I’m old enough to remember when Bernie Sanders was leading every state and national poll. The year was 2020 A.D., the date was March 2nd.
Yes, it was a different era, a bygone age, or as Elizabeth Warren might say, many moons ago. Perhaps nostalgia colors the picture, but it looked for all the world that a socialist was set to crush Super Tuesday and dance the Trotsky two-step, virtually unopposed, to the nomination.
And then none of his young, rabid, hirsute supporters bothered to show up. Now he’s down nearly 50 points to Joe Biden in Florida, down 22 in Missouri, and down 14 points in the last two national polls. He trails in four of the next five primaries, carrying a paltry 4-point advantage in Maryland.
That’s a MASSIVE swing.
Pundits blamed the dual dropout of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, moderate Democrats whose votes presumably fell to Joe Biden. That, along with Elizabeth Warren’s refusal to drop out ahead of Super Tuesday, hobbled Bernie (her votes would have presumably fallen to her fellow progressive). Or so they say.
That’s simplistic. It’s pundit-think. We all fall victim to it.
Reality is more complex. A low-info voter (for example, retired Boomers who depend on “The Week” for their political news) are typical Warren voters. Once she did drop out, do those Volvo-driving, NPR-mug-sipping liberals magically transform into bearded Subaru drivers with Che Guevara t-shirts and vape pens? Of course not.
Bernie is an acquired taste. His appeal is specific. He’s cilantro, or Vegemite, or hazelnut coffee. Just because he’s closest to Warren on the political scale is irrelevant.
A good strategy in a job interview: create a friendly bond. Make the interviewer want to come to your house for dinner. Not literally, but finding enough common ground that they could imagine sharing a meal with you. Sure, wow them with your accomplishments and drive, but make a friend. After all, you’ll be spending a lot of time together.
And so it goes in politics. Personality often trumps policy. Especially for “gut feeling” voters.
Therein lies the Sanders conundrum. So many liberals would refuse to invite Bernie into their homes. He’s loud, his arms flail, he might knock over his wine! He turns various shades of red. What if he had a heart attack at the dining room table?
Lefty Boomers–the ones who actually turn out to vote–like polite conversations about something someone read in the New Yorker. They like women with smart hairdos, practical Patagonia coats, and polite observations. Warren folks aren’t Berniebros.
Warren didn’t cost Bernie the nomination. The story of this crowded field is that voters were always going to pick Biden. Many simply resisted until the end, when their diversity-liking-but-not-loving hand was forced.
For the past year, Dems chose their favorite dark horse, like an avatar in a fantasy video game: I call the gay one! Ooh I like the Minnesotan woman! I want the black one! I’ll be the one with the Mexican nickname! Little camps were formed, and voters congratulated themselves on such a diverse field, and their own virtue signaling choices.
In the privacy of the voting booth, or when it comes time to cut a donation check, the reality sets in: Do I really want a president who yelled “I am Spartacus,” can I stomach seeing my taxes go up to 51%?
Now that it’s down to two old white men (though as my colleague points out, Tulsi Gabbard is still technically in it, and could create some jarring optics on the debate stage), Dems have to look in the mirror and recognize that they were never going to do anything but the obvious: vote for the Obama VP, even if he needs a recipe to make ice cubes.
So yes, Biden has a lot of support. He will almost certainly be the nominee. The problem: his new coalition base is about as loyal as Taylor Swift. They’ll continue to flirt with whoever considers a last-minute run. The biggest determinant of their turnout in the general election will be Biden’s choice of running mate.
Kamala? Abrams? Michelle? Hillary?
Whoever it is, s/he would be a major medical event from holding the country’s highest office. Good luck finding someone Americans trust to take over, Joe.