vision 2020

New Hampshire Just Ushered in a Bernie Versus Bloomberg Title Fight

The Bern in full bloom. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Before tonight’s column, I’d like to offer a brief disclaimer: Seven months ago, I wrote that Joe Biden’s “time was up,” and that his presidential campaign was likely doomed. Four months later, I informed you that the former vice-president was the only viable centrist Democrat in the race — and that anyone who thought that Mike Bloomberg had a serious chance of winning the party’s nomination was “delusional.” Just three weeks ago, I assured my dear readers that “by all appearances, the fact that Biden is no longer capable of speaking in proper English sentences will be no impediment to his political success.” So, season the following take with several grains of salt.

The Democratic Party is hurtling toward a crossroads where it will be forced to either transition to socialism, or regress into Bloombergism.

With his win in New Hampshire Tuesday night, Bernie Sanders has cemented himself as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. With his fifth-place showing, Joe Biden has all but clinched the title of “also ran.” For Elizabeth Warren, a distant fourth place in a state that borders her own will condemn her candidacy to a premature death. Amy Klobuchar’s surprisingly robust third-place finish will generate headlines and keep her in the fight. But for the Minnesota senator, it’s too little, too late. She (almost certainly) doesn’t have the money or organization to turn her fledgling operation into the kind of force capable of competing nationally by the first week of March. And although Pete Buttigieg’s showing was (once again) far stronger than any former mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest city had any right to expect, he likely needed a first-place finish Tuesday night to keep his quixotic quest alive. The wunderkind’s limited appeal to African-American voters and Democratic elected officials, combined with his relatively light footprint in Super Tuesday states, makes it difficult to see how he’ll sustain his candidacy once Michael Bloomberg’s juggernaut enters the arena.

Thus, it’s all straightforward from here: Sanders will now collect a boost in polling support of indeterminate size, as a “rally around the leader” effect brings some new rank-and-file Democrats into his camp. That should be enough to propel the Vermonter to victory in Nevada, where the (admittedly limited and historically unreliable) polling has long showed a two-man race between Biden and Sanders with Warren in a distant third. It is unlikely that Buttigieg or Klobuchar will be able to scale up in the Silver State rapidly enough to catch the Vermont senator.

Some segments of the punditocracy have posited that there is a hard “ceiling” on Bernie’s potential support. And the diminutive size of Sanders’s margin of victory in New Hampshire will lend fodder to that argument. But it remains poorly substantiated. Far from being a “factional” candidate, the most recent polls from Monmouth University and Morning Consult find Sanders with the highest in-party approval rating of any 2020 Democrat. And although concerns about the self-described socialist’s electability may prevent some pro-Bernie supporters of other candidates from rallying behind him once their first choice ducks out, this won’t be a dealbreaker for all of them. In fact, he is certain to get a significant influx of support once Warren’s campaign ceases to rage against the dying of the light; a large plurality of the Massachusetts senator’s supporters name Sanders as their second choice. And with her odds of winning the nomination now moving rapidly toward zero, Warren has both ideological and personal incentive to give her fellow progressive a full-throated endorsement in the near-term future.

Meanwhile, by Super Tuesday, the large faction of Democratic elites who can’t look at Bernie Sanders without seeing the ghost of George McGovern (if not, in rarer cases, mass executions in Central Park) will have sought comfort in the warm, well-heeled embrace of Michael Bloomberg. Granted, it is possible that Klobuchar or Buttigieg will pull out a surprise victory in Las Vegas later this month. Many powerful union leaders in the city have made their opposition to Medicare for All quite clear. If the culinary workers and Democratic Establishment propel one of the two non-plutocratic, non-elderly moderates to victory in Nevada, that could clear the non-Sanders lane for him or her in South Carolina, and supply the momentum necessary to bury Bloomberg on March 3. But the safe money says that Sanders leaves Sin City a winner.

What’s more, the case for anti-Sanders forces to see Bloomberg as their best standard-bearer has been growing stronger by the day. As Ed Kilgore reported Tuesday, many Democratic elites were already making peace with the idea of a Bloomberg nomination before Biden’s sorry display in the Granite State. And Morning Consult’s tracking poll has already shown Democratic voters drifting out of Biden’s camp and into Bloomberg’s.

Photo: Morning Consult

Many pundits (I, among them) assumed that the former champion of racially discriminatory policing would share Buttigieg’s struggles with African-American Democrats. But Morning Consult’s poll suggests the New York mayor has already moved into second-place among black Democrats over 45, as an influx of former Biden backers moved into his column following Iowa. Quinnipiac University’s post-Iowa poll, meanwhile, shows Bloomberg making more dramatic gains with the demographic.

If a critical mass of black Democrats don’t find Bloomberg’s record on stop-and-frisk disqualifying (or even approve of the former mayor’s privileging of homicide reduction over civil liberties) — while a critical mass of all rank-and-file Democrats prove willing to look past Mike’s friendly history with Rudy Giuliani and 2004 endorsement of George W. Bush — then his unprecedented financial resources render him the most viable moderate left standing. Bloomberg has already spent roughly $300 million on advertisements across TV, radio, and digital. That’s already proven sufficient to put him in third place in Morning Consult’s poll of all the states that will hold primaries on March 3 (a.k.a. Super Tuesday).

It’s certainly possible that Bloomberg will eventually hit a point of diminishing returns. But he doesn’t seem to have hit it yet. And the well of money his campaign can draw on is effectively bottomless. With a fortune of nearly $60 billion — which is perpetually growing itself through capital gains — it is difficult for the plutocrat to spend money faster than he makes it. Bloomberg certainly has his liabilities, his belated entrance in the race, not least among them. But none of Mike’s rivals for the title of center-left standard-bearer can match his (literal) assets.

Thus, come spring, the Democratic primary will be a two-man race between a 78-year-old Jewish socialist who only recently began identifying as a Democrat, and a 77-year-old Jewish billionaire who only recently began identifying as a Democrat. Put differently, it will pit the arch-villain of rightwing anti-Semitism (the godless, outside agitator who rallies all underclasses and castes behind his “revolution”) against the arch-villain of “left-wing” anti-Semitism (the globe-trotting, superrich financier who leverages his great wealth into control of the people’s government). It will be a golden age for Jewish-American discourse, and a somewhat dangerous one for us Jewish-Americans.

Ultimately, Sanders will prevail. The Vermont senator’s head start in the delegate count and far superior approval rating among Democratic voters — combined with the redoubled moral fervor his campaign will command when pitted against its archetypal antagonist, a plutocrat literally trying to buy the presidency of the United States — will secure Sanders a plurality of delegates large enough to stymie all talk of a contested convention.

Unless, of course, I’m wrong again.

New Hampshire Just Ushered in a Bernie vs. Bloomberg Primary