This week, fourteen US states voted on which Democrat they want to run in November’s presidential election – they call it Super Tuesday.
And this year, the results are interesting.
These contests go a long way to deciding who will run against Donald Trump in November. Without being decisive, they have clarified at least five key themes about where the Democratic campaign is going.
It is Biden vs Sanders from now on
They are neck and neck in delegate count. This pitches the progressive (leftist) wing of the Democrats against the corporate, Clintonite establishment.
Each disdains the other. Each blames the other for Hillary’s loss in 2016 to Trump.
Super Tuesday put Biden into a much stronger position than many imagined would be the case just a few days before it.
He won across the nation: North, Northeast, South and Midwest, securing white, black and Hispanic votes along the way.
Sanders’ support became more regional and whiter. His home state of Vermont excepted, his appeal was narrowly western – Colorado, Utah and California.
Much has been made of Sanders being a Democratic version of Trump: an outsider who steals the party from its establishment. But Trump was blessed with weak and divided opponents.
The Democrats looked like replicating this until Biden started winning and weak centrist candidates like Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bloomberg dropped out.
Bernie Sanders’ strategy is a risky one (and probably doomed)
Bernie Sanders is relying on an unreliable electorate – the young – and forsaking the more reliable one – the old.
Sanders may inspire fervour among his young supporters but not enough twenty-somethings vote for that to translate into success at the polls.
And following Super Tuesday, his appeal to Hispanics to help bolster his popularity in the 18 to 35 age group also looks dubious. Sanders planned to beat Biden to the Hispanic vote in Texas but didn’t.
To compensate for this, he must both fire up those that do vote while also assuring older Democrats that he does not only rely on youthful zealotry.
It’s going to be increasingly hard to have it both ways.
His general election strategy relies on the premise that if he can beat Biden to the nomination he must then be able to convince enough swing voters that he won’t launch a war on middle-class aspiration.
That tension is playing out in the nomination battle now.
Both Biden and Sanders are besting both policy and money in this primary race, but money does not buy elections and policies become boring.
Just look at Bloomberg, who’s now pulled out. He had no narrative, just cash and ego.
Conversely, Elizabeth Warren had a plan for everything but no narrative about what all these plans added up to as a whole.
Sanders has spoken about huge federal programs that would stick it to the billionaires but elided their specifics. However, this populist message of soak the rich resonates. It echoes Trump’s campaign cry – “Make America Great Again”.
Shouted loudly and long enough, without being too concerned about the technical details, has given Sanders’ campaign the character of a movement.
Biden’s task is to craft a compelling counter-narrative. With the number of centrists reducing themselves to just himself, he may now have the political space to do this.
Elizabeth Warren has fizzled
It seems people who know Elizabeth Warren best like her least – or very nearly.
In Massachusetts, the state she represents, she came third behind Biden and Sanders. In Oklahoma, where she comes from, she finished fourth.
Warren, like Hillary Clinton before her, has been unable to use her gender to electoral advantage. Her appeal, again like Hillary’s, has remained too limited to college-educated white women.
Obama was able to use his race to bolster and spread his appeal in a far more compelling way than Warren has her gender. The failure of any woman candidate to go the nomination distance this year should force the next to ponder how gender can be recalibrated to broaden her appeal.
Smashing the glass ceiling for prosperous Harvard professors (Warren) and secretaries of state (Hillary) has not yet inspired unemployed autoworkers or single-mothers on the minimum wage to join their cause.
Instead, these demographics are being captured by white, male septuagenarians like Trump, Sanders and Biden.
Trump will be happy(ish)
The Democrat’s problems are several.
The party remains a house divided. Biden and Sanders represent quite different conceptions of liberal politics, which can create confusion among voters and civil war within the party.
The Democrats are also attempting to elect a white Northerner. This hasn’t worked for decades. Every Democratic president since 1964 has been either Southern or black.
The party seems intent on rerunning 2004 when John Kerry from Massachusetts lost to George W. Bush.
Trump, on the other hand, has the power of incumbency on his side.
Winning the presidency once is the best way to win it again – only two presidents in 88 years have failed to do this. He also has no primary challenger and, since the Democrats failed to impeach him, has traded on a form of righteous anger.
But his happiness won’t be total after Super Tuesday. He wants to run against ‘Crazy Bernie’ the socialist, but he could end up facing Joe Biden and a reluctantly patched together Democratic party that, for the time being, hates Trump more than they hate each other.
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