If we run last night’s events through the “Five W’s” of straight-up journalism, we don’t hit the reef until the end of the formula. Who? Joe Biden. What? Defeated Bernie Sanders in three key primaries. Where? In Florida, Illinois and Arizona. When? Last night.
Why? That’s the reef.
The numbers by themselves are stark. In Florida, Biden defeated Sanders by nearly 40 percentage points. In Illinois, the margin was nearly 25 points, and in Arizona, the margin was 12 points. Those wide margins ensure that Biden’s final delegate haul from last night will be substantial; to secure the nomination, Sanders will now need to win 61 percent of the remaining delegates.
Those remaining delegates, of course, will only be counted if there are primaries to allocate them and a convention to announce them. This is becoming less likely by the day. The 2020 Democratic primary season, like almost everything else in the United States today, is frozen like an ant in the amber of COVID-19.
Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland and Kentucky have all postponed their primaries. Puerto Rico is preparing to do the same. The only primaries still scheduled between now and April 28 are in Hawaii, Alaska and Wyoming on April 4, and Wisconsin on April 7. Those four states have 137 delegates combined. Between now and April 28, that’s it.
The odds of those states actually holding their primaries stand somewhere between slim and none, because the primaries that did take place last night were a damn mess.
“In locations around Chicago, voters arrived at polling places to find no election judges to run their precincts, or no hand sanitizer or wipes for voting machines,” reports The Washington Post. “Some voting locations in Palm Beach County, Fla., where officials said there appeared to be lower than usual voter turnout on Tuesday, had not opened by late morning. And in Arizona, some people were directed to vote at municipal buildings that were otherwise closed to the public, causing confusion.”
Illinois appears to have been the worst of the three yesterday, with polling places that lacked ballots and voting machines. Really? If we had ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had eggs. That level of abject failure was matched only by Illinois TV station WCIA 3, which aired a graphic showing Biden defeating Sanders the day before the vote. In the age of the internet conspiracy theory, this was the equivalent of pouring kerosene on the sun.
Progressives seeking a silver lining from last night can look to the Illinois 3rd District, where incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski was ousted in the primary by challenger Marie Newman. This was Newman’s second run to oust Lipinski; she lost to him in 2018 by two points.
“Lipinski is one of the most conservative Democrats left in the House,” reports Buzzfeed, “and is known nationally for his staunch anti-abortion beliefs. He has a failing grade of just 25% from Planned Parenthood and, in January, signed on to an amicus brief pushing the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
The “Why’s” from last night are stacked like cordwood, and there are no easy answers. Why continue holding primaries if they are all going to be as disorganized and dangerous as last night’s trio was? Why hold these contests if they are made meaningless — beyond the delegate count, of course — by the circumstances?
Why is Joe Biden enjoying such tremendous, consistent success against Bernie Sanders after spending the entire race up to South Carolina as a third-place laggard? One could point to Biden’s support among Black voters as being instrumental in the last three weeks. One could also note that Biden has run the primary table in all the states Donald Trump is likely to win in November, which means Democratic voters of a more conservative stripe have had, for the most part, the loudest say to this point in the exercise.
I suspect, however, that COVID-19 stands as the most plausible explanation. The Nevada Caucus was held on February 22. The South Carolina primary was held on February 29. Super Tuesday took place on March 3. That 10-day arc in which Biden took control of the race matches precisely with the eruption of the coronavirus as a present threat in the United States.
As the threat went up, Sanders’s performance at the polls went down. This is fact. I am not a sociologist, but I strongly suspect that a majority of Democratic primary voters who have cast their ballots to date decided they are not ready for a revolution in the middle of a pandemic.
There’s a screaming irony here: The federal government, and even the truculent Trump, are swinging wide to socialist measures in order to salvage the shattered economy. Many of the policy ideas Sanders has been advocating for the term of his political life may wind up rescuing the nation’s financial standing. The gross inequities of corporate capitalism have been laid bare by the coronavirus, and progressive policies are being warmed up to save the day.
Hell, Mitt Romney is walking around saying the government should send everyone a $1,000 check. Andrew Yang, your table is ready.
Yet for all this, people don’t seem to be voting for the candidate who has championed these causes. Why? There are a million possible answers, all of them flawed. On Wednesday morning, a Sanders spokesperson announced that the Vermont senator will be speaking to supporters to “assess” the future of his campaign, per a CNN broadcast report.
The race is frozen, and Sanders may soon step down. Why? Ask me another one.