The Briefing, Vol. VIII, Issue 10

This week:

  • Suddenly, shockingly, it’s Biden’s to lose
  • Dem primary voters abruptly pulled back from socialism
  • Democrats suddenly get a top candidate for #MTSEN

President 2020

Super Tuesday: Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar knew they could not win. But they realized they could help Bernie Sanders win if they stayed in the race for Super Tuesday. 

As we noted previously, they faced a similar choice to the one that many Republicans faced in 2016 when staring down Donald Trump. And they chose to do what the Republicans did not do in order to try to stop Trump. They chose to bow out and sacrifice their candidacies — perhaps in exchange for some future consideration, but perhaps just to prevent a calamity for their political party.  

But these minor candidates’ exit from the race wasn’t the only change. Something much bigger was happening, as the sudden fall of Mike Bloomberg demonstrates. What’s more, Biden won even in states like Massachusetts, where he hadn’t done any campaigning, and where he had to overcome both Sanders’s and Elizabeth Warren’s regional New England advantage. 


  • In the last Boston Globe poll before Super Tuesday (taken Feb. 26-29), Biden had just 11 percent in Massachusetts. He finished three days later with nearly 34 percent. Bernie Sanders scored 27 percent, very close to his poll numbers.
  • In Texas, Biden leapt in the last days from 28 percent and a close second place to 35 percent and first place. Sanders finished with the 30 percent he was expected to get.
  • In Virginia, Biden outperformed his polling by 11 points and won an actual majority, above 50 percent. Sanders finished with 23 percent, right around where the polls had him late in the race.
  • In Colorado, Sanders won with 36 percent — right around what everyone expected. Biden received 24 percent — quite a big finish, considering that in late February polling, he was on the edge of failing to reach the 15 percent threshold to qualify for delegates. Sanders’ victory there was minimized by the fact that four candidates made the threshold.
  • California was the exception that proves the rule. Sanders won, and he, Biden, and Bloomberg did almost exactly as their polling suggested they would. The Golden State exists in its own bubble. It is also known for heavy early voting, and so some of the late drop-outs may not have had as much of an effect as they did elsewhere.

It’s not that the forecasters or the polls were necessarily wrong in predicting a Sanders victory. Sanders really was headed for a win, and he just never got there. 

Democratic voters actually changed their minds, silently, all at once. It will go down as one of the most astounding occurrences in American political history.

Flight to quality: That is how Biden, whose run for president prior to South Carolina had been one disappointing performance after another, absolutely crushed the opposition on Tuesday.

Democrats watched Sanders defend Fidel Castro on national television. They heard Democratic Party mavens disparaging the aging socialist and his chances. 

Most importantly, they suddenly, they found themselves staring into the abyss of a Sanders nomination. Every Democrat running for office would either have to defend or distance himself from Sanders’ socialism. 

And all at once, spontaneously, they all blinked. Without any centrally planned or organized movement, they took action to prevent it. In economics, it would be called a “flight to quality.”

This reflects the fundamental difference between primaries and general elections. Very few people change their mind about Bush and suddenly decide to vote for Gore; but it’s a much easier lift to change one’s mind between two candidates whose fundamental ideals are broadly similar. Gore supporters can switch to Bill Bradley in large numbers overnight; Marco Rubio fans can switch to Ted Cruz. 

There are several possible explanations. The most satisfying is that Democratic voters simply aren’t as woke or as left-wing as either the liberal or the conservative media had assumed. But it could also just be a case of pure fear that Sanders will decimate the party from the top of the ticket down. 

Something like this appears to be what happened here. And it’s hard to see how Sanders bounces back now, even though Biden’s delegate lead is not that impressive.

This coming Tuesday features primaries in Michigan and Missouri, where Biden has built up double-digit leads in the polls, Mississippi, where Biden is favored, and Washington State, where Sanders might just have a fighting chance. But at this point, Sanders would need a complete transformation in the nature of the race to get back in it.

Biden’s aptitude: The big question is whether Joe Biden is up for this. It has not escaped anyone’s notice that he has not appeared at the top of his game, either in debates or in his stump speeches. Biden’s age is showing in a way that Sanders’ doesn’t. The socialist heart-attack victim actually seems to have energy — a fact of which he constantly reminds his audiences — unlike Biden.

There is a school of Democrat that fears Biden for practical rather than ideological reasons. Its arguments should not be ignored. Yes, Biden might lead Trump now in polls of Pennsylvania or even North Carolina, but what happens when the surveys shift to Likely Voters? And what happens when Trump manhandles the doddering former veep in a debate? Another concern: Ukraine. Hunter Biden’s flagrant trading on the family’s political name is well nigh indefensible, and the media can only do so much to run interference for him.

Biden has very real vulnerabilities, but now he’s all the Democrats have. He’s the only guy who can stop Bernie and his socialism.

Senate 2020 

Alabama: As expected, former Attorney General and Sen. Jeff Sessions and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville made the Republican primary runoff for March 31. President Trump is already attacking Sessions — bad news for the former senator — and Tuberville is definitely the frontrunner. 

Sessions will benefit at least a little bit from the fact that two Republican House primary runoffs will be taking place in parts of the state where he is well-liked and did well in the first go-round. Even so, the fact that he finished second is a sign that his political life is nearing its end.

Montana: Gov. Steve Bullock, D, fresh off his no-hope presidential campaign, has been talked into challenging Sen. Steve Daines, R. Although Daines, a wealthy businessman, is well-liked, Bullock is by far the strongest opponent he could have drawn. If Democrats manage to put this race into contention, it means they are at least remotely competitive in efforts to seize Republican seats in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa Maine, Montana, and Georgia. If they do manage to seize the White House, they would need just four of these seats (assuming a loss in Alabama) in order to give their new president latitude for confirming judges and conceivably even abolishing the filibuster.