A specter is haunting the billionaire class and the pundits who would prefer that the Democratic Party remain amenable to the money power.
They recognize that Bernie Sanders was quite serious when he told ABC News on Sunday, “I am an existential threat to the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. For too long the Democratic Party and leaders have been going to rich peoples’ homes raising money and they’ve ignored the working class and the middle class.”
They also recognize that Sanders is looking like a strong contender going into the 14 states and one territory where March 3 Super Tuesday contests will go a long way toward identifying the party’s 2020 nominee—and the future direction of Democratic politics.
Indeed, if readers want to get a sense of how well Sanders might do on Super Tuesday, they need look no further than the “notes” from seers who inform the worldview of the investors and portfolio managers who fret about the senator’s proposals to regulate Wall Street and tax the rich. Warning that “Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, could be the big name over the next few weeks,” Greg Valliere, the chief US policy strategist for the asset management firm AGF, announced last week that “the markets have to pay attention if there is going to be a move to the left.”
With no time to spare, and with centrist hopefuls like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropping by the wayside, the resistance to Sanders has latched on to an old/new prospect, former vice president Joe Biden, who as the longtime senator from Delaware and a frequent contender for national office has shown a soft spot for big corporations and big-money politics.
In fairness to Biden, who is running as a conventional liberal on many issues, there is more to his history and his candidacy than a dismal record on trade and deregulation and banking issues. And in fairness to the Biden campaign, it is attracting endorsements and support from sincere grassroots Democrats who believe the former vice president is the pragmatic choice in a turbulent year. For wealthy donors who have for years exercised outsized influence over both major parties, however, the search for an alternative to Sanders is not about an individual candidate. It is about any candidate who might stop the senator from Vermont who says, “Billionaires should not exist.”
With Super Tuesday approaching, the online tip sheets of the elites have been abuzz with talk of what a Biden comeback might look like—and what Sanders might do to thwart it. The seers are not exactly bullish on Biden or his prospects. But they have been busy counseling, as Valliere does, that “there’s still a narrow path for Biden, especially if the vapid technocrat Mike Bloomberg drops out.”
Accepting that they are unlikely to nominate an actual billionaire—after the debate-stage disassembling of Bloomberg by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Bloomberg himself—“anybody-but-Bernie” whisperers have placed their bets on a Biden “surge” in the aftermath of his South Carolina’s Democratic primary victory on Saturday. “If Biden can win southern states like Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas and cross the 15% delegate threshold in a state like California, he will firmly position himself as the Sanders alternative,” chirped an assessment of the race from the analysts at Beacon Policy Advisors—“an independent policy research firm that guides institutional invaestors through the fog of policymaking”—that was featured in a MarketWatch report.
Some pundits “are already assuming front-runner Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, will win the party’s 2020 nomination,” observed another MarketWatch review. “But there is still a window of opportunity for the more centrist Democrats competing against Vermont’s junior senator, said Height Capital Markets analysts, though they also said it ‘will close quickly after Super Tuesday.’
“‘If they can keep Sanders below 750 delegates and consolidate relatively quickly, a moderate could surpass Sanders,’ the analysts wrote in a note.”
The anti-Sanders forces were busy consolidating on Tuesday night in Texas, as Klobuchar and Buttigieg jetted in to join former rival Beto O’Rourke in endorsing Biden’s energetic last-ditch pitch.
Stopping Sanders won’t be easy. The senator led popular voting in three of the first caucus and primary states and finished second in the fourth; he raised a record $46 million in February from small donors; his poll numbers have spiked in recent weeks. But Biden’s first-place finish in South Carolina has inspired those who share the view of billionaire Biden backer Neil Bluhm—who famously declared last year that Sanders and Warren “don’t represent the Democratic Party.”
Biden is back in the running. Unfortunately for the former Vice President and his enthusiasts, the contest goes macro on Super Tuesday. That shift favors the well-funded, well-organized Sanders campaign. As Valliere explained Monday, “The Biden campaign, low on money until yesterday, has an anemic ground game in California; he will struggle to hit 15% of the vote, the threshold for getting delegates. There are 415 delegates at stake in California, and Sanders will win most of them. By week’s end he could lead nationwide by 300-400 delegates, maybe more.”
If Sanders gets all the breaks, he will emerge from Super Tuesday as a formidable front-runner for a nomination that could be effectively decided before March is done. Here’s how it could work: If Sanders wins the delegate-rich states of California and Texas; if he runs strong in states such as Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia; if he sweeps smaller states such as Vermont, Maine, and Utah, the senator will be close to where he needs to be. If, by chance, he upsets Warren in her home state of Massachusetts, or takes Minnesota after Klobuchar’s exit, that could close the deal.
But that’s a lot of “ifs.” So here’s the cautionary note on Super Tuesday. We have yet to get a full sense of the impact of Biden’s publicity bounce after a South Carolina win that was secured with impressive support from African Americans, who will continue to be key voters in coming contests. Nor do we know what will come of Bloomberg’s ongoing spending spree, or of the last-minute endorsements of Biden by former rivals. So this race could go on a good deal longer. Should that be the case, the “party establishment” that Sanders says he is running against will keep looking for every opening it can find to deny the nod to the democratic socialist promising a political revolution who inspires two fears among insiders: that Sanders might be a harder sell than a moderate contender in November, and that a Sanders win could change the party forever.
This is what makes Super Tuesday such a big deal for Bernie Sanders and for the billionaire class he is running against. There will always be billionaire donors like Bluhm who say that candidates like Sanders “don’t represent the Democratic Party” that they support. But a strong finish on Tuesday would amplify Sanders’s response to Bluhm and Biden: “We are not going to make the changes we need in this country when you go to three fundraisers in Chicago sponsored by multimillionaires. We are going to make the changes that we need in this country when the working people of America stand up to the corporate elite, not take their money.”