Then-President Barack Obama gives the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a teary-eyed then-Vice President Joe Biden in January 2017 shortly before both departed from their jobs. Yesterday, the voters of South Carolina gave Biden a participation trophy to match his participation medal.
It speaks volumes of the establishmentarian, pro-status-quo bias against him that Bernie Sanders’ having won the first three states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada* is largely ignored, whereas Joe Biden finally wins a state in a presidential primary or caucus in his third run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination and is all but crowned the winner of the race already.
Biden did well in South Carolina yesterday — he won almost half of the votes — but he was expected to win the backasswards state all along, so we can’t count this as a surprise.
What matters is the pledged delegate count, and guess what? Because only Bernie Sanders and Biden got at least 15 percent of the vote in South Carolina, those are the only two candidates who get any delegates to the national convention at all from the state — Biden 39 pledged delegates and Bernie 14.
This brings the pledged delegate count thus far to 60 for Sanders, 54 for Biden, 26 for Pete Buttigieg, a whopping eight for Elizabeth Warren and a whopping seven for Amy Klobuchar (and no delegates for anyone else).
Yesterday was a big win — and, again, the first-ever win — for Biden, but just two days from now is Super Tuesday, and Bernie is doing better in the polling than is anyone else in the two largest states states in the nation that are voting on Tuesday: California and Texas.
Real Clear Politics has Bernie up 17 percentage points in California and up about 9 percentage points in Texas. California and Texas together award a whopping 643 pledged delegates to the national convention (1,991 pledged delegates must be won to gain a majority of the pledged delegates outright, clinching the presidential nomination automatically).
Rounding out the four states that vote on Tuesday that award the most delegates to the national convention, Real Clear Politics has North Carolina pretty close (Biden ahead of Sanders by not even a full 3 percentage points) and Bernie ahead in Virginia by almost 6 percentage points.
Bernie is on track to win the most states and to win the most pledged delegates.
In fact, Fivethirtyeight.com right now gives Bernie a 61 percent chance at winning a plurality of the pledged delegates and a 27 percent chance of winning a majority of the pledged delegates outright.
That 27 percent chance is higher than for any other candidate, but it’s so low because of the egotistical, power-hungry candidates who refuse to drop out even though they are doing piss-poorly, perhaps most notably Warren and Klobuchar, at least by the pledged delegate count thus far. (If you want to add Buttigieg to the list of those who should drop out now, I’m fine with that; he is on track to win the popular vote in no state.)
After Tuesday we should see some of the bottom-feeders finally dropping out, but by then they might already have done the wonderful job of preventing Bernie (or anyone else, of course) from getting an outright majority of the pledged delegates — meaning a brokered national party convention in July that, if it does not award the winner of the most pledged delegates with the nomination, might break the Democratic Party as it is today forever. (That’s not hyperbole; the party has been on shaky ground since 2016 as it is.)
Finally, what do I make of Joe Biden’s win of South Carolina yesterday? Does he have a real chance now?
No, I don’t think so. Again, I see it as a participation trophy. The Democratic voters of South Carolina, most of them black (the media have reported), apparently felt sorry for Biden and wanted to reward him for having been Barack Obama’s vice president. (Biden apparently is black by association, you see; that very apparently is a thing.)
Indeed, Biden’s shamelessly race-baiting pre-South-Carolina-primary smear against Bernie that Bernie’s having posited that then-President Obama should have faced a primary challenger in 2012 was an attack on “our first African-American president” apparently was effective on people who aren’t that smart** and who put race above all else. (And political desperation can induce a losing campaign like Biden’s to sink to new lows.)
Obviously, Bernie had raised the possibility of a primary challenge against Obama — and he never said that he was going to run against Obama himself, but that perhaps someone should — because Obama turned out to be yet another pro-corporate, status-quo-loving sellout calling himself a “Democrat,” not because of Obama’s race.***
And I see little difference between favoring and protecting a person primarily because of his or her race and attacking a person primarily because of his or her race. Both put race above all else — and thus both are racist. (Yes, I’ll go there: even the so-called Democratic voters of South Carolina very apparently are racist, since race very apparently is their No. 1 concern in a presidential contest.)
What I think South Carolina most likely means for Biden is what Nate Silver wonderfully calls a “dead cat bounce.” Here is Silver’s argument for this possibility, in full:
Hypothesis No. 1: This was a “dead cat bounce” for Biden because voters were sympathetic to him in one of his best states. It may have been a one-off occurrence.
Remember Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire in 2008? Left for dead by the national media after she lost Iowa to Barack Obama in 2008, she overcame a big polling deficit for an upset win in the Granite State. It didn’t do her much good, though; she won Nevada the next week but badly lost South Carolina two weeks later, eventually losing the nomination to Obama.
There are some similarities to Biden’s position in South Carolina. Like Clinton before New Hampshire, the media all but counted him out of the running after Iowa. Like Clinton in New Hampshire, Biden had a strong debate a few days before the primary along with some emotional moments on the campaign trail. Furthermore, some of the reporting from South Carolina suggests that certain South Carolina voters — especially older whites and African-Americans — felt deep loyalty toward Biden and wanted to keep him in the running.
Degree of concern for Sanders if this hypothesis is true: Low to moderate. If this were truly just a one-off sympathy bounce, then Sanders can live with it. Sure, Bernie missed an opportunity to put the race away with a win — or perhaps even a close second — in South Carolina. But voters rarely just hand the nomination to you without creating a little bit of friction. But if voters in other Super Tuesday states feel the same way that South Carolinians did, the sympathetic moment for Biden may not be over yet.
Indeed, we’ll see. I do expect Biden to win some more states, most of them in the South. (PredictIt.org right now has him handily winning Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, for example. [PredictIt.org does have Bernie handily winning the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination, however.])
Of course, what does it say that a so-called Democratic candidate does the best in the South, not exactly known as a bastion of progressive enlightenment, but known much more for the ugliest that we have seen from today’s Repugnican Party?
Marinate in that for a while.
*Bernie won Iowa by the popular vote, but for Iowa Pete Buttigieg was awarded 14 delegates to the national convention to Bernie’s 12 — the Iowa caucuses have to go.
**The people of South Carolina would do much better under a President Sanders than under a President Biden, who has demonstrated his staunch commitment to the socioeconomic status quo, which enables insane income inequality.
Voting for a presidential candidate who only symbolizes certain things in your mind over a candidate under whom you’d actually do better is not what I’d call smart.
***Indeed, while I voted for Obama in 2008, believing that perhaps he’d actually deliver on his ubiquitous campaign promises of “hope” and “change,” I did not — could not — vote for him again in 2012 because it was clear in his first term that he never was going to be the progressive president that he had promised us he’d be.
Instead, Obama was a caretaker president at best. And I believe in actually holding elected officials to their campaign promises — not rewarding them for breaking them.
Nor do you simply gloss over a president’s lackluster-at-best performance merely because of his or her race or biological sex or sexual orientation or anything else other than his or her actual presidential performance.