Polman column: New Hampshire muddle: Bernie underwhelms the Yogi Berra Democrats
Yogi Berra has a timely warning for the fractured Democratic party. The baseball legend and accidental oracle is reputed to have said, “It gets late early out here.”
Translation: Democrats better get their act together — rallying behind a candidate who can actually beat Donald Donald — and doing it sooner rather than later, lest they tear themselves apart in a marathon slog to the mid-summer national convention.
The results Tuesday night in New Hampshire make that task more urgent than ever. If Democrats fail to coalesce behind someone with moderate crossover appeal, they’re going to be stuck with Bernie Sanders – the GOP’s dream opponent, for reasons that are obvious to everyone except his zealots.
Yeah, he won the primary. But he eked it out with the lowest winning percentage – 26 percent – in the history of the primary. Four years ago in New Hampshire, he got 152,000 votes. This time, he got roughly 75,000. Granted, the field of rivals this time was much bigger than in 2016, but that’s because many in the party know darn well that Sanders, with his “socialist” tag, would be a big beautiful cake on Trump’s plate.
Even though Sanders is holding his core base of Bernie Bros, he has yet to demonstrate that he can expand his appeal and unite the party. And his Bros certainly don’t help; at victory headquarters Tuesday night, they booed Pete Buttigieg. Because that’s how the Bros roll.
But here’s the problem: If the more electable Democrats keep divvying up the not-Sanders voters, Sanders will keep winning with tepid pluralities and will eventually cement an unbeatable delegate lead. He’s also far better organized and financed than Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, who is now faced with the daunting task of ramping up in time for Nevada, South Carolina, and 15-state Super Tuesday.
I haven’t yet mentioned Joe Biden. It’s hard to do so without wincing. It’s like watching a car wreck. If Sanders is stopped, it’s seems unlikely that Joe will do the deed.
Biden limped out of New Hampshire in fifth place with a paltry 8 percent, the worst showing for a former vice president since Dan Quayle pulled out of the 2000 Republican race five months before the primary. Fun fact: This is Biden’s third presidential bid, and he has yet to win a caucus or primary.
The former vice president has fled to South Carolina, where he believes that black voters will be his firewall in state’s Feb. 29 primary. But that’s a shaky assumption. Black voters are jonesing to defeat a detestably racist president, and even though they respect Biden’s partnership with Barack Obama, they’re not likely to stick with a candidate who has the whiff of a loser.
No Democrat can win the White House without strong black support and turnout. But if not Biden, who? Sanders has shown no ability to rally them (although he’s making some gains with Hispanics). Buttigieg and Klobuchar are starting from scratch with the black community. And in white New Hampshire, Elizabeth Warren (have we mentioned her yet?) didn’t even score with whites, finishing in a distant fourth-place finish. Faced with likely fundraising woes going forward, she may not be around long enough to woo voters of color. As for Mike Bloomberg, the Democrats’ wild card, he’s been busy this week apologizing anew for his mayoral stop-and-frisk program – a past sin that could hamper his own outreach.
Bottom line: There’s no clarity in sight, because Democrats remain divided along racial, generational, class, and ideological lines. For now, Sanders is strongest with the lefty young and white working-class folks lacking college degrees. Buttigieg and Klobuchar are strongest with (and fighting each other for) older folks, suburbanites with college degrees, and more moderate voters. And with Biden fading, nobody knows where voters of color are likely to go. But a winning Democratic coalition requires unity among all.
Warren, in her concession speech Tuesday night, pleaded for Democrats to come together, to stop their fractious infighting. In her words, candidates should not “burn down the rest of the party to be the last man standing… We can’t afford to fall into factions.”
Or, as Yogi Berra also warned, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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