Words cannot express how excited I am for the Elizabeth Warren/Mike Bloomberg kumbaya moment at the convention when all the 2020 candidates are invited up onstage to symbolically unify behind Joe Biden.
I’m picturing them with arms raised, hands joined, swaying to “We Are the World.” As Joe tries to sing along and garbles the lyrics badly.
After looking at the polling, I’m skeptical that Warren finished off Bloomberg at that debate before Nevada, when he finally made his debut as a candidate. But it was clearly his worst moment during his brief time as a candidate and may have had an “emperor’s new clothes” effect on his rise in the polls. I think her claim is defensible, if not very persuasive. Watch, then read on.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren takes credit for Mike Bloomberg ending his presidential campaign after their fiery exchange during his first debate.
“In my view he was absolutely the riskiest candidate for Democrats on that stage.” pic.twitter.com/sD8AG7iL6a
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) March 6, 2020
The Nevada debate happened on February 19. Here’s what the national polling looked like over the past 30 days. (Bloomberg is the orange line.)
Bloomy was just south of 10 percent on February 3. Six days later, following Biden’s dismal showing in Iowa, he was near 13 percent. Eight days and a terrible Biden performance in New Hampshire after that, he was above 15 percent and rising. He touched 16.1 percent on February 19, the day of the debate — and immediately began to slide. Not dramatically: He lost a point or so, and had rebounded to 16.4 percent by the day of the South Carolina primary. As late as Tuesday of this week, he was up to 18 percent. But clearly the momentum he showed in the first half of the month slowed down and even briefly reversed itself before Joementum erupted in SC. It seems highly likely that his poor debate performance is to blame for that, and Warren’s attack on him was the key ingredient in that poor performance.
But. Bloomy was never on the ballot in South Carolina. There’s no reason to think Biden wouldn’t have blown the doors off there even if Bloomberg had performed well at the Nevada debate. And if I’m right that the main effect of Joe’s SC landslide was to restore faith in Democrats nationally that he really is the most electable candidate in the race then Bloomberg was probably doomed on Super Tuesday irrespective of the debate. Bloomy was the “break glass in case of emergency” option for moderate Dems in the event that Biden collapsed in South Carolina and Bernie suddenly looked like a runaway nominee. SC canceled the emergency. Endgame for Mike.
But. Just because Joe was destined to do well on Super Tuesday once he ran up the score on Super Tuesday doesn’t mean he was destined to do as well as he did. Few of his victories three days ago were by landslide margins. He squeaked through in several states where Bernie was expecting key wins, most notably Texas. The difference between victory and a second-place finish for Biden there was five points. Is it possible that Warren’s demolition of Bloomberg at the debate shook the faith of moderates sufficiently to have cost him five points among fencesitters that ended up going to Biden instead? Sure. That seems possible.
But. Was that good or bad for progressives in the end? A moderate vote that was more evenly split between Biden and Bloomberg on Super Tuesday might have enabled several Bernie Sanders victories that ended up as defeats, again most notably in Texas. By taking out Bloomy, Warren unwittingly contributed to resolving the protracted “muddle in the middle” that had enabled Bernie’s early victories in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Over on Earth 2, Warren declined to attack Bloomberg at the Nevada debate; he continued to build some momentum over the following weeks; and on Super Tuesday he captured 25 percent of the vote, enough to hold down Biden’s margins to the point where he was vulnerable to Sanders. More than that, a stronger showing might have encouraged Bloomberg to hang around the race for awhile longer instead of quitting after Super Tuesday, drawing more votes from Biden in the big primaries to come in Michigan and elsewhere next week. Warren’s evisceration of Mike may have ended up sinking Bernie. Unintentionally, but still.
Of course, over on Earth 3, Bernie decided not to run again this year, freeing Warren to consolidate the left early and then tack a bit towards the center on programs like Medicare for All and student-loan forgiveness in the interest of wooing centrists. She’s the big winner on Super Tuesday there.
But here on Earth 1, well:
— FiveThirtyEight (@FiveThirtyEight) March 6, 2020
Those aren’t the new odds on whether Biden will win a plurality of delegates and face a contested convention. Those are the odds on whether he’ll win a clear majority. They’re up to 87 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s model. You can read Nate Silver’s explanation here for why the model is suddenly so bullish on Joe — the upcoming primaries favor Biden demographically, Sanders suddenly doesn’t seem to have much regional strength anywhere, and there isn’t much time to make up a delegate deficit. (More than 60 percent of delegates will have been awarded two weeks from now.) A Bernie comeback needs to begin immediately, on unfavorable terrain, at a moment when big donors are suddenly showering cash on Biden and congressional Dems are almost literally high-fiving about not having to run with Sanders at the top of the ticket this fall.
Some Bernie advisors reportedly want him to roll out some more endorsements, but … which endorsements? Apart from Warren herself, how many Democratic politicians out there with enough sway to move a few votes towards Bernie prefer him to Biden? Not all Warren fans are eager to see her endorse Sanders either:
In an interview, NOW President Toni Van Pelt urged Warren not to endorse Sanders.
“She has a lot of leverage right now. We do trust her to make the right decisions on how to proceed. But we’d like her not to rush into this,” Van Pelt told The Associated Press.
“We think that our constituents, our members, will not necessarily think of Sanders as the best choice. We wouldn’t have the Violence Against Women Act if it wasn’t for Biden’s leadership,” she continued. “Sanders doesn’t have a record. He’s really, as far as we know, done next to nothing for women and for our issues.”
I think Bernie has to win Michigan next week and, ideally, at least three of the six states that are voting. If he takes another beating a la Super Tuesday, with a wipeout in Florida looming the week after, Biden will be far north of 90 percent odds to win the nomination. And Sanders will have a tough decision to make.