You’ve got to admit that the ongoing melodrama south of the border is gripping stuff. Aficionados of American politics are like kids in a candy store.
From the Democratic caucus fiasco in Iowa to the turnaround of Super Tuesday, it’s been all drama all the way. If you wrote a fictional script along these lines, you’d be accused of letting your imagination run riot.
What’s happened so far can be summarised under three headings.
Political death and resurrection
Former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden became the automatic frontrunner from the moment he entered the Democratic race. This, though, was largely down to name recognition.
At 77, Biden quickly projected the sense of being past his sell-by date. He didn’t inspire any passion among political activists and his performances on the debate stage left a lot to be desired.
And in a candidate field where everyone else was competing to demonstrate wokeness, Biden seemed to be yesterday’s man. Or maybe last year’s.
Early encounters with the voters underlined that impression. After dismal results in Iowa and New Hampshire, he looked like the political equivalent of a dead man walking.
Then came South Carolina and Super Tuesday.
Within the space of a week, Biden morphed from has-been to inevitable Democratic nominee. Perhaps spooked by the prospect of self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders, ordinary Democratic voters turned to the safety of the familiar.
Biden’s resurrection is undeniably impressive. But be cautious about reading too much into it as a general election predictor.
The simple fact is that several of the states providing the foundation for his comeback are unlikely to go Democratic in November. Very unlikely.
Take South Carolina, the state which acted as Biden’s recovery springboard.
U.S. president Donald Trump took South Carolina by 14 points in 2016’s general election. And no presidential Democrat has won it since 1976.
Alabama is a similar story. Trump won by 28 points in 2016 and it, too, hasn’t gone Democrat since 1976.
Oklahoma is even more dramatic. Trump’s margin was 36 points and the last time it went to a Democrat was 1964.
This doesn’t mean that Biden can’t win the presidency in November. But he’ll have to do it without a number of the states that were instrumental in his return from the grave.
In the examples above – and some others – he was simply the most acceptable candidate to the Democratic subset of the electorate. However, Republicans dominate in these states and Democrats are a minority.
Money can’t buy you votes
While money is always an asset, the flameout of self-funding billionaire Michael Bloomberg illustrates that it isn’t enough. Not by a long stretch.
Bloomberg spent $558 million (U.S.) on advertising alone. He also funded an elaborate organization comprising some 2,400 staffers and a vast network of offices. It was to no avail.
Bloomberg is a very clever man who built his own immense fortune. He’s also susceptible to the hubris associated with that kind of success.
Because of his self-funding, Bloomberg didn’t qualify for the initial debates. Then the Democrats changed the rules to allow him in.
A less arrogant man would’ve recognized that entering the debate arena was a risky process with no upside. Rather than offering himself as a target, he could’ve demurred on the grounds that he had too much respect for the original rules.
Instead, he walked in unprepared and was duly shredded. And the polling traction he’d been building immediately evanesced.
Living in a bubble will lead you astray
A few days ago, liberal journalist Matthew Yglesias had a self-awareness moment while contemplating the imminent demise of his favoured candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren.
To quote: “Her supporters feel somewhat baffled: How did she evaporate from the top tier of contention, especially since so many of the people they know also like her?”
The answer, as Yglesias observed, is simple. Many smart and highly educated people live in a bubble.
The people they know and communicate with are just like themselves. They share the same demographic characteristics and have a similar worldview. Stir in the fact that they probably consume the same media and you’ve a perfect recipe for a constricted, blinkered perspective.
Reality then comes along – whether it’s Brexit, Trump’s 2016 win or Warren’s collapse – and they’re shocked. Not to mention appalled.
They should get out more.
Troy Media columnist Pat Murphy casts a history buff’s eye at the goings-on in our world. Never cynical – well perhaps a little bit.