For all the noise and drama of the 2020 Democratic primary—all the talk of a “diverse” field of candidates and the rise of the party’s progressive wing—it might turn out that the old white guy wins the whole thing easily. The old white guy in this case is Joe Biden, not Bernie Sanders, who needs to win the upcoming Iowa caucuses, and probably the New Hampshire primary, to stave off an inevitable Biden nomination.
A pair of polls released Monday made the stakes clear heading into Iowa, now less than three weeks away. A Monmouth University poll confirmed that the Democratic field has narrowed to four frontrunners: Biden, Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Biden leads the pack with 24% and Sanders follows with 18%. Both candidates gained five points compared to Monmouth’s November poll, while both Warren and Buttigieg lost support.
Meanwhile, a Washington Post-Ipsos poll found Biden is by far the most favored candidate among black Americans, whose support plays a significant role in the Democratic nomination. A whopping 48% of such respondents say they support Biden, while just 20% support Sanders, and no other candidate had double-digit support.
All this reflects the Real Clear Politics poll average, which currently shows Biden with a nearly ten-point lead, and confirms what’s been apparent for months now, ever since Warren’s support began a precipitous decline in October: if Biden can win Iowa and New Hampshire, the nominating contest might well be over before ballots are even cast in Nevada and South Carolina at the end of February. And given Biden’s support among black voters, a strong performance in South Carolina would all but cinch the nomination before Super Tuesday, with donors and voters alike flocking to Biden’s camp.
A Biden Nomination Could Split the Democratic Party
In this scenario, the Democratic primary season might prove rather dull for the political press. There would be no race for delegates, no big reveals or reversals on Super Tuesday, and no contested convention this summer.
But there might be a far bigger story: the crack-up of the Democratic Party. It’s no secret that the candidacies of Sanders and Warren represent the ascendency of the far-left in the Democratic coalition, even as Biden and, to a lesser extent, Buttigieg, represent the less extreme Obama wing of the party, which includes most of the Wall Street donor class. These two factions have been on a collision course for years, and if the media hadn’t been so obsessed with the GOP crack-up in 2016, we might have heard more about it before now.
But a Biden sweep of the primaries could expose this division as a far deeper and uncrossable chasm than anyone has yet realized. Already, there are signs of widening divide. In a recent fawning profile of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezin New York magazine, the celebrity congresswoman said the Congressional Progressive Caucus should start kicking out Democrats who are insufficiently leftist, adding that the same goes for the entire party: “Democrats can be too big of a tent.”
Asked in the same profile about the prospect of being a lawmaker during a Biden presidency, she replied (with a groan), “Oh God. In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party, but in America, we are.”
But for how long? Progressives were enraged at how Sanders was treated in 2016—the Democratic National Convention featured more and larger protests of Hillary Clinton and the DNC than any Trump protests at the GOP convention. If Sanders is shunted aside again for an establishment candidate, how will the party’s left wing react?
If recent months are any guide, they won’t react well, and might not be above intentionally hurting their own party—and their nominee’s chances in the general election—if they think it will help them wrest control from the establishment.
Just last week, AOC defended her decision not to pay dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, instead saying she would funnel money directly to Democratic candidates, including some who are trying to unseat Democratic incumbents. That matters because AOC is the Democrats’ top fundraiser in the House, surpassing even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, raking in more than $1.4 million between July 1 and September 30.
All of this points to a reckoning in the Democratic Party that might come to a head in the next two months. AOC and the other true-believing progressive Democrats think the strength of their party lies in doubling down on leftism and identity politics—and purging their ranks. They are certainly wrong about that, but it might not stop them from destroying their own party.