Joe Biden rolled to a big win in South Carolina, and billionaire Tom Steyer is folding his cards and cashing out. Even Jon Chait is apologizing to the universe for throwing dirt on Biden's grave a bit early.
After Joe Biden finished an astonishing fourth in Iowa and then in fifth place in New Hampshire, I wrote a postmortem for his campaign. It now looks like one of the most wrong things I have ever written. It was pointed out to me after I published that I described Biden’s campaign in the past tense, something I did not plan or realize beforehand. It simply seemed obvious nobody could come back from such a catastrophe — least of all Joe Biden.
After Biden’s South Carolina victory, the first primary he has ever won in his three presidential campaigns, things look quite different. The status of Biden’s campaign has not only been upgraded to “alive” — at this point he is the primary, and probably the sole, alternative to Bernie Sanders. At the risk of overreacting in the opposite direction, Biden appears to have taken control of the Democrat Party’s center-left voters so decisively none of his mainstream rivals will be able to sustain a rationale for their candidacy. Michael Bloomberg, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg — all of whom have made Biden-esque pitches to the electorate — will face enormous pressure to leave the race after Super Tuesday, and possibly even before.
The mistake many of us made with regard to Biden was viewing his campaign through the prism of age. Biden looks and acts much older than Bloomberg, Sanders (who has looked exactly 85 years old since the 1980s), and even Trump, who also appears to be experiencing rapid cognitive decline. Biden campaigned unevenly and delivered uncomfortably meandering performances at the debates that often worsened as each debate dragged on. It seemed intuitive that the pattern of decline would also apply to Biden’s campaign. His best day would be his first, and he would slowly exhaust the supply of pent-up goodwill that was his primary asset.
But whatever his limitations, Biden has not gotten worse. His last debate performance was his best. It was almost good.
The heart of Biden’s claim to the mainstream Democratic mantle is his impressive performance with African-Americans, who had little representation in the previous three contests. They are not attracted to Biden out of mere nostalgia, gratitude, or familiarity. Black voters in the state — especially older ones, who have the closest personal experience with overt white supremacy — have thought carefully about the primacy of ousting Trump over every other goal, as well as their role in that process.
This conclusion is not me reading my views onto them. Pay attention to what voters there have told reporters like Astead Herndon, Eugene Robinson, and others. Robinson described the mood of voters he met as “urgent pragmatism” to end a presidency that is reversing decades of racial progress. “Black voters know white voters better than white voters know themselves,” one voter told Herndon. “So yeah, we’ll back Biden, because we know who white America will vote for in the general election in a way they may not tell a pollster or the media.”
It's that second-to-last paragraph that shows Chait knows damn well Biden wasn't done yet, and most of all, black voters, hadn't weighed in yet in Iowa and New Hampshire when we're the backbone of this party and have been for decades.
Sanders's win in Nevada is significant, and he still has a lot of delegates he can pick up in California and Texas. But Biden has put the marker down as the Not-Sanders, and there's a lot of territory in that area Biden can cover.
It would be different if Sanders was racking up majority wins. He's not. Neither is Biden by any means, and Bloomberg is essentially replacing Steyer now as the billionaire in the race, but the fight is now truly on. Super Tuesday results are 72 hours away, and after that we'll have a real idea of who will be left.