Biden summoned high turnout from precisely the diverse constituencies of African Americans, suburbanites, working-class and older voters that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—marshalled to retake the House in 2018.
By JOHN F. HARRIS / Politico
Joe Biden dug two big holes on Super Tuesday and each of them came with a name attached. Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump are both staring into their political graves.
This is an observation, let us quickly emphasize, not a prediction. Just because a grave is dug doesn’t mean either man will inevitably be forced to lie in it. A week ago, there was a similar hole with Biden’s name on it.
But responsible caveats and to-be-sure disclaimers about the hazards of prediction should not dilute the significance of developments that demonstrably did happen this week.
Biden summoned high turnout from precisely the diverse constituencies of African Americans, suburbanites, working-class and older voters that another aging pol more at home with coalition politics than movement politics—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—marshalled to retake the House in 2018.
In the near term, Biden’s achievement indicated that Sanders has no convincing path to defeating this coalition with young people or previous nonvoters. The only formula for his revival would involve Sanders somehow managing to encroach on support Biden won so handily from these groups. If not, it’s shovel time, no matter how long the nomination contest slogs on (which likely will be quite a while).
For the general election, the implications of Tuesday are equally urgent for Trump. Voter turnout in the primaries was up from 2016 in almost every state—in Virginia, for instance, turnout increased by more than two-thirds. The overwhelming evidence is that it is Trump, not any Democrat, who is stimulating this surge. Increased energy on the Democratic side, in the likely event this holds through the fall, means Trump must also stimulate new voters or it is shovel time for him, too.
Perhaps most profoundly, Tuesday night represented history reasserting itself. It was a signal that not all the old ways of thinking about national politics are defunct in an age of disruption.
So much of the Trump era has been so bizarre—from the circumstances of his 2016 victory to payoffs to a porn star to the surrender and servility of former Republican critics—that it can’t be understood with reference to precedent or familiar norms. The Trump era has been a séance with Henry Ford, who famously said, “History is more or less bunk.”
Biden’s victory, by contrast, can be understood through a historical prism—indeed it doesn’t really make much sense through any other prism. The old saw that Democrats fall in love while Republicans fall in line has not usually been true. In most nomination contests for the past 40 years—Jimmy Carter in 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984, Bill Clinton in 1992, John Kerry in 2004, Hillary Clinton in 2016—the party has ultimately coalesced over the more consensus-oriented politician in the spring after a flirtation with more flamboyant or purely ideological insurgents.
There’s nothing mystical about these migratory patterns. It reflects that majority power in the Democratic Party resides in familiar places among familiar constituencies whose habits and allegiances stretch back decades. What was notable on Super Tuesday was the suddenness and velocity with which this customary migration took place, as well as how it benefited even a candidate whose political infirmities for most of the past year have been on such glaring display.
The fact that history is reasserting itself does not mean that the next several months are about to become routine or easily predictable. To the contrary, most of what we in the POLITICO newsroom are observing suggests that events are going to remain very interesting.