Biden might have been embarrassed by the Des Moines Register poll right before the Iowa caucuses, but he got lucky: the poll couldn’t be released because of a methodological error. He may have been the beneficiary of the glitches that prevented the Iowa Democratic party from announcing any results the night of the caucuses, too.
But he heads into the New Hampshire contest next week a condemned man, likely to be beaten by Bernie Sanders in the Granite State before running into the billionaire buzzsaw that is Michael Bloomberg on Super Tuesday.
A Biden win in South Carolina or Nevada (or both) between those contests would only prolong his ordeal. Joe Biden is a dead man walking — this year’s Jeb Bush.
The youth and the left of the Democratic party, largely the same thing, are more interested in Sanders’s socialism than they are in Biden’s nostalgia for the Obama years, or indeed for the politics of many decades past. To use an analogy that Biden would get but young Sanders supporters will not, Biden running on Obama’s record is a bit like one of the post-David Lee Roth, post-Sammy Hagar frontmen of Van Halen singing the songs of the band’s glory days. It’s a cover version without the charisma.
Sanders faces difficulty in the South, and if Biden were only running against Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg as his top-tier competition, he might have a chance. But Bloomberg appeals to centrists who would otherwise almost certainly support Biden. And Bloomberg has the money to compete anywhere he wants, with television budgets — and budgets for everything — no one else can match.
Bloomberg has also lately shown a knack for nastiness in responding to President Trump’s taunts, a counterpunching talent that stands in contrast to Biden’s penchant for picking fights with his party’s own voters.
Biden’s path to the nomination was going to be the one that Bob Dole followed to the Republican nomination in 1996. Dole was also challenged by an anti-establishment firebrand, in his case one of the right: Pat Buchanan. Dole lost New Hampshire but won South Carolina, while Buchanan had been weakened by the entry into the race of a wealthy supply-side conservative, Steve Forbes, who checked Buchanan’s march to the nomination by defeating him in Delaware and Arizona. Bloomberg is a threat to Biden in a way that Forbes never threatened Dole, however — and not just because Bloomberg is far wealthier. Buchanan and Forbes, vastly different as they were, both fought for the right wing of the GOP. Bloomberg is fighting Biden for the center. And Bloomberg is not the only billionaire Biden has to worry about — Tom Steyer has been doing surprisingly well in recent South Carolina polls and might just do there what Bernie cannot.
Regardless of the Iowa results, once they are finally known, the Democratic race is set to turn into a contest between Billionaire Bloomberg and the Socialist Sanders. Each of those men has a clear vision for the Democratic party’s future. Biden only has a vision of its past.
Bloomberg’s vision is one in which the left-liberalism and plutocracy finally fuse into a single highly efficient machine of domination — not for nothing did Bloomberg insist in an interview with Margaret Hoover last year that ‘Xi Jinping is not a dictator.’ Bloomberg would make a magnificent profit-minded Communist party chairman. Sanders, on the other hand, would be a lousy party boss — his significance for American politics lies not in any system he could actually build (even fellow Democrats wouldn’t go along with his dreams, to say nothing of Republicans) but in the friction he creates within the system we already have. In that, he’s a little like Trump.
Bloomberg is what Pete Buttigieg wants to be when he grows up. Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, tried to appropriate Bernie’s left-wing idealist momentum the way she once appropriated an American Indian identity for herself. New Hampshire polls suggest she hasn’t succeeded, but she’s tenacious: an unlikely nominee at this point, but hardly an impossible one.
Her aspirations have more life left in them than Biden’s do. Biden is a talented conventional politician, but there’s nothing conventional about American politics anymore. The Bob Dole path to a party nomination has been plowed over by figures like Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg. Celebrity and wealth matter more than Iowa in the new dispensation. If Biden was spared bad news last night, it was only to suffer another day.