Let's not kid ourselves about the meaning of Joe Biden's Super Tuesday surprises. It was not the sudden imprimatur of a man buoyed by a groundswell of support. Biden is no runaway viral sensation. Rather, his win is the result of establishment Democrats' cynical attempt to funnel voters into a center-left box, quarantining the establishment against the left-wing insurgence of Bernie Sanders.
While the average Joe might not be fooled by the Democrats' shenanigans, it's less obvious that the establishment has not managed to fool itself. After all, the quest for growth by any means necessary has become a hallmark of large, self-serving organizations. Just ask corporate America. Growth by addition -- otherwise known as merger-mania -- has come back in vogue, with financial giants like JP Morgan, Blackrock and Morgan Stanley, awash in cheap government cash, gobbling up smaller companies to bolster their flagging balance sheets. The financial service industry has been flattened by technological innovations that enable individual investors to cheaply mimic the performance of a broad sector of publicly traded companies without the guidance (and fee-burden) of advisers and mutual fund managers. This has, in turn, put pressure on the largest banks to reduce their fees. Industry growth has been largely driven by big firms' attempts to stave off the inevitable -- the death of banks in an overbanked economy.
Political parties are finding themselves in a similar position. The average voter no longer needs a party apparatus in order to field a candidate. In fact, Barack Obama's win over Hillary Clinton in 2008 presaged a candidates' ability to make an end-run around the party and go directly to the voters. President Donald Trump is proving this every day with his tweets. Like them or hate them, they are effective messaging that neither his staff nor his party can control. His ability to directly message voters has enabled him to amass power unprecedented among previous officeholders and capture the Republican Party's agenda.
Biden is clearly the result of a party without a mandate. While party insiders wanted Biden, if for no other reason than he's the devil they know, they are deathly afraid of Sanders. Establishment Democrats fear a Sanders nomination will take the party so far to the left that the average American will be turned off and stay home, therefore guaranteeing a second term for Trump. Biden is clearly not at the top of his game. But for the establishment Democrats, even a mere placeholder is sufficient as long as they believe they can control him.
What took place on Super Tuesday and this week was unprecedented, even in the annals of dirty politics. The entire Democratic field folded less than a day after Biden trounced Sanders in the South Carolina primary. They dutifully fell in line behind a candidate who, up until then, had not scored among the top three in delegates, and whose campaign was clearly running on life support. If that doesn't spell fear of the 'Bern,' then nothing does.
Growth by addition seemed to work in staving off a showdown in the party between its moderates and insurgent radicals. But it also brings its fair share of risks. Will the center-left coalition that Biden is trying to cobble together be able to drive turnout amidst a rapidly advancing election cycle facing a well-oiled Trump machine? Will Bernie Bros, in a fit of nihilism, take their votes and go home, like many of them did in 2016?
Sanders has seen defeat snatched from the jaws of victory before, and he is not likely to take this lying down. He is not going to play ball with a Democratic Party establishment that has twice engineered a bloodless coup against him. By stating that he will drop out of the race if he enters the convention with anything but a clear majority of pledged delegates, forcing an up and down vote and negating the power of superdelegates, Sanders is signaling that he's not leaving it up to the judges this time. He's going for the knockout.
But Sanders also needs to be careful. He must dominate the March 15 debate stage, where he and Biden will face off. His campaign models seemed to assume or predict that Sanders can drive unprecedented turnout among millennial voters, and that this momentum would carry him into the nomination and the White House. As we now know, there was record turnout on Super Tuesday. But it wasn't for Sanders. And it wasn't for Biden either. Democrats turned out in record numbers because they fear a second Trump term more than anything.
To find out more about Armstrong Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.