The Irish Times view on the US Democratic primaries: the lure of ‘electability’

The field for the ultimate contest with Trump has become all male, all white and all septuagenarian

Only a week ago pundits were writing Joe Biden (77) off, but stonking victories in Democratic primaries last week, then in 10 of 14 states voting on Super Tuesday,  have thrust him to the front of what is now a two-horse race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Only a week ago pundits were writing Joe Biden (77) off, but stonking victories in Democratic primaries last week, then in 10 of 14 states voting on Super Tuesday, have thrust him to the front of what is now a two-horse race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

 

It’s been some week for Joe Biden. Only a matter of days ago pundits were writing the 77-year-old off. But stonking victories in Democratic primaries last week in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and particularly in South Carolina, then in 10 of 14 states voting on Super Tuesday, along with the endorsements of retiring “moderate” candidates Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bloomberg, have thrust him to the front of what is now a two-horse race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“Electability” – as defined by the party’s centrists and media pundits – has redefined the contest much as it came to dominate debate in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party during the British general election. In states like Virginia only the young, particularly Hispanic youth, are clinging consistently to the self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders (78), who had been leading the field with his talk of “revolution”. African-American voters, a key Obama constituency, are opting for the latter’s vice-president.

What the country does not need is another Trump on the left, the centrists declare. And the characterisation is sticking, although Sanders’s social democratic vision would sit comfortably with most social democratic parties in Europe. No matter, we are told, just wait until the Trump machine gets going on the “socialist”. America now needs a breather, some down time, after an excess of ideological zeal. Biden is just that, they say.

Polls, notably the Real Clear Politics average, put Biden microscopically ahead of Sanders (49.7 to 49.3 per cent) in a head-to-head with Trump (44 per cent). For the time being. But gambling that Biden will increase that margin takes no account of the young idealists, many of whom remain loyal to Sanders and are saying they can’t see themselves voting for any other Democratic candidate.Last time out, in 2016, their abstentions hurt Hillary Clinton.

Biden also has some baggage. When addressing audiences, he suffers from what one writer has called “meandering verbosity”. His son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine remain an effective leitmotif of Trump campaign tweeting. And his age makes talk of selecting a younger and vigorous vice-presidential running mate all the more important. But, more positively, polls also show that the Obama legacy of gentle reform remains popular and unthreatening to Republican swing voters.

Sanders now needs about 57 per cent of the remaining delegates to claim a Democratic majority and the nomination. That looks like a long shot. And with Elizabeth Warren (70) now having dropped out, the field for the ultimate contest with Trump (73) has become all male, all white and all septuagenarian – diversity sacrificed on the altar of beating one man.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.