I suspect the Democratic nominating process is drawing to an end more quickly than most people thought. Joe Biden’s remarkable success in South Carolina followed by big victories on Super Tuesday made it a two-person race. Now, Bernie Sanders is poised to lose Michigan, the state that kept him alive four years ago in his race against Hillary Clinton. In Florida, Sanders trails by almost 50 points. His campaign will effectively be over by the end of March. If he stays in the race, he and his twitter minions will be as effective as the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The race, though, has not been nearly that simple. Democrats fielded a bunch of talented candidates, all of whom may have been viable against Trump. I began the race believing Kamala Harris would steam roll through to the nomination. Her launch was one of the most impressive in recent years. She raised a boat load of money in her first quarter, but she made a lot of rookie mistakes that eventually doomed her campaign. She failed to exploit the opportunities that could have pushed her beyond other candidates and she had the upper management problems that often plague campaigns.
Amy Klobuchar consistently outperformed expectations. She began the race with an impressive launch in a snowstorm, showing grit and resilience that proved telling. She was immediately accused of demeaning and abusing staff. Stories of a short temper and withering criticism of employees almost derailed her campaign before it really got started, but she persisted. What she lacked in charisma she made up for in determination and Midwestern sensibility. She consistently delivered solid debate performances and would have matched up well with Trump. In the end, she couldn’t ever break into the top tier though she outlasted some who did.
Pete Buttigieg may have had the most amazing run. He started with almost no name recognition or organization. As the gay mayor of small city, he wasn’t given much of a chance. However, he made himself easily accessible to the press and showed both smarts and low-key charm that drew millions to his campaign. He ultimately couldn’t build a broad enough coalition but he ends the campaign a national figure and an intellectual leader of the pragmatic wing of the Democratic Party.
Elizabeth Warren, who left the race yesterday, best captured the spirit that a lot of educated women wanted to see in the first female president. She’s smart, scrappy and fearless with a biting sense of humor. It’s a shame we can’t watch her debate Trump. She showed resilience by coming back after a few self-inflicted wounds in the late summer and fall. She seemed to have momentum as the voting began but she was unable to expand her coalition to mount a credible challenge to Biden and Sanders kept her from consolidating support on the left.
A lot of other candidates could have been strong matchups with Trump even if they never broke through the crowd. Julian Castro, Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Steve Bullock , John Hickenlooper and Deval Patrick all brought resumes and strengths that would have matched up well with Trump in November. None came into the primary with a high enough profile or broad enough base of support to launch them into the top tier of the crowded primary.
Harris, Warren, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Castro, Bennet, Booker, Bullock, Hickenlooper, Patrick and Biden all match up well because they can appeal to a broad base of supporters. The could draw from those middle-aged and older voters who show up every election but don’t strongly identify with a party. They don’t like Trump, but they aren’t looking for big changes, either.
Sanders path to victory depends up a huge surge in younger voters. With the exception to Obama, every candidate I’ve ever seen who planned to win by expanding the electorate did neither. Sanders may excite his narrow base but he alienates the swing voters in moderate swing states.
That said, Sanders and his revolution shifted the conversation to the left. Most candidates now support a $15 minimum wage. Medicare for All may be aspirational but it’s where most Democrats want to go. Taxing the rich and addressing income inequality is a staple of the party. Every candidate wants to end or reduce student debt. The programs Sanders promoted will be part of every Democratic platform for the next 25 years. The young people who support him will dominate the party in the not-to-distant future.
In the end, voters chose Joe Biden for the same reason they wanted him to get into the race in the first place. After a jolting three years under Donald Trump, they want stability and predictability. They know and trust Biden, fumbles, stumbles and all. His compassion and empathy contrast well with the narcissism and childish bullying that define Trump.
Democrats will come out of the primary stronger than they entered it. They showed that they have a stable of people who are prepared to step into the presidency right now. They’ve defined a platform that’s solidly pro-middle class. And, unlike Republicans, they refused to surrender their party to the populist intruders who threatened to burn it down. They are giving America a clear choice for the direction of the country. I just wish it were October instead of March.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >