largely refused to take counsel from those fears. But more so, because I fear that the Democratic National Committee is going to make Florida the crux of their argument for which candidate to send to the general in the case of a contested election, and I’m not at all convinced that it’s the right move.
Particularly since we don’t actually know what all Bernie Sanders is bringing to the table currently. There’s an often repeated narrative that Sanders isn’t bringing in the new votes that he was supposed to, and that his “movement” is more of a slouch than a surge, but up until now the field has been too crowded to know for sure who was bringing in what, and until Warren drops out, we won’t have any idea just how much of the progressive field favors Sanders over Biden or Bloomberg. Turnout in New Hampshire was up, for example, but while Sanders share shrank due to the crowded field, what one could consider the progressive share grew.
For that matter, in Tennessee, while the results aren’t finalized as yet, Sanders already has more votes than he managed in 2016, and if you roll Warren’s votes into his, then his theoretical turnout has grown noticeably more than it has for more moderate candidates, and it’s difficult to tell just how many more votes he might have picked up with the field as sprawling as it is, given substantial early voting.
On the up side, turnout in Tennessee at least is vastly higher this year than it was in 2016, so there’s that to look forward to at least.
Getting back to my point, however, at this point we have to largely expect a contested convention, and at that point we’ll have the party leadership making their choice. In theory the delegates will have free rein to vote for whomever they please, but you can realistically expect the Biden/Bloomberg delegates to do as they’re told, and the margins may be close enough that the pool of superdelegates can handle the job all by themselves.
At which we can expect all hell to break loose in the Sanders camp.
“Anybody But Trump” and “Blue No Matter Who” make for decent slogans, but realistically you can expect a significant percentage of Sanders supporters to tell the Democratic National Committee to go fuck itself after the way the 2016 primary played out, and they’re already pretty restive after the moderate candidate Voltron move that occurred mere hours before Super Tuesday commenced.
They’ve been watching the news and seeing what they consider pretty blatant anti-Sanders propaganda at play, and… to be honest, they’re not wrong. Quite a number of major news outlets have largely jumped on board with the DNC’s fairly clear agenda of trying to keep Sanders from winning a majority before the convention, quite possibly for purely benevolent (from their perspective) concerns over “electability”, but that won’t really matter by the time the convention rolls around, because there are way too many angry people out there already.
Sanders knows the score, so while he might gripe about the outcome if Biden arrives with a plurality and leaves with the nomination, he’ll likely fall in line and endorse Creepy Uncle Joe so that the party can move forward with some semblance of unity.
His supporters, on the other hand…
A lot of them stayed home for the 2016 election. I expect even more of them will stay home in 2020 if he doesn’t get the nod, even given how unpopular Trump is with that group, or perhaps because of how unpopular Trump is with them. As far as the “Bernie or Bust” crowd is concerned, Sanders is the only way to win, and if the DNC doesn’t agree, then they deserve another four years of Trump.
And some folks are perfectly happy to fiddle while Rome burns so long as they can watch their neighbors burn first.
Ordinarily I’d have ended this piece there, but I might as well bring up the doomsday scenario of the 2020 Democratic National Convention while I’m here. Which would be Sanders arriving with a plurality and not leaving with the nomination.
Because then even Sanders might decide to tell the DNC to go fuck itself, and if he does, a much larger percentage of his supporters will follow suit. It would almost certainly nix any chance of Biden winning the general election if Trump manages to mount anything resembling a competent campaign (far from guaranteed with our Jowly Orange Overlord, but he did well enough last time around).
Hell, if Sanders openly revolts at the convention, we may have an actual riot, not just a rhetorical one. I’d be certain to have significant amounts of security on hand, and probably a fire department or two on call, just in case.
Color me concerned.