With a sweep of the south and key victories in Minnesota and Massachusetts, the media narrative today will be all about how Joe Biden is the comeback kid, back from the dead, risen like a Phoenix from the ashes. That sort of thing.
It’s the kind of story the media loves. They love it so much it doesn’t matter whether it’s true, or whether the media was writing Biden off less than a week ago. The surprise comeback, vindicated frontrunner narrative is going to be pushed so hard by the mainstream press and the Democratic establishment in the coming days, you’ll think Biden’s nomination is pretty much a done deal.
What the headlines and the narrative won’t tell you is what any casual survey of the Democratic primary map plainly shows: Super Tuesday didn’t solve the Democratic Party’s Bernie Sanders problem.
Yes, Biden had a good night, but so did Sanders. He won Colorado, Vermont, and Utah, as well as the biggest prize of the night, California, and basically fought Biden to a draw in Texas. He also earned enough votes to pick up delegates in every state Biden won—and he did all this with Sen. Elizabeth Warren siphoning off voters who would otherwise have voted for him, while Biden benefited immensely from the eleventh-hour consolidation of the moderate vote and the endorsements of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Beto O’Rourke.
Indeed, Tuesday was the best possible outcome for Biden. Not only did his moderate rivals drop out of the race and rally to his banner at the last second, the primary calendar played in his favor, with a cluster of more diverse southern states all going on the same day.
For Sanders, all of these factors had the opposite effect, compounded by a distorted media narrative. Absent the expectations that had been set from the first three nominating contests in February in which Sanders overperformed, Tuesday would have been hailed as a great night for the Sanders campaign. His victory in California alone is game-changing, to say nothing of his strong performance in Texas.
As the smoke of Super Tuesday clears, Biden and Sanders are locked in a battle for delegates, and at this point it’s very unlikely either will have a majority going into the Democratic National Convention in July.
What’s more, the list of upcoming primary states is more white, less diverse, and therefore more favorable to Sanders. Next week, Sanders will most likely win Washington and Michigan, which have more than 200 delegates between them. Then on March 17 comes Illinois, Ohio, and Florida, the latter of which boasts 219 delegates.
If Mike Bloomberg stays in the race until then—which he might, if only for pride’s sake, having just spent a half-billion dollars to win American Samoa—that will likely change the outcome in Florida, and not in Biden’s favor. Come March 18, we could well be reading headlines about how everyone underestimated Sanders after Super Tuesday, how in fact he’s been the frontrunner all along, he’s the comeback kid, Phoenix rising from the ashes, and so on. The media are predictable like that.
All of this isn’t to deny that Biden had a big night. He won states he hardly visited, states where he spent almost nothing on TV ads, states where he had almost no ground game or field offices. It was by all accounts an impressive showing, and yes, something of a comeback.
But let’s not kid ourselves that the driving force behind Biden’s Super Tuesday resurgence was the consolidation of the moderate vote just in the nick of time. Who knows whether this eleventh-hour clearing of the field was simply blind luck or the secret machinations of the Democratic Party determined to stop Sanders at any cost, but the effect was to deliver a significant number of delegates to Biden in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Virginia, and elsewhere.
Above all, Super Tuesday has clarified the race, finally, and revealed it for what it has been this entire time: an attempt by progressives to overthrow the establishment and transform the Democratic Party into a European-style democratic socialist party. That effort is not dead, not by a long shot. The Sanders wing of the party on Tuesday showed that it cannot be muscled aside, certainly not by Biden and the also-rans, and certainly not before the convention in July.
Therein lies the danger for the Democrats. Nothing about Tuesday’s results suggests any change in the fundamental problem facing the party. It is divided, almost down the middle, between moderates who will do anything to stop Sanders and leftists who will support no one but Sanders. No amount of narrative-shaping by the media or chest-thumping by Biden will change that.