MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Of all the Democratic caucusgoers I spoke with in Iowa last week, not one told me his or her first choice was Joe Biden. Now I know why: there were never that many Biden supporters in Iowa to begin with.
All of the caucus results might not be in yet, but we know enough to say with confidence that Biden’s campaign in Iowa collapsed. Despite leading in many state polls over the past year, he finished a distant fourth, barely clearing the 15 percent threshold for viability and, with 86 percent of precincts reporting as of this writing, earning 10,000 fewer votes statewide than Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who came in third.
The media, which still relies far too much on polls, wasn’t expecting this. But I have a feeling it didn’t shock many Iowa Democrats. As Jay Cost noted on Twitter, Biden peaked at 28.5 percent in the RealClearPolitics poll average in Iowa, but “the more voters saw of him, the less they liked.”
The big story out of Iowa, then, isn’t necessarily the broken app or the utter incompetence of the Iowa State Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee (although those are important stories that will likely take on more significance as the cycle goes on). The big story is that Biden, the presumptive Democratic frontrunner right up until Monday night, might not survive past South Carolina, which has now become his firewall.
By all accounts, Biden was betting big on Iowa, having eschewed much effort or expense in New Hampshire, where the candidates are now campaigning but Biden has a far smaller presence than his rivals. Since the new year, Biden’s paltry media buys and infrequent campaign events in New Hampshire this week indicate he assumed he didn’t need to win the first presidential primary—or that he couldn’t win it.
Here in Manchester, there are scant signs of the Biden campaign—few yard signs, infrequent ads, and almost no events anywhere in the state ahead of the primary apart from a few get-out-the-vote speeches and a CNN town hall earlier this week. (By contrast, the Buttigieg campaign appears to be in high gear, with a steady stream of volunteers coming and going from a field office downtown.)
Beyond New Hampshire, Biden now faces a tough battle in the Nevada caucus later this month, which Sen. Bernie Sanders is favored to win with strong Hispanic support. That leaves Biden with the possible scenario that he goes into South Carolina with zero victories, and maybe not even strong showings, in the first three states—itself a sobering reminder that Biden has never won a presidential primary.
All of that means Pete Buttigieg, who as of this writing appears to have won Iowa by a razor-thin margin, is the Democratic Party establishment’s last, best hope to prevent Sanders from winning the nomination and possibly leading the party to a 1972 George McGovern-style defeat.
Democrats ‘Have Got To Wake Up’
That in turn should greatly worry moderate and centrist Democrats, because so far there’s no sign that Buttigieg, despite his strong showing in Iowa, can put together a coalition of Democratic voters that can win a general election. Specifically, the former South Bend mayor has failed to gather much support from black Americans even as the Trump campaign makes its own appeal to these voters.
Indeed, President Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night seemed tailored to appeal to black and Hispanic voters, touting record-low levels of minority unemployment, job growth, wage growth, and highlighting policies like school choice that would disproportionately advantage black Americans—a point Trump drove home by including fourth-grader Janiyah Davis and her mother among White House special guests to the speech.
Black Americans might traditionally vote Democrat, but they lean more conservative on social issues than their white counterparts in the Democratic Party, as do Hispanics. What’s more, as the Democratic Party moves further to the left—a move driven almost entirely by white leftists—the tension between the party’s woke whites and conservative-minded minorities will become more pronounced, leaving an opening for a GOP appeal.
This isn’t just wishful thinking from the Trump campaign. After the State of the Union, CNN’s Van Jones warned his fellow commentators that Trump’s appeal to black voters just might work. “We’ve got to wake up, folks. There’s a whole bubble thing that goes on—‘well he said s-hole nations therefore all black people are going to hate him forever.’ That ain’t necessarily so,” Jones said. “What you’re going to see him do is say, you may not like my rhetoric but look at my results, look at my record, to black people. If he narrow-casts that, it’s going to be effective.”
WAKE UP, folks. The #IowaCaucus was a debacle, followed by a strong #SOTU speech laying out Trump's strategy to win – which includes going for Black voters. This was a warning shot from the Trump campaign to liberals, and we need to take this VERY seriously in order to win. @CNN pic.twitter.com/bgBFms9jtN
— Van Jones (@VanJones68) February 5, 2020
Jones is right, and Trump doesn’t even have to peel off that many minority voters to disrupt the Democratic coalition. Democrats might do that themselves before the general election. It might be enough for Biden simply to get knocked out of the running, which could keep black voters from turning out in significant numbers. With a nominee like Buttigieg, that’s a real possibility, especially if his campaign can’t figure out how to draw more minority support.
As the Democratic presidential campaigns fan out across New Hampshire this week, that should weigh heavy on the minds of Democratic Party leaders, especially given that Sanders leads in the latest New Hampshire poll, which also shows Biden losing support. Having won the popular vote in Iowa (if not the delegate count), a New Hampshire win for Sanders would give his campaign tremendous momentum going into Nevada and South Carolina, and drastically increase the likelihood of a contested convention in Milwaukee come July.