Former vice president Joe Biden has trounced Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders from the South Carolina primary through the votes on March 10, taking many states that Sanders won in 2016. Biden got roughly the same proportion of the black vote Hillary Clinton did, but he did better among white voters. In Michigan, Sanders won white men 2-1 over Clinton in 2016. In 2020, he tied with Biden. It was roughly the same story in Missouri.
Is that because Biden is a better champion for those voters than Sanders is?
No. It’s because he’s a man.
I mean, c’mon.
The 2016-2020 gulf was even bigger in a lot of white working-class counties. In Grant County, Oklahoma, Sanders beat Clinton 57-32. This year Sanders won only 16 percent.
I chose that county because The New York Times’ Thomas Edsall cited it Wednesday morning, in a piece arguing that “hostile sexism” doomed Clinton, while letting Biden win in a rout.
Back to the 1980s, Edsall has charted the role of race in the decline of white fealty to the Democratic Party. In the last few years, though, I’ve lamented the way he’s minimized the role racism and sexism have played in the white working-class turning to the GOP. Edsall has lambasted Democrats for being, in his words, “increasingly dependent on a white upper-middle-class that has isolated itself from the rest of American society.” He wrote that Clinton’s 2016 campaign, and its focus on Trump’s misogyny, stigmatized language that’s “commonplace in the nation’s locker rooms and barrooms” and turned off men who are sick of “political correctness.”
But given the way the bottom fell out of Sanders’s white working-class support in the last month, Edsall saw the blinding light. Always driven by data, he concluded that Clinton’s loss (as well as Elizabeth Warren’s, by the way), was driven by attitudes of “hostile sexism” among voters who nonetheless went for Sanders four years ago.
I truly have long admired Edsall. (Read his whole piece: It describes the “phantom white working class voters” who were behind some of Sanders’s 2016 victories, and Clinton’s struggles.) I was just gobsmacked—gratified, but gobsmacked nonetheless—after Sanders’s pummeling in Michigan to see so many men say what they hadn’t said plainly before: Sexism doomed Hillary Clinton in 2016.
As Ezra Klein tweeted: “Following the Clinton-Sanders race with the Biden-Sanders race is almost like a natural experiment in—to put it gently—the role gender plays in voter preferences and judgments about electability.”
“Gently.” I don’t want to put it gently. At all.
Clinton lost the Michigan primary in 2016, and then lost the state that November. That, along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, is what doomed her in the electoral college. But, boy, did Joe Biden win Michigan.
He won every single county.
How did that happen?
Sanders supporters are understandably wondering what went wrong with his 2020 campaign and analyzing all the demographic data. But progressive women who supported every female primary candidate’s campaign this year, as well as Clinton in 2016, are wondering why there’s not more attention to one single electoral fact: Joe Biden is not Joanne Biden.
Sanders made many fair charges against Clinton in 2016, though many were against her husband, since she was on the sidelines of some actual votes. But it’s true she was a pro-free trade Democrat, and she had supported corporate America in too many ways; her much-derided Goldman Sachs speeches were a mistake.
But sans Goldman Sachs speeches, Biden had all of that against him, and then some. He was known as “the senator from MBNA” for his defense of credit card companies and banks while he represented Delaware. He cosponsored the 2005 anti-consumer bankruptcy bill (which Warren first appeared on the national stage to oppose). There is absolutely nothing about Biden’s policy positions, versus Clinton’s, to win over white men, especially white working-class men, except that he’s a white man.
I will vote for Biden, assuming he’s the nominee, in November. He is a much, much better white man—a much better human and public servant—than the racist sexual predator who is currently threatening all of our lives to the coronavirus.
But, please, never forget why he won every Michigan county.