Bernie fans will whine at the suggestion that he should have dropped out 24 hours ago rather than ask people to turn out in the middle of a once-a-century pandemic to keep his pipe dream of winning the nomination alive. You wouldn’t have called on Biden to drop out if he were in second place trying to catch up to Bernie.
Yeah, I would have. Maybe James Carville wouldn’t have. But try this thought experiment: Imagine any other two candidates in this race separated by the delegate gap that currently exists between Biden and Sanders and the sort of enormous polling momentum Biden’s seeing right now and tell me that the second-place candidate in that scenario shouldn’t have thrown in the towel already in the name of keeping people away from the polls while a killer virus is circulating.
I mean, really:
Biden is a 99 percent favorite to win the nomination in FiveThirtyEight’s model and a 99 percent favorite to win Florida, Illinois, and Arizona tonight. If Amy Klobuchar had already piled up an all but insurmountable delegate lead on Pete Buttigieg, say, and was a 99 percent favorite in the three states voting today, what do you think the general view would be of Mayor Pete choosing to press on anyway — especially in Florida, where lots of vulnerable senior citizens will congregate at polling places to cast their ballots?
There is a double standard here between Bernie and other candidates but it’s a double standard that favors Sanders. Because he’s leading a movement, a “revolution,” his fans are likely more willing to support a dangerous sustained exercise in futility than supporters of a more mundane candidate would be. I thought his secret plan was to participate in Sunday night’s debate and hope for a game-changing miracle, like Biden forgetting his own name onstage. Then, if it didn’t happen — and it didn’t — he’d drop out on Monday in the name of not prolonging unnecessarily risky behavior like voting after the nomination has already effectively been decided. But no, he’s still competing.
Team Sanders was quick to note this morning that they’re technically not asking people to go to the polls today:
Remarkable statement from @BernieSanders spokesman @cascamike: No traditional get-out-the-vote efforts today. Going to polls during the coronavirus outbreak “is a personal decision.” pic.twitter.com/5jgz9RsWks
— Paul Heintz (@paulheintz) March 17, 2020
If you’re not hellbent on getting people out to the polls, why the hell wouldn’t you quit? Either drop out beforehand and let the DNC cancel the remaining primaries or contest the primaries vigorously in hopes of staging a delegate comeback. Half-assing it this way is the worst of both worlds, encouraging people to put themselves at risk for no real reason. And no, it’s not enough to dial back the GOTV efforts and leave it to each individual voter to decide whether to turn out or vote. It’d be wonderful if we lived in a world where everyone was capable of rationally assessing the risk from this disease. We don’t, as the mortifying photos and videos of Americans packing into bars and restaurants last weekend proved. Some people will seize opportunities to congregate regardless of basic health advice. The only way to stop them is to deny them the opportunity.
As it is, I don’t even know what outcome Bernie is hoping for tonight. Probably he’ll get crushed, as predicted, in which case he’ll be under even more pressure to quit tomorrow. Let’s say he does. If it all takes to push him out is a wholly expected wipeout in FL, IL, and AZ then he could have and should have spared everyone the trouble of voting by quitting on Monday. On the other hand, let’s say there’s a massive decrease in turnout today — which seems likely — and Sanders ends up benefiting, strongly outperforming his polling because his fans turned out while Biden’s didn’t. Will Bernie be well served by tomorrow’s narrative that he’s back in the game thanks to … coronavirus? Will Biden fans now be forced to trek to the polls in the next primaries en masse, possibly when the epidemic is peaking, to try to reassert their guy’s dominance? None of this makes sense.
In fact, given the wave of COVID-19 illness that’s about to break, it’s anyone’s guess when the next primaries will actually be held. Even a “big” win tonight by Sanders won’t mean anything in terms of momentum by the time the next batch of Democratic voters go to vote.
Let’s hope this study suggesting that voting doesn’t meaningfully increase the spread of epidemics is correct. It’d be catastrophic to have COVID-19 turn out to be the exception that proves the rule. You’ll find live results for Florida, Illinois, and Arizona below. Something to think about this evening: Who’s going to be Biden’s VP? He said at the debate on Sunday that it’ll be a woman. Amy Klobuchar is reportedly the frontrunner but of course the left dislikes that idea. I think it’s either her, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, or Stacey Abrams. If there’s any evidence that Klobuchar’s midwestern pedigree can help in Rust Belt states, not just Minnesota, I think it’ll be her.