At the time of writing, Joe Biden is on course for an approximately 30 point victory in South Carolina. Not that he won with 30 percent of the vote; rather, he is beating his nearest competitor (Bernie Sanders) by approximately 30 percentage points. That’s a truly romping win — but ironically, given his many many decades on the political scene, the American elite media has never known quite how to cover the Biden candidacy.
First, if you are a consumer of online political news and commentary, you might have noticed the conspicuous lack of virtually any vocal Biden supporters on social media. Online political journalism is dominated by graduates of elite American colleges and universities between the ages of 25 and 45, who constitute the diametric opposite demographic of Biden’s core support base. I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of people running political magazines, newspapers and websites in the United States have roughly zero Biden supporters in their immediate peer group. So of course this dynamic will lead to analytical failure in assessing Biden’s appeal.
Take a look at some of the exit poll findings tonight: Biden won 62 percent of South Carolina voters who never attended college. Yes, many of these people are older black voters. But more significant than race is educational attainment, in this key respect: you will encounter almost nobody working an elite media job who has never interfaced with the higher education system. However, people who have never interfaced with the higher education system comprise a significant portion of Biden’s support base. Hence the flustered and confused reactions to his rousing victory.
You would have to be somewhat delusional, and perhaps hopelessly blinkered by social media, if you can’t recognize the potency of Biden’s call on Democrats to vote for him if they ‘want a nominee who’s a Democrat’ in his victory speech tonight. The contrast he’s drawing there is obviously with Bernie and Mike Bloomberg, neither of whom are loyal lifelong Democrats like Joe. In Bernie’s case, his distance from the Democratic party label is central to his appeal, among voters who share his disdain of the institutional Democratic party. But there are broad swathes of other Democratic voters — people we might call ‘Normie Democrats’, enormously underrepresented in the online media sphere — who simply do not care all that much about the internecine squabbles between Democratic candidates. They’re not interested in blowout warfare among Democrats fighting over the intricacies of their policy proposals. They simply want, desperately, to beat Trump. And in South Carolina, they predictably settled on ol’ Joe.
Biden has run a generally poor campaign. He routinely exhibits clear signs of cognitive decline. As a former Vice President, he has notably failed to secure a critical mass of establishment party support, although that may change after tonight. (Jim Clyburn, the Grand Poobah of South Carolina who served up Biden a critical 11th hour endorsement, has unambiguously cemented his status as perhaps the most powerful non-Obama figure in the Democratic party, given the nature of the early state primary schedule — which places a premium on SC.) And lest we forget, the Biden family’s corruption problems were front-and-center in a months-long impeachment melodrama. Yet he just won a landslide victory. There’s no use spinning it (as many Bernie supporters will fruitlessly try to do) — this is a huge triumph for Joe. Yes, I know he’s been running for president for 32 years, and only today managed to win a primary for the first time. But…so what? Here in the present, all factors should have militated against such a scorching Biden win.
None of this means he’s going to be the Democratic nominee. If he gets shellacked in California next Tuesday (which is fairly likely) then Bernie may still have an insurmountable delegate lead. But preemptively writing Biden off, as happened many months ago despite his consistent polling lead, was always foolish. What if he sweeps the entire South? By the way, black voters are nowhere close to a monolith, and that this even needs to be said is incredibly condescending. Biden was always far better suited to Southern blacks than Midwestern blacks, for instance. Jim Clyburn can’t pull a lever in California and turn out the vote in LA County for Joe. But if Southern blacks vote in a way that is close to a bloc, Biden’s got every reason in the world to keep running. Joe has yet to blow it.