08 April 2020

Sanders Out. Presidential Primary Season Over.

Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race to be the Democratic Party's Presidential nominee today. This leaves Joe Biden, former U.S. Senator from Delaware and former Vice President to President Obama as the Democratic Presidential nominee. All other candidates have dropped out and the remaining Presidential primaries and caucuses are now irrelevant.
“As I see the crisis gripping the nation,” Sanders told supporters in a live stream on Wednesday from his home in Burlington, Vt. “I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere in the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour.”
He will face Republican incumbent President Donald Trump in the general election on November 3, 2020.

In my personal opinion, Biden was one of the very weakest candidates of those who threw their hat in the ring. President Obama nominated him as Vice President because he was not expected to run for President, leaving the contest for a successor to President Obama for grass roots Democratic party voters.

In both 2016, when Hillary Clinton was the nominee, and this year, the Democratic nomination process selected a comparative moderate with little charisma and twinges of scandal boosted by name recognition and connections to a prior Democratic President, over other candidates including Bernie Sanders who has been the standard bearer for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party whom I supported personally in both the 2016 Democratic Presidential caucus in Colorado, and the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary in Colorado. Indeed, I was any "anybody but Biden" supporter early on an until Sanders' effort to win the nomination became futile.

Biden has a long history of campaigning poorly and was crushed in two previous Presidential bids. No one who has ever won the nomination started the process as weakly as Biden did. He came in fourth place in Iowa and fifth place in New Hampshire. As of the New Hampshire primary, he was in 4th place in individual contributions and 5th place in cash on hand. Biden came in a distant second place to Sanders in Nevada's third in the nation contest. He has made multiple inexplicable gaffes on the campaign trail with quaintly worded verbal assaults on seemingly undeserving ordinary citizens,  has been caught out for an exaggeration about events in a political visit he made to South Africa, and has mostly weak debate performances. He is generally a dull and uninspiring public speaker and not skilled in making "sound bites" and responding effective off the cuff or on short notice to emerging situations like the coronavirus outbreak during which he has rarely been in the public eye. He has fared best in the ballot box when he has stayed out of the public eye.

Biden is Roman Catholic white man whose church attendance has always been regular, born in Pennsylvania in 1942, who is 77 years old from Delaware, whose defining issue in his early political career as a member of the Southern wing of the Democratic party was opposing busing to desegregate public schools. His father was a middle class, reasonably successful used car salesman in a large family. He married in law school, but his wife and one year old daughter died six years later just after he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972. He has been married for 42 years to his second wife whom he married in 1977 with whom he had three children, two sons and a daughter, one of whom, Beau, a rising political star in Delaware, predeceased him at age 46 dying of a brain tumor. He has seven grandchildren, all of whom are children of his children with his wife Jill, although his wife Jill does not recognize her son Hunter's child who was born out of wedlock.

Biden's advanced age, and hints that he may have very early stages of geriatric dementia in his public speeches, deny Democrats a clear opportunity to campaign against Trump on the grounds that Trump, at age 73, is too old, or is himself prone to signs of early stages of geriatric dementia, although Biden is obviously a far more intelligent, honest, and reality informed man than Trump. Actuarially, and based upon his health in public appearances, Biden is unlikely to be a two term President if he is elected, he has nearly a 50% chance of death or disability should he attempt to serve for eight years, based upon standard actuarial tables.

Biden's weak early performance brought former Republican Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg into the race, but despite massive spending on mass media ads, his weak record as a Democrat and his pre-campaign racist and sexist comments, and his track record of racially discriminatory policies in New York City caused his campaign to fizzle on the first and last day he was an option for voters in the Democratic Presidential nomination race, on Super Tuesday.

But Biden won the South Carolina primary decisively, and then over performed expectations and was a front runner on Super Tuesday, largely on the strength of strong support from African-American in red states in the South, and from older voters. These voters tend to be more politically moderate on a liberal to conservative dimension, more troubled by the "socialism" label, and more impressed by Biden's strong ties to and healthy relationship with President Obama while he served as President Obama's Vice President. The Vice Presidency also gave Joe Biden automatic legitimacy and name recognition.

Younger voters, Hispanic and Asian American voters and white liberals preferred Sanders to Biden for the most part. Biden's big Super Tuesday win was also a consequence of other candidates to the right of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren dropping out of the race. The continued attrition of other "moderate" candidates and the failure of Sanders to capture a large share of the support for the departing candidates then drove Biden's continued success in every week that primaries or caucuses were held thereafter, particularly in states in the Midwest that were critical to a path to victory for Biden. 

While his voting record is very closed to the middle of the road among Democrats serving in Congress, Joe Biden's DW-Nominate score when he left the U.S. Senate during the 2009-2011 session of Congress (the 111th) was -0.314, which was to the right of Warren and Sanders, and to the left of Gabbard and Klobuchar. 

Biden has a long history of supporting moderate or conservative stances until a liberal position reaches consensus status and he changes course. He started his career with opposition to public school desegregation through busing as his signature issue. He is a major architect of federal criminal justice policies that led to racially disparate mass incarceration and the drug war. He was against gay rights before he was for them. He has been one of the last and most reluctant supporters of marijuana decriminalization. Biden has a spotty record on abortion rights and a mediocre record on environmental issues.

