Super Tuesday turned out to be just that for former vice-president Joe Biden in his bid for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination. For democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, not so much.
The clash between Biden and Sanders was a clear ideological battle. Biden wants to restore decency and dignity to the presidency, expand the Affordable Care Act to ensure universal healthcare, and boost the wages of the middle class.
Sanders wants a revolution: an 8% wealth tax, banning private health insurance which more than 160 million Americans have and replacing it with a single-payer system, eliminating college student debt, and raising income taxes across the board.
Faced with that stark choice Democratic voters sent a loud and decisive message that they prefer Biden’s plan for meaningful change building on the legacy of the Obama, and to an extent Clinton, presidencies.
Much to the chagrin of Sanders supporters, and with apologies to Gil-Scott Heron, it appears that the revolution will not be televised.
The best forecast of the delegate count post Super Tuesday (ballots are still being counted in California and Maine) is that Biden will have about 670 delegates, Sanders 589, Mike Bloomberg 104, Elizabeth Warren 97, Pete Buttigieg 26, and Amy Klobuchar 7. A total of 1991 delegates are required to secure the nomination.
Buttigieg and Klobuchar dropped out of the race before Tuesday and have endorsed Biden. On Wednesday morning Bloomberg — after a relatively poor showing on Tuesday — dropped out and endorsed Biden.
Bloomberg spent more than US$500 million in 16 weeks on his own campaign, has a personal fortune of around US$60 billion, and is determined that Donald Trump be defeated. He has 2400 staff in 100 campaign offices paid up through the November general election.
Bloomberg’s endorsement of Biden means more than some delegates at the Democratic National Convention in July. It means Biden no longer splitting the moderate vote with anyone, and the prospect of Bloomberg’s resources more the reverses the financial and “ground game” advantage Sanders has enjoyed to date.
On top of that, most upcoming states are a toss-up between Biden and Sanders, but that’s before the recent surge in momentum for Biden which will tilt things his way. The once exception is Florida, which already leans strongly in favour of Biden and is delegate rich.
Less than a week ago a lot of commentators were questioning whether Biden had any feasible path to the nomination. Now it is Sanders whose path seems unclear.
It is still possible that neither Biden nor Sanders will get the 1991 delegates required to win the nomination outright on the first ballot at the convention. But it is now looking highly likely that Biden will have more delegates than Sanders going into the convention. Given the role that so-called “superdelegates” (essentially Democratic party insiders) play on the second ballot it is inconceivable that Biden would lose under such a scenario.
If Sanders really wants Donald Trump to be defeated in November then he should do the gracious and decent thing and drop out of the race.
To his credit, Sanders has built an incredibly loyal following of dedicated supporters and he has animated younger voters. But by hanging in the 2016 race for too long, and showing somewhat tepid support for Hillary Clinton when she became the nominee, he contributed to Donald Trump being elected president.
One would hope that he does not make the same mistake in 2020. But I bet he will.
At his heart Sanders is a fanatic who thinks the entire US political and economic system is rotten. He’s not interested in changing it, he wants to break it and start again. He thinks pharmaceutical companies that produce life-saving drugs but make a lot of money are evil. He thinks being a billionaire, or taking money from one, is immoral.
Sanders won’t change his mind, or his tone. But Democratic voters have made up their minds. They want meaningful evolution, not revolution. And that’s what they will get from Joe Biden.
Richard Holden is professor of economics at UNSW Business School.