Hey listen, mea culpa.
A few weeks ago in these very pages, I was spiking the football on Joe Biden and the enduring myth of his electoral appeal in the Democratic primary after his incredibly disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
I had taken pundits to task for claiming Biden was strong from the beginning with no real convincing evidence, simply because they knew Biden, he once had an important job, and to their eyes in the ivory tower enclaves of their coastal metropolitan bubbles, he appeared “electable.”
And then I said this whopper: “Biden was never going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party, and anyone who had an ounce of understanding of politics knew that two years ago.”
Still, I stand by the two main arguments from that column.
The first, about the mindless prognostication of pundits is certainly true. They fed us the same garbage analysis that told you Donald Trump had no real chance in the Republican primary of 2016, and that Jeb Bush would be the nominee. It is the same analysis that said that an upstart young U.S. senator from Illinois named Barack Obama was just auditioning for a cabinet job in 2008, and that the Democrats would circle the wagons around Hillary Clinton.
The same things are said for the same reasons every cycle, and are almost universally proven wrong when the votes are actually counted.
This year, they were right. But remember, it was by accident, not by clairvoyance.
My more important point, though, was that Biden is not himself inherently appealing to many voters in the Democratic primary. I still believe this to be true, because it is quite clear to me that he did not rebound on the strength of his own appeal, but rather because he was the last remaining viable option not named Bernie Sanders, and the establishment circled the wagons around him at the perfect time.
Biden’s supposed “strength” showed signs of being non-existent in January. Then he failed in Iowa. Then he failed in New Hampshire. The previous idea that he was the best establishment option against the progressive wing had been destroyed.
Pete Buttigieg won Iowa. He nearly won New Hampshire from Sanders, and it was so close that he actually received the same number of delegates (9) as Sanders. Maybe, with Biden failing, he was the guy?
Or maybe it was Amy Klobuchar who performed strongly in Iowa, and came in a close third in New Hampshire?
Perhaps, instead, it was Michael Bloomberg? He sunk half a billion dollars of his own money into the race in a blitzkrieg attempt to dominate Super Tuesday, and the polling had begun to reflect that he was picking up those who had abandoned Biden.
But then, all of those hopes imploded. Bloomberg started to get hit with opposition research, and he took a heavy toll. Then he withered on national television at the South Carolina debate, making everyone say to themselves, “nope, not that guy.”
Then came South Carolina’s primary, a state in Biden’s wheelhouse, and the place we all knew he was always going to win. Buttigeig wasn’t going to do well there, and neither was Klobuchar. Bloomberg wasn’t even on the ballot there. Unsurprisingly, Biden won.
The moment that happened, the Democrats started taking a look around the room. Sanders had won the popular vote in Iowa, won New Hampshire and won Nevada, and if he wasn’t stopped soon, he would end up with the nomination. Buttigeig clearly wasn’t going to be able to win. Klobuchar wasn’t going to be able to win. Bloomberg was still picking up the pieces after South Carolina.
And then there was Biden.
In a stunning eventuality, the Democrats did what the Republicans of 2016 couldn’t. Whereas Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and others failed to set aside their own failed ambition to gather together behind one establishment candidate to take on Donald Trump, the Democratic also-rans decided to hang it up, and endorse Biden.
That somewhat incredible set of events is what said to Democratic voters, “if you are afraid of Bernie getting the nomination, I guess Joe is your option.” And to Joe they ran.
But don’t be fooled, it was not out of devoted belief in him as a candidate. It was because, in the end, he was the only option left not named Bernie Sanders.