Despite a poor start in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, former Vice President Joe Biden has defied most pundits and resurrected his campaign with a string of impressive victories on Super Tuesday, when 14 states and roughly a third of delegates choose their preferred candidate.
His success begs the question: Is Joe Biden a political comeback kid, or merely the Democratic Party’s default candidate?
Biden’s resurgence on Super Tuesday was fueled by a variety of factors. He consolidated the centrist vote partly due to fear of Senator Bernie Sanders’ socialism, with other candidates such as Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar withdrawing from the race to rally around Biden just before Tuesday. Above all though, his success stems from the general realization by the Democratic Party establishment and mainstream centrists that although Biden does not inspire, he is the most viable and least worrisome Democratic contender against President Donald Trump. According to conventional wisdom, but subject to debate, in the presidential election Biden could most effectively unite the currently divided Democratic Party and win over independent centrists opposed to Trump.
Should Biden eventually secure the Democratic nomination, it will largely be as a default candidate and lowest common political denominator who won by process of elimination.
All over for Bloomberg, Warren on the ropes
Biden’s success on Tuesday came at the expense of other centrist candidates, narrowing the field to a two-horse race against Sanders.
Billionaire businessman Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s official entry into the primary race on Super Tuesday ended before it had even begun. Despite spending over $500 million in four months, miserable debate performances led to political suicide. After winning only American Samoa, Bloomberg’s business pragmatism prevailed. He abandoned the race and shifted support to Joe Biden. During his brief run, Bloomberg created a formidable, well-resourced political machine which will now benefit the Biden campaign.
Bloomberg’s campaign expenditure was a drop in the ocean when compared to his net worth of $55 billion. However, fellow businessman candidate Tom Steyer, a former hedge-funder, spent roughly $250 million of his $1.6 billion wealth on his campaign and has little to show for it apart from a third place in the South Carolina primary but not one single delegate.
Although money is essential to any campaign, it is ultimately the actual candidate that needs to convince and inspire voters
Senator Elizabeth Warren also performed poorly on Tuesday. By failing to win her own state of Massachusetts or any primary, Warren’s campaign has reached the end of the road. Although far from guaranteed, the conventional wisdom is that her grassroots progressive base will shift to the Sanders camp.
Despite pulling out just before Super Tuesday to endorse Biden, both Klobuchar and Buttigieg have achieved national standing through competent debate performances, opening the door to future political opportunities.
Sanders not giving up
Despite Biden’s impressive Super Tuesday performance, the race is far from over.
It is still premature to write off Sanders, particularly after his victory in California. Like Trump, Sanders inspires and appeals to a core base of diehard loyalists. Despite the outcome of the primary process, they will have to be reckoned with at the Democratic Convention in July, particularly when devising the party platform. Failure to ensure an inclusive approach risks loss of their support and absence on election day in November.
As a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, Sanders is more of an independent socialist than a member of the Democratic Party. Despite his current status as a leading Democratic Party presidential candidate, he remains the longest-serving independent in US congressional history.
Much of Sanders’ appeal stems from his quest for ideological purity. He largely sticks to his political agenda composed of basic tenets and direct speaking points. For his followers, Sanders’ ideological consistency and commitment is what distinguishes him from most other politicians who operate on political convenience and opportunism. However, whether Sanders’ agenda can be realized within the confines of political reality remains subject to fierce debate – helping Biden consolidate support as he presents himself as the candidate to beat Trump.
Biden needs new image to beat Trump
After Super Tuesday, Biden’s path to the Democratic Party nomination has become clearer – but he still faces challenges on the road to the presidency. Despite not taking California, Biden’s sweep of the South puts him in pole position for next week’s upcoming primaries. Overall, the Democratic Party establishment has reason to celebrate and breathe a temporary sigh of relief. At least for now, Biden is back as the frontrunner, although the risk of him continuing to make public gaffes remains. But even despite Biden’s gaffe prone antics, for most Democrats he remains far more bearable than the current white house occupant.
Until now, Biden’s road to victory has been largely premised on capitalizing upon fear of Senator Bernie Sanders’ socialism during the primaries in order to capture the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Biden then plans to target independent voters during the general election, presenting himself as a safe alternative to Trump.
Winning a party nomination based on fear of another candidate may work. However, running a campaign in a presidential election simply as a safe alternative to another candidate is a far more risky strategy. Ultimately, the Biden campaign will have to develop a more compelling narrative about who Joe Biden really is, beyond the nice-guy, safe-pair-of-hands image.
Should Biden win the Democratic Party nomination, he will be engaging in a battle of attrition with Trump, a formidable and seasoned political warrior who takes no prisoners. Whether Biden has the stamina, persistence, and perseverance to engage in trench warfare with Trump still remains a very open question.
Marco Vicenzino is a geopolitical expert and strategic business advisors to senior executives operating globally. He is a regular speaker at international conferences and provides analysis for leading global media outlets. He is a graduate of Oxford University and Georgetown University Law Cente.