In his current campaign, he has publicly rejected policies to reform how big business acts and efforts to broaden the social safety net significantly (e.g. with Medicare for All, or higher education funding reforms). Since he was no longer a sitting U.S. Senator, he was not required to cast on vote on President Trump's impeachment related to events involving Trump's efforts to defame his son. He has tried to put distance between the self-proclaimed Democrat Socialist and progressive stances of Bernie Sanders on policy issues and in rhetoric and himself, while having no real signature policies of his own. The Democratic National Committee, other national Democratic Party elites (many put in place as supporters of Hillary Clinton's Presidential bid), major media outlets, and ultimately many grass roots voters, convinced themselves that the association of Sanders with "socialism" and the "far left" insured that Sanders could not beat Donald Trump, even though the March 17 primaries, there was no significant differences between Sanders and Biden in head to head polling against Trump in either national polls or swing states.

Trump's efforts to get the government of the country of Ukraine to manufacture baseless scandal charges against Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden (his only living child from someone other than his wife, Jill, who does not even acknowledge Biden as one of her husband's son), was the primary basis fo the impeachment of Donald Trump, which failed to result in a conviction when the Senate voted not to convict on partisan lines after disregarding and suppressing evidence in the Senate trial of the impeachment. Baseless as it was (like the various accusations launched against Hillary Clinton), it nonetheless will be an electoral liability in the fall, impairing the ability of the Democratic candidate to assert that there is not merely no "fire" of corruption, but also no "smoke."

Biden's campaign is also burdened by allegations that he sexually assaulted a campaign staffer, Tara Reade, in 1993, although this was never adjudicated in a court, and by a long history into very recent times, of physically touching women and girls in a way that is not considered appropriate by contemporary standards in most blue states, at least. Biden's mishandling of the confirmation hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas made it possible for Thomas to be seated on the U.S. Supreme Court and smeared and ignored Anita Hill whom Thomas sexually harassed while serving in a managerial post in the federal government.

The question for the next six and a half months or so is whether Biden can defeat Trump in the general election. Trump is about as weak as it is possible for an incumbent President who presided over a strong economy for three of his four years in office, and who has been the President during a national crisis with all the exposure and aspiration that attach to that role entail, to be. If the election is a referendum on Trump's performance and reflects demographic change in the electorate which is less white, involved people who were born later on average, and are less likely to identify as Christian than in 2016, then Biden can win. He leads in national head to head polls and in swing state polls by margins great enough to win in 2020.

But, Biden faces challenges similar to those faced by Hillary Clinton, but worse. Sanders supporters and many other left leaning Democrats or Democrats who care about the personal character of their nominee, don't like him. His base within the party is similar to that of Hillary Clinton, but without people who supported her because they wanted to elect the first female President of the United States. Biden's base of support within the Democratic Party mirrors that of Trump within the electorate as a whole.

Democrats who always vote will hold their noses and vote for Biden whether they like him or not. But, his uninspiring campaign is unlikely to generate the enthusiastic support and turnout that President Obama's campaigns did. A significant, but indeterminate number of left leaning Democrats, while they will not vote for Trump, may vote third party or not cast a vote at all in the Presidential race. The DNC is counting on support from independent voters and never Trump wealth Republicans to push Biden over the top in a way that Sanders might not have with older voters. It isn't yet clear if this will work, and similar campaigns of qualified but uncharismatic and uninspiring centrists in the past have failed to secure an electoral vote majority: Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton all come to mind.

A lack of enthusiastic support from a large swath of the Democratic Party, and anemic turnout, could be catastrophic, not just for the Presidential race, but also for down ticket races necessary, among other things, to swing control of the U.S. Senate to the Democrats, and in key state races that will determine how redistricting proceeds following the 2020 census. 

But, Biden and proxies supporting him, have been handed an opportunity with the COVID-19 pandemic that will give the U.S. the worst economy since the Great Depression and has been widely mismanaged by President Trump in provable ways. It isn't clear, however, if Biden has the political moxie to press this opportunity to its fullest. His efforts to do so thus far have been extremely disappointing relative to those of Bernie Sanders. A COVID-19 driven shift to mail in voting like we have in Colorado in one or more swing states could also be a saving grace for Democrats in November.

Also, with the nomination race decided four months early, campaign funds that would otherwise have had to have been spent on the primary race can now be redirected to the general election, and Biden has more time to develop a strategy to unify opposition to Trump behind him. Biden's best call would be to quickly assemble an all star shadow cabinet to unify the party and provide more competent campaigners to serve as his surrogates over the next six and a half months, although I am not optimistic that he will do so.

The 2020 election will be the last one dominated by the Biden and Trump's generation of politicians. I don't see how the 2024 election can't involve a passing of the torch to the younger politicians.


Dave Barnes said...

Not really out.
Staying on ballots to gather delegates "for influence".
Refusing to endorse Joey.
Refusing to tell his Bros to get behind Joey.
Still being a jerk. And, not a Dimocrat.

Dave Barnes said...

We,, 3 days later.
Bernie does the right thing.