If you are a Bernie supporter, you probably came out of last night’s New Hampshire victory feeling pretty confident (our resident enthusiastic and confident Bernie supporter will be along soon). Objectively speaking here, however, it’s not going to be a cakewalk for Bernie, by any stretch.
Here are several things we learned last night:
1. It doesn’t look great for Elizabeth Warren. Online, the talk was that Elizabeth Warren is being erased because the networks didn’t show her concession speech (which was very good, and which I did see on CNN). But online also thinks that the mainstream media is erasing Bernie, and that the media unfairly discounted Amy Klobuchar. We online people have a lot of grievances.
But, Warren was the frontrunner when she was trying to out-Bernie Bernie, and I thought after Bernie’s heart attack that she would walk away with the progressive vote. Unfortunately, she tried to play in the median between the moderate lane and the progressive lane, and unfortunately, the only people who wanted to take that lane were college-educated white people. I think it was a necessary calculation, but as soon as she hedged even slightly on Medicare For All, too many of the people choosing between Bernie and Warren tacked to Bernie and the moderate lane was already too full. Warren got squeezed, and that’s a heartbreaker. She gave an amazing concession speech, though, and if California or Massachusetts were next, Warren could climb back in. But she’s gonna come in fourth or fifth place in Nevada and South Carolina, too, and that does not bode well for Super Tuesday.
2. Bernie Sanders is shoring up the progressive vote. That’s great, if you’re a Bernie supporter. And if Bernie continues to face Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar in every race from now until the convention, he is going to win easily, despite the fact that his New Hampshire win was not resounding, especially for a Vermonter who won walking away in 2016. And yes, I know there were only two candidates then, but Bernie still only earned half the votes he earned in 2016, and turnout was bigger in 2020. Bernie stans don’t want to hear this, but it was not a rousing victory pleasestopyellingatme!
3. More troubling if you’re Bernie is the fact that the moderate lane — in New Hampshire, at least — appears to be more sizable than the progressive lane, by around a 55-45 margin, although NH allows independents and unregistered Republicans to vote in the primary, too. Things may be different in California, but in the rest of the nation, the moderate lane may continue to be as big or bigger than the progressive lane. Again, Bernie can win if three candidates continue to split the moderate vote, but if the moderates line up behind one candidate, Bernie is in trouble. In fact, Bloomberg’s candidacy at this point may help Bernie, because it splits the moderate vote among four people.
4. And that’s the problem with the moderates. There are four candidates — Bloomberg, Biden, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg — each of whom could do well in a particular state, but none of the four by themselves are particularly well-positioned for the rest of the primary. Klobuchar and Buttigieg have no support among Black voters, and Biden has no support among the rest of the Democratic party. For Black voters, there’s still not a great alternative to Biden among moderates. I’ll be very interested to see in South Carolina if Black voters stick by Biden, flock to Buttigieg, Klobuchar, or Bloomberg, or say f**k it, and throw in behind Bernie. If Bernie does well in South Carolina, it’s over. If Biden wins in commanding fashion, it won’t be over until June. And despite Klobuchar and Buttigieg’s big night in New Hampshire, I still just don’t see a path to victory for either of them.
5. While Warren’s campaign might be dead, the narrative that I am hearing everywhere now — on CNN, Jason Kander on Twitter, and even the contractor at my bus stop this morning (seriously) — is that we should stop voting like pundits and start voting for the candidate that inspires us the most. I’m not entirely sure that we’re not already doing that, but if that narrative takes hold, maybe Liz can rebound, although most of Bernie’s voters do vote for him out of passion, so I don’t know if there’s enough voters will to switch to make a difference.
6. Personally, I’d like to see a two-person race, with one progressive versus one moderate, because I feel like whoever wins that can defeat Trump in November. But I don’t see Klobuchar dropping out after her strong showing last night (nor should she), or Biden dropping out with South Carolina on the horizon. Buttigieg finished a very close second, so he’s not going anywhere, either. After South Carolina, however, I am guessing that the DNC will try and force a couple of candidates to drop out before Super Tuesday because the DNC doesn’t want Bernie to win (and while many might think that’s sh*tty and unfair, the DNC is a private organization and can do anything it bloody well wants, up to and including cold-shouldering the candidate who is not technically a Democrat, pleasestopyellingatmeIdontmaketherules).
All of which is to say: It’s a mess. I only wish the stakes weren’t so high, because if we didn’t literally have an authoritarian government to vote out this would be really fascinating and fun political race to watch because it could still go in so many directions (especially with the Bloomberg wild card out there). But we do have an authoritarian government to vote out, so it’s just knives-in-the-stomach stressful. Good times!
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