Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a great victory speech Tuesday night, pledging to unite Democrats and beat President Trump. Unfortunately, she was celebrating a dismal fourth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary.
But in these crazy political times, the losers aren’t listening to voters in Iowa or New Hampshire. And they certainly aren’t heeding the grim assessments of their obituary writers. Hours before Joe Biden’s fifth-place finish became official, the former vice president exited New Hampshire for South Carolina. There, in a plaintive pitch to Black and Latino voters, he said, “It ain’t over, man."
To borrow from R.E.M., it’s the end of the world as we know it. Of course, the end started in 2016 with Trump.
Billionaire Michael Bloomberg hasn’t been on any ballot, yet this Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat is touted as the party’s best bet to battle Trump. Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont actually won the first-in-the-nation primary. But his narrow victory energized the hopes of Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., who finished second, along with those of Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who surged from nowhere to third.
Let’s give Buttigieg and Klobuchar their New Hampshire bounce. But how, beyond hubris and self-delusion, do Warren and Biden see a path to victory?
For one thing, they look at Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Bloomberg and see problems with voters of color.
Buttigieg’s problem with Black voters is already well documented. It stems not only from his record as mayor, but also from the atmospherics within his own campaign. Klobuchar’s tenure as a county prosecutor will also get new scrutiny. On Tuesday, she faced tough questioning during an appearance on “The View” about her handling of a case involving a Black teenager.
And as soon as Bloomberg announced his presidential campaign, critics starting hitting him over his support for a policing tactic called stop-and-frisk when he was mayor of New York City. A freshly leaked audio clip also showed him defending the controversial policy. In the clip, from a 2015 speech, Bloomberg bluntly said, “We put all the cops in minority neighborhoods. Yes. That’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.” No surprise the audio surfaced after a poll showed Bloomberg gaining traction with Black voters.
Such concerns could undercut any boost Buttigieg and Klobuchar might get from New Hampshire. But Bloomberg, who has already spent some $350 million on advertising, has hundreds of millions more to spend. And any problem those centrist candidates have with minorities doesn’t solve the Sanders problem. The Bernie wing of the party isn’t going anywhere.
It would never have gone to Biden anyway. But now it’s clear that Biden can’t get the party’s centrist voters to rally around him either. Due to his own shaky performance, his campaign is essentially over.
But is there a path forward for Warren? After Iowa and New Hampshire, that’s also hard to see. Yet the speech Warren delivered on Tuesday night laid out more than her usual plans. For once, it laid out a vision. “We can unite this party and this country by mobilizing people behind ideas that are not only popular with huge majorities of the American people, but that also accomplish structural change for our broken government and our rigged economy," she said.
It’s no accident Warren also quoted a Jesse Jackson line in her speech: “It takes two wings to fly.” With that, she signaled she understands that beating Trump not only means uniting the two ideological wings of the party. It also means uniting voters of all races and ethnicities.
Under the old rules, it’s a new message, delivered too late. But in today’s frenetic, new world, maybe the improbable is not the impossible.