American politics has gone through a dramatic week.
Following former Vice President Joe Biden’s game-changing victory in South Carolina, two of his rival presidential candidates – Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar – dropped out of the race within hours of each other.
Buttigieg and Klobuchar both rapidly followed up their withdrawal from the race by endorsing Biden’s candidacy.
Their endorsements were only two out of of a flood of major figures in the Democratic Party who have come forward in the past few days to endorse Barack Obama’s former right-hand man. The endorsements include another former presidential contender, Beto O’Rourke, who dropped out in November.
More important for Biden than winning over his former rivals is the slew of current and former mayors, senators and representatives who have rallied to his banner in the past few days. The most important of these lawmakers is arguably Harry Reid, the former senator from Nevada, Senate majority leader and Democratic Party power broker. Other endorsements come from important party figures in a variety of key states, particularly California and Texas.
Taken together, these events appear to be a sign that the Democratic Party’s establishment has finally decided to throw their full weight behind Biden.
While Biden is a well-known and well-liked figure in Democratic Party, this coalescing of the party establishment has less to do with Biden himself than with his chief competitor: Bernie Sanders, the socialist U.S. senator from Vermont.
Sanders’ unorthodox campaign has unnerved the party establishment from the beginning with its reliance on small-dollar donors and powerful (not to mention hard-to-corral) grassroots movement.
Sanders also annoyed the Democratic establishment during his 2016 primary run against Hillary Clinton. Many powerful figures within the Democratic Party are quite open about their discomfort at the idea of Sanders becoming the face of the party – even as the Democratic Party’s base of young people, progressives, and minority voters are enthusiastic about his candidacy.
The timing of the establishment’s consolidation behind Biden is particularly telling. Klobuchar and Buttigieg’s exit from the race came mere hours before voting started on the most important day of the primary cycle, Super Tuesday.
With more Democratic voters potentially united behind Biden, Sanders faces a much greater struggle to win critical states such as Texas.
Before Monday, polls suggested that the Sanders campaign would come out of Super Tuesday with a clear victory. But now Biden is likely to do much better.
Sanders is probably not helped by the fact Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts remains in the race. Although Warren has had less electoral success than she was expected to during the fall (she has yet to win a single state), she and her staff have said she still sees a path to victory.
The neoliberal wing of the party is not entirely unified yet, however.
Michael Bloomberg — the former Republican Mayor of New York and self-proclaimed, self-appointed Democratic savior — has spent hundreds of millions of dollars from his personal fortune in the Super Tuesday states.
Bloomberg’s influence has so far been untested, as he entered the primary too late to be on the ballot in the first four states to vote.
Bloomberg’s campaign strategy has been simple – spend, spend, spend. More specifically, he has flooded the airwaves with advertisements targeting Super Tuesday voters. Biden’s campaign has suffered from cash flow problems for months and Bloomberg’s monopoly in the advertising market has the most effect on older biconceptual voters – exactly the kinds of voters Biden is seeking to win.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders’ performances in early states, particularly Nevada, show that his coalition of supporters are determined, energized, and highly organized, making the Vermont socialist a formidable force to stand against.
Biden’s campaign has definitely been rejuvenated by the South Carolina Democratic primary. But he has many obstacles to overcome if he wants to secure the nomination before the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.