Dakotamentum? After an evening of almost unrelenting bad news, Bernie Sanders finally found a bright spot from Super Tuesday II — a win in North Dakota’s caucuses. That state only put 14 delegates on the table, or about a tenth of the delegates at stake in Michigan, where Joe Biden won handily, but it at least interrupted a narrative of complete collapse. Briefly, anyway.
When Sanders declined to speak last night after the results came in, some wondered whether the outsider candidate had decided to stay outside for good. Not yet, his campaign began assuring reporters early this morning:
Some Democrats are calling on the party to treat Biden as the presumptive nominee after Bernie Sanders overwhelmingly loss in Michigan on Tuesday, arguing the race is decided and the party should instead focus on beating President Donald Trump, but a Sanders campaign spokeswoman implied the Vermont senator will at least stay in the race until the next debate on Sunday.
After Biden won Michigan, Briahna Joy Gray, Sanders’ national press secretary, tweeted, “I, for one, am extremely excited about this debate all the moderates are panicking about. The delegate count difference is only about 150 points out of 4051 total. America finally gets to see Biden defend his ideas, or lack there of, on Sunday.”
Are all the moderates panicking about this debate? Unless the party changes its mind again and allows Tulsi Gabbard on stage, it will be the first one-on-one debate this cycle, and it will end up pitting an old socialist crank against an equally old establishment figure who’s best known for sticking his foot in his mouth. That should have the DNC at least worried about what will happen in Arizona, especially since the lack of an audience (over COVID-19 fears) will make the conflict between the two even more stark.
Plus, of course, Sanders now has little to lose by going on a full-frontal attack on Biden. National co-chair Rep. Ro Khanna says Bernie’s earned that opportunity:
“The point now is to move forward for the issues that Senator Sanders has been fighting for,” Bernie Sanders campaign co-chair @RepRoKhanna says after Joe Biden’s primary wins in multiple states. Khanna says he expects Sanders to debate Biden on Sunday. https://t.co/hlHWOZDHIO pic.twitter.com/ywNWTFZLjM
— New Day (@NewDay) March 11, 2020
“There’s no doubt that the polling and momentum right now is with Vice President Biden,” Khanna said. “And Sen. Sanders acknowledges that.”
“But he does believe that debates in the past have changed, dramatically, the race,” he continued. …
“I think he’s earned his right to make his case at the debate,” Khanna said.
“There are a lot of things he is passionate about in his vision for America, and he feels he owes it to the millions of working-class people who have supported him to continue to raise those issues and share his vision,” he added.
He’s not going to go quietly, which means he’s not going to let Biden off the hook this time either. Biden will be up there by himself against Sanders, who has not been particularly aggressive toward his main rival until now. Sanders has spent more of his time attacking the billionaires on stage and focusing on his own message in debates, but one has to presume that strategy will change on Sunday. If he’s not going to go after Biden hard, why stay in the race at all?
That will be the nightmare scenario for Team Biden, even if it was inevitable at some point. Biden’s done pretty well by letting others around him duke it out, and managed to get rescued at other times by Tulsi Gabbard. If Team Biden wants to survive this match-up, they should press the DNC to reset the debate requirements to allow anyone with a delegate (Gabbard has two) to appear on the stage. The DNC might figure that’s too obvious an intervention, though, and at some point Biden has to be on stage with Donald Trump — and Trump’s not going to take it easy on “Slow Joe.” If Biden can’t handle it, better to find out now.