Democrats have a problem.
His name is Bernie Sanders.
After Joe Biden’s major victory in South Carolina – a victory in which he didn’t just reinvigorate his campaign, he smashed Sanders by massive numbers – Biden is the dominant moderate opportunity for the Democratic party to stop Sanders. Michael Bloomberg’s strong national poll numbers have waned for weeks after his debate disasters; he was always a mere stand-in for the anti-Bernie wing, and his numbers reflected uncertainty about Biden rather than confidence about Bloomberg.
With Biden back in the saddle, Bloomberg is merely a spendthrift also-ran. Meanwhile, Pete Buttigieg has now dropped out and endorsed Biden, as has Amy Klobuchar.
Sanders has a slight delegate lead, and was expected to clean up on Super Tuesday. But polling in most states has been sparse, and Biden’s dramatic overperformance in South Carolina suggests that states with heavy black voting populations will mirror South Carolina.
With that said, the two states that matter most are California and Texas.
In Texas, polling has not reflected Bloomberg’s drop, nor Klobuchar and Buttigieg leaving the race – or even Biden winning South Carolina. Biden is likely to win Texas walking away, which would hand him another significant victory. In California, Sanders has an enormous lead – but that was before Biden’s revival in South Carolina, as well as drop-outs from both Klobuchar and Buttigieg. Should Biden overperform in California and should Elizabeth Warren break the 15 percent margin necessary to receive delegates, Biden would walk away from California with a serious number of delegates as well.
All of which means that there is now an incredibly high probability of an open convention. FiveThirtyEight pegs those chances at two in three; their prospective delegate count for Sanders stands at 1,599 and for Biden at 1,455. That delegate count does not include Klobuchar dropping. It also pegs Bloomberg’s delegate count at 595, which seems far too high – and presumably, most of Bloomberg’s delegates would go to Biden.
So, what are the scenarios in this case?
Scenario 1: The Worst-Case Scenario. The worst-case scenario involves precisely the FiveThirtyEight forecast: Sanders entering with a slight delegate plurality, but Biden/Bloomberg with a majority of the delegates. Sanders would cry foul, but he would likely lose the nomination given Bloomberg throwing his delegates to Biden. He could then walk away from the party, suggesting that he’d been robbed a second time (he wasn’t even robbed the first time), and his voters could stay home, guaranteeing a Trump victory. Alternatively, afraid of that reaction, Democratic Party honchos could hand Sanders the nomination, with Biden reluctantly climbing aboard – but with Bloomberg pulling his money, and another party split, though lesser in drama. Of course, Sanders is also more likely to lose to Trump than Biden.
Scenario 2: The Best-Case Scenario. In this scenario, Biden’s comeback is completed, and he wins a plurality of the delegates. Bloomberg pulls out but keeps spending on anti-Bernie ads; Bernie ends up in second place, and has no real case for the nomination. There’s still the possibility that Bernie walks out, but this lessens that possibility.
Scenario 3: Anything Goes. If it’s a dead heat and a no-win situation, do Democrats seek an angel candidate? That’s the least likely scenario, but it’s always possible. What if the Democrats prevail on Michelle Obama to descend from the heavens and guide them?
No matter what happens, the Democratic Party is in a world of hurt. That’s because of three separate, idiotic decisions: first, the decision to rejigger primary processes to help popular but non-majoritarian candidates like Bernie, at Bernie’s behest; second, the decision by the Democratic Party to let Bernie run as a Democrat without being one, and the decision by other candidates to draft off his cheat sheet; third, the decision by Biden to run a lackluster campaign.
Even if Biden pulls it out, a narrow Biden win splits the party in a way that a dominant Biden run wouldn’t have. That’s Biden’s fault – and the fault of Barack Obama, who didn’t endorse him.