Saturday, February 29, 2020

Race for the White House # 61

On this Leap Day, there is way to much to leap into during a short period of time. It has been a tumultuous week in politics and on Wall Street as fears of the Chinese-originated Coronavirus spreading worldwide had a very negative impact on the stock market this week. The media is clearly making a lot (perhaps too much) out of the entire situation and while it is very possible this whole brouhaha is forgotten about by Election Day, there are many risks involved for the reelection seeking Donald Trump both in the way his Administration handles the outbreak of U.S. cases of the virus and the effect on the stock market and overall economy.

Trump has in my view been given too much credit for the recent records set on Wall Street and now ironically finds himself in position of taking a lot of blame for a disease he of course has nothing to do with. I believe that there are professionals in the American government who will be equipped to lead the fight against the virus but of course, Trump is unable to accept any level of criticism and often finds himself making situations worse by saying demonstrably untrue things, as he has done in defense of himself and his "brand" for decades now. It is little surprise though (as unfortunate as the case may be) that Democrats will try to weaponize this "crisis" against Trump and that he and his people are likely to do the same thing against the Democrats, perhaps on the issue of "open borders."

Just one example is that Trump is being criticized for calling the Coronavirus a "hoax" even though it is more accurate to say that he merely said that the allegation that he is not doing the right things to fight it is a "hoax." The truth is somewhere in the middle of all of this, but tribalists will stick to what their side is saying. In the meantime, the U.S. government is taking in a "peace plan" with the Taliban to end "the longest war in American history" and I think the concept that the Taliban might truly stop trying to kill Americans to be the worst "hoax" of all.

In the meantime, this week was a long lead in to the South Carolina Primary for Democrats. While today's result of a big win for Biden was not a surprise ultimately, it would have been one a week ago and before that. I admit to being wrong. I thought Biden was done for but he had a huge win tonight, bigger than anticipated for some time in the margin, and it is at least now plausible he can have real momentum going into next week's Super Tuesday. While the Biden campaign still has some real weaknesses and vulnerabilities, the bottom line is that more Democrats have voted for him than anybody else and he will be at least close to Bernie Sanders' delegate lead. However, momentum can be short-lived in politics and the narrative can change by Tuesday night to Sanders regaining the slot of "undisputed front-runner."

The Biden campaign had long depended on South Carolina as a "firewall" owing to the familiarity that the state's many African-American Democrats have for the long-time U.S. Senator who served as Barack Obama's politically loyal Vice President for eight years. Biden's win is his first ever as a Presidential candidate dating back to a time when he first entered the big ring and current opponent Pete Buttigieg had probably just been toilet trained. (Nowadays Biden and some of his opponents in the race may possibly need diapers themselves?.... sorry, I could not resist.)

This was clearly an impressive and necessary win for Biden, but let's break down some factors at play. For one thing, Michael Bloomberg was not on the ballot, leading Biden as the only viable alternative to stop another win by Bernie Sanders. The establishment class of Democrats have been scared out of their minds since the Vermont's Senators big win in Nevada last week over their frontrunner's unapologetic socialism and fears of his being a loser to Donald Trump. This led many to go to Biden, whom they might have considered before, but then cooled off of. That appears to be the case with Congressman Jim Clyburn, easily the most powerful Democrat in South Carolina, who finally endorsed Biden in a big way late this week. That endorsement seemed to be huge and if Joe Biden goes on to be his party's nominee or eventually President, he ought to erect a statue to Jim Clyburn.

Another factor that does have to be mentioned is that four place finisher Pete Buttigieg, who seems to be running not quite at double digits in the Palmetto State, had many voters rule him out, especially older, church-going, socially conservative black voters because he is gay and married to a man. Thus, Biden benefited from bigotry, albeit bigotry from a group that has historically experienced more bigotry themselves in American history. Other states, such as the upcoming contest in Alabama may have similar demographics than can help Biden, but in states where black voters might be more socially liberal, Buttigieg might not have as big of a problem. However, in a Presidential race like this, you cannot get ahead by running behind or slipping as Mayor Pete has been doing. He seemed to miss a couple days on the trail this week due to a cold (not Coronavirus) and as impressive as his showings have been given his dark horse status early on, it may already be too late. It is hard to see where Mayor Pete wins anywhere on Tuesday.

As I have alluded to, it was a tough week for Sanders .Tuesday night saw a widely panned South Carolina debate on CBS (reminds me of the CBS 2016 Republican South Carolina debate) in which the candidates were seemingly at each other's throats throughout. Nobody was criticized more than Sanders who seemed to have a difficult time dealing with at times, although Elizabeth Warren went mostly after Bloomberg, She seems to have a bit of a non-aggression pact with Sanders at this point. Bloomberg's debate performance was moderately improved after what was seen as a horrible first showing, but it was still far from great. Not enough time to get into all of it, but this seems to at least have the potential of people getting off the idea of Bloomberg and looking for other options again, including Biden, who was thought to be out for the count.

Bloomberg has to do well on Super Tuesday or his candidacy will have outlasted it's originally intended purpose. He got into the race because it looked like Biden would not be able to stop Warren, and then later on Sanders (which is even worse from Bloomberg's perspective.) Now, every vote that Bloomberg does take on Super Tuesday could ironically hurt Biden and help Sanders. This is all quite a gamble, so it is possible that if he does not do well after spending so much money on the airwaves, he could step aside. That would seemingly be a huge boon to Biden or any other non-Sanders "moderate" alternative.

If not for Bloomberg and his money though, who else may emerge? If Biden has a rough Super Tuesday, Bloomberg may feel like he has no choice but to stay in. I already mentioned how hard it will be for Buttigieg to grab headlines when he might just be finishing in third or fourth places in a bunch of places. The once slightly promising campaign of Amy Klobuchar is even worse shape. She has fared worse in two straight weekends after a bronze medal in New Hampshire. Now, she ought to focus solely on stopping Bernie Sanders in her own state of Minnesota and trying to take as many delegates from home as possible. The same can be said of Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts where she may lose her own state to the neighboring Sanders of Vermont.

As for the rest of the pack, Tulsi Gabbard has officially reached Ron Paul late stage irrelevancy as a Presidential primary contender. Tom Steyer, who had invested solidly in South Carolina, was hoping for a potential second place finish tonight, but looks to be headed for third, several points behind Sanders. He has now ended his campaign, leaving Bloomberg as the last billionaire standing. So much for the the theory that Steyer could win enough black votes to harm Biden or that chaos seeking conservatives could show up and cast a devious ballot for Sanders.

So, after a wild week, the new "flavor of the month" , perhaps from way in the back of the freezer and surprisingly not quite at its expiration date is Joe Biden. Many will gravitate to "Uncle Joe" merely out of fear of a Sanders nomination. Nonetheless, the revolution promising Democratic Socialist has a lot more money currently than his mainstream rival and a seemingly much deeper orginization.

Could we be in for months of Biden vs Sanders? Quite possibly, but Biden needs to show that he can capitalize on this momentum quick, before South Carolina just looks like an odd electoral aberration. If that is the case, then Bloomberg and his money and ability to spend it on the airwaves may be all that is standing between Sanders and the nomination (or Trump and a second term.)

For now though, this thing looks very unpredictable and the Milwaukee Convention looks like it could see a real fight. Even candidates who are seemingly in a hopeless position now, like Buttigieg and Klobuchar, may have another life or two left.


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