On Tuesday night, Joe Biden mounted the most extraordinary political comeback in modern American history. Two weeks ago, his presidential campaign was on life support. Now the former vice president is the heavy favorite to win the Democratic nomination.
The scope of Biden’s victory is remarkable. He won in states with mostly-white Democratic electorates, including Oklahoma and Minnesota (and he’s leading in Maine). He dominated in states with large numbers of Black voters, including Alabama, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Virginia. He won white working class voters in Massachusetts and affluent suburbanites in Northern Virginia, North Carolina and outside Houston, and Dallas. He even won five states where he never campaigned.
If not for early voting in Colorado, Utah, and California, Biden’s haul might have been even greater.
Amazingly, for a candidate whose fundraising has been among the worst of any Democratic candidate he easily bested — and outlasted — former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg who spent more than $500 million on his presidential campaign, didn’t win a single state, and dropped out of the race Wednesday morning.
As Tom Schaller, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County said last night, “Democrats appreciate lifelong service. The two biggest spenders are Johnny-come-lately Democrats, and both are, to very different degrees, under-performing. Loyalty matters.”
But the key to Biden’s victory can be explained in even simpler terms. The majority of Democratic voters desperately want to defeat President Trump, and Biden appears to be the best option to do it.
Over the past year — whether I was in rural Iowa, suburban Las Vegas, or a Black church in North Charleston, N.C. — no issue animated the Democratic voters I spoke to more than a visceral hatred of Trump. They think he’s corrupt, racist, and incompetent, and devoid of integrity or morality.
I make a point of asking attendees at Democratic campaign events what they think of the president, and many struggle to find the precise words that accurately capture their contempt for him and the damage he has wrought on America. Many refuse to even utter his name.
Last week, JA Moore, a state legislator in South Carolina, said that his constituents think Trump is the “number one threat to the survival of the country.”
It was the same sentiment of many Democrats I spoke to after Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont won the Nevada caucus. They were fearful about the possibility he would end up the Democratic nominee — only to lose to Trump in November.
They searched desperately for an alternative, and three days after Biden’s victory in the South Carolina primary, they found it. It’s not a coincidence that among voters who decided who to cast their ballots in the past few days, Biden won them by 31 points.
Electability was always going to play an outsized role in any campaign with Trump on the ticket, but in the wake of Super Tuesday, it’s hard not to view it as the only issue that ever truly mattered to Democratic voters (at least the ones not supporting Sanders).
And that did not bode well for Senator Elizabeth Warren.
On Tuesday night she didn’t just lose. She was humiliated. She finished third in her home state of Massachusetts and won a mere handful of delegates in the 14 states that cast ballots on Tuesday. A campaign that last fall seemed to be on the verge of front-runner status likely ended with a whimper.
Warren was not an ordinary presidential aspirant. She brought to the campaign an ambitious policy agenda and vitality that no Democrat in this race could match. She was, to my mind, the smartest, most exciting, inspiring, and best prepared presidential candidate since Barack Obama in 2008. Yet none of that was enough.
Perhaps the best explanation for her failure to break through is misogyny. She wasn’t taken seriously as a female candidate and after the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016, her gender was considered too much of a liability in a race against Trump. I heard these concerns a year ago from voters at a Warren town hall in Concord, N.H. It was a recurrent refrain since then. Voters responded to her message and loved her fight, but they weren’t convinced she could beat Trump.
Still gender isn’t the only explanation for her loss.
Her decision to embrace a comprehensive Medicare for All plan did serious damage to her candidacy. Many voters believe it was too ambitious, and would be perceived as such by the larger electorate. For a candidate already battling electability concerns, proposing a remaking of the American health care system in a country that usually doesn’t take so kindly to such ideas was a terrible political misstep and one that likely doomed her presidential dreams. While Sanders’ supporters saw his support for single-payer health care as a badge of honor for their candidate, I suspect Warren’s backers viewed her position on Medicare for All in more nuanced and alarmist terms, which led them to search for other alternatives.
For an electorate obsessed with ending the scourge of Trumpism, Warren’s negatives outweighed her far greater number of positive attributes. Making her the party’s nominee was too big a risk to take — just as the danger of Sanders being the Democratic standard bearer inspired so many Democrats to vote for Biden on Tuesday.
And when you think about what’s happened in America the past three years, how can you blame them?
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.