Yesterday’s Bret Stephens/Gail Collins “Conversation” features this exchange:
Bret: Does this mean Biden’s toast?
Gail: Well, he certainly looks crispy.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Bruenig lets us know that The Center Cannot Hold: Bernie Sanders’s strong showing in Iowa is a turning point in the battle between the party’s establishment and left wing:
It is fair to conclude that the Democratic Party’s center is panicking, and it is now fair to conclude that it has good cause: With 62 percent of Iowa caucus results in, Mr. Sanders leads the popular vote, with 26.3 percent. He trails former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., in state delegates by a slim margin. But with Mr. Buttigieg struggling in primary polls in New Hampshire and Nevada, it seems unlikely his campaign has the kind of momentum that could lead to the nomination. Thus, the greater Iowa upset is that heir apparent Vice President Joe Biden is a distant fourth. With Mr. Biden’s front-runner status compromised, Mr. Sanders emerges from Iowa as a formidable candidate — without establishment imprimatur. …
Mr. Sanders’s radicalism … is troubling to establishment Democrats for a variety of reasons, from worries about his strength against President Trump in the general election to a desire to find a candidate who can unite the party. Both of those concerns seem surmountable to me. But the one unsurmountable establishment fear surrounding a Sanders win is something more like naked self-interest, and its attachment to power.
All this, of course, is premature. As of this writing we have only 71 percent of the Iowa results and zero percent of the New Hampshire results. But, as someone once said, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Ms. Bruenig’s account is not only premature, it’s incomplete in a very important respect: it fails to consider the mediocre turnout in Iowa. It doesn’t focus on the fact that Sanders garnered only 24.4 percent of the caucus goers in the first round and only 26.2 percent in the second round.
And here’s another thing. If Sanders is going to catch fire, then he’s going to have to persuade all of the folks who cotton to Pocahontas to move over to his column, so that all of the strong progressives are united. Did anything like that happen in Iowa? No, siree, it did not. Warren garnered 18.7 percent of the caucus goers on the first round, and gained another 1.9 percent in the second round. (Bernie also showed that he is the second choice of some voters, receiving an extra 1.9 percent in the second round of voting. Not exactly a blowout, is it?)
What those things tell me is that Iowa Democrats are pretty damn tepid in their desire for democratic socialism. For that, I neither applaud them nor condemn them, at least in this post. To me, it’s just a fact.
As to New Hampshire, we will see what we shall see.
And, by the way, if Iowa Democrats are not exactly hopping up and down for democratic socialism, you can imagine how the Iowa Republicans and independents are feeling.
If they want to coalesce around Biden to ward off Sanders, the establishment has a problema grande: You Can’t Beat Something with Nothing.
In Iowa, as of this writing, Biden started out with 14.7 percent in the first round. And when his supporters saw this miserable result, he lost a fair number of them in the second round, settling at fourth place, with 13.2 percent—just a hair better than Amy Klobuchar.
We have been told repeatedly—and I believe it—that the very foremost thing on the Iowa Democrats’ collective mind was trying to figure out which candidate is strongest against Donald Trump. If they thought that person needed to be a fairly generic Democratic politician with generic centrist views and a respectable political resume, they had several names from which to choose: Biden, Klobuchar, Bennet, and Patrick. Collectively, on the second round of voting, these fine people received 25.6 percent of the vote.
Now, folks, I am not a weatherman but I can tell you which way the wind is blowing: just as the Iowa Democrats are mighty tepid about democratic socialism, so also are they very lukewarm about conventional generic Democratic politicians with passable political resumes and centrist views. And when I say “tepid” and “lukewarm,” I mean they exhibit a healthy skepticism about the ability of either type of candidate—even a successful former vice-president—to defeat Donald Trump.
Now I, for one, do not share their views, but that’s what the folks in Iowa pretty clearly think. And they may well be right, and I may well be wrong.
With only the thinnest of political resumes, Mayor Pete, who is neither a socialist nor a conventional generic politician, came in second on the first round of voting and then increased his margin by 3.8 percent—by far the largest second round increase of any candidate. He also finished in second place in the second round, but only one percent behind Bernie. Mayor Pete’s results far exceeded expectations.
So, think a moment. What do Mayor Pete and Barack Obama have in common?
- Both are young whippersnappers who came into the presidential contest with thin political resumes.
- Both are members of persecuted minorities.
- Both are smart as a whip.
- Both are highly articulate and show great capacity to think on their feet and argue persuasively.
Bloomberg or Buttigieg
Inasmuch as you can’t beat something with nothing, it looks to me as if the Democratic establishment is going to have to choose to coalesce around either Bloomberg or Buttigieg.