As must be clear to RealityChek readers, I’m no fan of Joe Biden’s. What may be less clear is that I have a soft spot for Bernie Sanders. That’s largely because the Democratic Socialist Senator from Vermont is the only one of his party’s current presidential candidates that I’ve dealt with personally – and in small meetings on the subject, and generally speaking, he’s been terrific on U.S. trade policy.
But even though I’ve always considered the former Vice President’s record on this key matter – and most others – miserable (see, e.g., here), it’s clear now, in the wake of the Super Tuesday Democratic primary results, there’s no case to be made that the party’s establishment-arians are effectively rigging the campaign against the more left-leaning Sanders, either because they abhor his policies or because they think he’ll blow the chance they see of defeating President Trump and performing well in House and Senate races this fall.
Instead, yesterday’s voting, along with the totals from earlier primaries and caucuses, show what polls have consistently found: Most Democratic voters have remained moderate, or at least so describe themselves. Relatively few view themselves as being “very liberal. And these Democrats, as so many candidates have pointed out, “don’t want a revolution.”
Of course, because politics and policy are never totally, or even largely, separate, the results of Election 2020 can also be read as supporting an alternative interpretation, but one that’s also been consistently found in opinion surveys: Even many Democrats who might align best with Sanders (or other progressive candidates, like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren), seem to be voting for moderates because they view them as the best hope for ousting Mr. Trump.
Moreover, the Democratic results debunk another major belief about Democratic primary voters in another curious way. The conventional wisdom has long held, and maintained this year, that activists closest to the party’s left-wing fringe would dominate turnout – or at least vote at rates considerably greater than their actual representation in Democratic ranks. (Similar conclusions have been drawn about Republicans, as this popular textbook demonstrates.) But the clear majorities voting for Biden and other moderate candidates throughout the campaign to date indicate that even many progressive voters are holding their ideological noses and pragmatically backing the candidates they believe will perform best against the President this fall.
And perhaps most interestingly, the Super Tuesday and other results place in an unusually interesting light the Democratic Party’s recent shift to the progressive end. Not that the shift hasn’t taken place. But at least according to the Pew survey linked above and this Gallup data series, it’s still left moderates and liberals with a slim majority. And these voters seem to be turning out this election year.
Two big related questions remain, though. First, there’s no doubt that moderate Democratic candidates like Biden and recent drop-outs Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana mayor, and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, thought that the progressives held the upper hand in primary voting. That’s why they’ve pandered so heavy-handedly on issues like race relations and gender identity and immigration issues. Now that the Super Tuesday votes are (nearly all) in, will survivor Biden tack back to the center?
Second, even if he does, has the former Vice President made too many far-out statements on such matters already that they’ll still be effective ammunition for President Trump?
I don’t doubt that if the Democratic establishment thought that it needed to or could rig the process against Sanders, it would. Recent history makes that clear. I also understand that the quick campaign exits and Biden endorsements of Buttigieg, Bloomberg, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar look suspicious to Sanders World (and maybe to much of its Warren counterpart?). And of course, if Biden falters for whatever reason (health, a genuinely troubling gaffe, his son Hunter’s fishy activities in Ukraine and China), this establishment could spring into action in the back rooms once again.
But at this point, unless you’re totally paranoid, you need to recognize that the Democratic primaries are reflecting what the party’s voters, not its bosses, want. And their obvious message is that moderate Joe Biden is “the One.”