Anti-Sanders Coalition Forms as Buttigieg, Klobuchar Back Biden
For them, it is over.
Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg suspended their campaigns, packed their things late Monday, and prepared to end their feud. The also-ran candidates’ bickering stopped in Dallas where they endorsed fellow moderate Joe Biden for president.
And that hasty peace is the latest evidence of an emerging binary choice in the Democratic primary: Bernie Sanders is the man to beat while Joe Biden is quickly becoming the establishment horse to back as voters in 14 states cast their Super Tuesday votes.
Buttigieg went first.
“I’m delighted to endorse and support Joe Biden,” the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., told a small crowd at an appearance outside a Dallas restaurant Monday evening. “He is somebody of such extraordinary grace and kindness and empathy.”
Klobuchar went next.
"He can bring our country together and build that coalition of that fired-up Democratic base as well as independents as well as moderate Republicans. Because we do not, in our party, want to eke by with a victory. We want to win big," the Minnesota senator said at a Biden rally Monday night.
The two failed contenders didn’t share the same stage, but together they stirred up a whole lot of emotions -- some more positive than others.
Biden and his supporters were already ecstatic after dominating the South Carolina primary. The endorsements, then, were icing on the cake. “The consolidation is clearly happening,” Matt Bennett, president of the centrist group Third Way, told RealClearPolitics. “It'll be complete on Wednesday, one way or the other.”
After Super Tuesday, he predicted that either Mike Bloomberg or Biden will emerge as the moderate foil to the extremism of Sanders: “There will only be one.”
Things could be over as soon as they begin for the former New York City mayor, who skipped the four early contests to spend time and money blitzing Super Tuesday states. For a while, that looked like a wise bet as Biden imploded in Iowa and New Hampshire. After South Carolina, not so much.
“The plan was to win big tomorrow,” a senior Bloomberg aide told RCP on Monday. “If that happens, then it’s going according to plan. If not...”
Looking from the outside in, Republican operatives were having flashbacks to 2016. A populist named Donald Trump was running for president, and rather than take him seriously, the establishment candidates crowded each other out until it was too late.
“It’s not apple to apples,” Tim Miller said in comparing the 2020 Democratic primary to the previous Republican one. He was the spokesman for Jeb Bush last time around, the once mighty Florida governor and presumed establishment champion. But Bush dropped out after a disappointing showing in South Carolina and the other candidates, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, refused to make peace to oppose the upstart front-runner Trump. Klobuchar and Buttigieg are not so hard-headed.
Miller said that by walking away before Super Tuesday, the two moderates have given Biden “a realistic path toward the nomination.” He added, however, that these endorsements “were necessary, but not sufficient, for stopping Sanders.” It is possible, the former GOP flack said, “that a consolidation might not matter because, in the end, voters might be for Sanders.”
But consolidation does have two immediate and undeniable effects, observers from across the spectrum say. First, it gave Biden the spotlight 24 hours before voters cast their ballots. Second, and perhaps more critically, it signals to donors that that there is no longer an embargo on Joe, that they can give freely and generously to his campaign.
And the former vice president needs the money if he wants to survive over the long haul. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that he had raised $18 million in February, $5 million “during the victory in South Carolina.” It was an impressive total, but one dwarfed by Sanders, who raised $46.5 million in the same period. This is why Biden needs the checkbooks of Buttigieg and Klobuchar donors.
The Sanders camp knows as much, and these new developments aren’t going over well. “A brokered convention is a gift to Donald Trump,” Nomiki Konst, a national Sanders surrogate, told RCP. By staying in the contest, she asserted, Biden is needlessly extending the race to sabotage the insurgent front-runner. “Joe Biden, right now, is a mercenary for Donald Trump,” Konst said. And that makes Buttigieg and Klobuchar “Biden mercenaries.”
“Maybe we should be asking why the Democratic Party is allowing this to happen,” Konst added, “and if their intention is really to win the election.”
Those in the establishment wing insist it’s not just about unseating the president. It’s also about keeping the party from going off the deep end philosophically and politically. “On the meta-level, there's a choice between Democrats who believe in capitalism and then the democratic socialist who doesn't. That's a very fundamental question,” Bennett said.
Sanders has been so eager to push the policy envelope that he risks losing large swaths of voters, he continued. “Are we going to propose to people that we spend $33 trillion, take away health care coverage of 180 million people, and upend the system?” he asked. “Or are we going to propose that we perfect the thing that we started with the ACA? That's the choice.”
The left and the center-left and the right seem to agree on one thing: their opposition to Bloomberg. The Sanders campaign has long attacked him over his billions, while the Biden campaign seems annoyed that someone else would present himself as yet another establishment alternative.
“Mike Bloomberg,” Miller argued, was essentially “running Bernie Sanders’ super PAC.” Every vote and each delegate that Bloomberg wins, he continued, is a voter or delegate out of reach for Biden. “He is just helping Bernie Sanders get closer to the plurality that he needs to be the nominee,” Miller added. “I think it's very strange to spend three-quarters of a billion dollars to help democratic socialism take over your party.”