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Lessons from Super Tuesday: Congratulations, Michael Bloomberg!

In the interest of transparent journalism, I feel obliged to inform you that I have never been to American Samoa and, in fact, know very little about it. I do hear Pago Pago is lovely this time of year, though, and if Tuesday night is any indication, Mike Bloomberg might want to consider buying a vacation property there. That is, assuming he doesn’t already own one.

I mean, he probably owns one.

Whether or not he does, it seems he’s pretty popular there after snagging the most interesting prize of Super Tuesday. Bloomberg ran away with the American Samoa Caucus, which had a whopping six delegates at stake. Unfortunately for Mike, a small island territory is all you get for your $500 million these days. On Wednesday morning, Bloomberg announced he was suspending his campaign for the White House and throwing his support behind former Vice President Joe Biden. On Thursday, Elizabeth Warren, unable to expand her base of support beyond the “Highly-educated wonk” vote, announced she, too, was dropping out.

Super Tuesday may not have trimmed the Democratic race down to its final candidate, but it did cut out some of the noise. We now know there are three viable options left in the game of “Which septuagenarian white man gets to run the free world.” Before someone corrects me, I’m aware Tulsi Gabbard has not officially left the race, but Russian bots only get so many votes in primary season.

Realistically, Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are the last men standing in the race to face Donald Trump, and while the results of Super Tuesday made that clear, the question of who will ultimately win is still a little muddled. Heading into the parade of primaries, TV news channels told us that Sanders had established himself as the clear front-runner, and was seemingly one big night away from taking an insurmountable delegate lead, if not a fast track to the outright majority necessary to win the nomination on the convention’s first ballot this summer.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the 1,991 delegates. Biden, whose campaign had largely been left for dead after poor finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, picked up a massive win this past Saturday in the South Carolina primary. The dominoes began to fall from there. Sensing the need to close ranks behind a moderate candidate that didn’t potentially jeopardize down-ballot races in purple districts, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar ended their bids and, along with former-candidate Beto O’Rourke, endorsed Biden faster than a Trump family member sensing a marketing opportunity.

Did you watch that video? That man is President. Of the United States.

Anyway, Biden and Sanders may not have a failed beef partnership to hang their hats on, but evidently, they’ve been given an exemption for that requirement. One of these two men will be on a debate stage with the President this fall. Whether or not those endorsements really swung voters in Biden’s favor is hard to say, but his primary victories in Texas and Minnesota, a state where his campaign had no ground game to speak of, make it hard to argue otherwise. In other states, like Virginia, Biden won majorities with little operational presence. 

This was the type of comeback rarely seen in American politics, and perhaps not since John McCain’s 2008 campaign appeared all but over before he surged to the Republican nomination. It was stunning not merely because of his victories, but because of the speed with which some states were called in his favor once the polls closed. Most political onlookers assumed Biden’s best-case scenario was to be within striking distance of a surging Bernie on Wednesday morning. Instead, while delegates were still being counted and precincts were still reporting, Biden had a near triple-digit lead.

All of this is probably hard to believe for the party’s liberal wing and those following the media narrative, but that narrative has caused more harm than help when it comes to analyzing the Democratic race. Our desire to quantify the entertainment value of Presidential politics and have a clearly defined winner and loser distorts the facts. It’s important to remember primary delegates are typically not awarded in the same fashion as electoral votes, and “winning” a state does not entitle you to all of them. Considering that, Biden’s comeback is still impressive because of how dramatically the race swung, but it is not quite as impactful as it looks.

Votes are still being counted, and the anticipated pledged delegate totals will change, but as of Thursday afternoon, the New York Times was awarding Biden 111 delegates for his victory in Texas. The haul for the downtrodden, defeated Bernie? 102. In Maine, a state where Biden upended Sanders “right in his New England backyard!” the Times had Biden winning 11 delegates to Bernie’s nine. In Minnesota and Massachusetts, the numbers were similarly close.

Presenting those outcomes as “wins” and “losses,” rather than proportional allocations, definitely lets MSNBC post way-sexier graphics, but it doesn’t indicate the true nature of the process. Eventually that narrative becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, which can swing the electorate dramatically. Bernie’s “wins” in early states convinced us he was a runaway freight train, even as several Biden-friendly voting blocs laid in wait. It also convinced us that candidates like Warren and Klobuchar were done, when, in fact, the vast, vast, vast majority of delegates had yet to be awarded.

That narrative may have cleared the path to our final two. It’s important to note, however, that if you do watch too much cable news, like, say, me, there are some obvious basics about the electorate that you’re missing. Biden, with a delegate lead and many friendly-looking primaries in the coming weeks, now looks like the front-runner. Along with that result from this past Tuesday, a few truths have become evident.

The first is this: Most Americans, Democrat or Republican, are moderates. 

The second: Those Americans are not following you on Twitter.

I say this not because it represents my own point of view. While I have done an admittedly poor job of obscuring my personal views in my Oppy articles, I don’t consider myself a moderate. Also, if you tweet a lot about politics, there’s a reasonable chance I’m following you on Twitter.

I’m saying this because it is true, and the results of Super Tuesday indicated that. For months, the Democratic race has been splintered among two dozen candidates from across the Democratic spectrum, and also, Tulsi Gabbard. This is not a bad thing. Generally, a tough primary season should not only battletest the eventual winner for the grueling Infinity War to come. It should also ultimately produce the candidate with the broadest coalition to govern.

After Super Tuesday, it looks like Joseph R. Biden is that candidate. Progressive Sanders supporters will bristle because it may feel like Trump’s upset win over an establishment politician in 2016 means he’ll wipe the floor with another one in 2020, but prior to Super Tuesday, most primaries had been in relatively homogenous states, with Nevada perhaps being the exception. Democrats typically win the Presidency when they pull together several disparate voting blocs. The only way we can see who can do that is, well, by seeing them do it. 

On Super Tuesday, we saw Biden do it. Given the lineup of primaries ahead in the next few weeks, it is likely that we will see Biden do it again. If that’s the case, the probable media narrative that Comeback Kid Biden is running away with the nomination may well be true.

From the start of this primary season, the ludicrous question of “electability” has weighed heavily and likely ended some campaigns, like Warren’s, earlier than anticipated. Sometimes the easiest way to see who is the most electable candidate is by waiting to see who voters actually elect.

We probably just saw whom they will actually elect. It is worth noting, despite his moderate standing among Democratic candidates, that Biden is still running on a more progressive platform than any previous elected President. For many that is cold comfort. If you’re a Bernie supporter, Tuesday’s results could be so disappointing that you’ll just want to hide away in some South Pacific paradise until the conventions come around. If that’s the case, give American Samoa a look. Maybe Bloomberg has a guest bedroom in his vacation home.

Photo credit: David McNew / Getty Images

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