The New Hampshire primary results are just about finalized, but what we’re seeing is shaping up to be a slugfest across the remaining primaries that will end with the Democrats fairly unsure of how they got there (a sensation Republicans should be all too familiar with at this point).
With Bernie Sanders appearing to win outright, and Pete Buttigieg making a stronger-than-expected showing, it’s clear that their time is right now. A strong debate performance kept Amy Klobuchar in the running, while Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden appear to be waning.
The future of race for the Democratic nomination, though, is no clearer than it was before last night. Despite this, there are three key takeaways from the New Hampshire results.
1. Sanders and Buttigieg Will Have to Come to Blows Soon
It’s safe to assume that Joe Biden is out of the picture. He appears to be building a firewall in South Carolina centered around winning the black vote (very possible, given his high numbers in black supporters since he got in, courtesy his time serving under Barack Obama). But we’re two contests in and Sanders and Buttigieg are amassing about 50% of the vote each time.
Here’s the thing, though. Buttigieg is vying for voters from other candidates. His more-moderate-than-thou campaign is based on siphoning voters off Biden and, to a lesser extent, Klobuchar, Gabbard, Steyer, and Bloomberg. If he can’t shore up the “moderate” Democratic vote, then he will never overcome Sanders.
Sanders’ voters, meanwhile, are 100% on his team. They aren’t going anywhere. They didn’t leave him for Warren, they didn’t come from some other camp. They’ve been with him since 2016 and this time they are bound and determined that he should win. His growth will come from Warren sliding further into oblivion and the momentum of winning contests. Buttigieg has a larger pool of potential voters to pull in, but he has to fight hard to earn them.
That they are both relying on other people coming aboard means they have to prove they are better than the other. And that will make it a bitter fight between the two. And… it’s a fight I think Buttigieg will lose.
2. Klobuchar May Be the Gabbard of the Last Debate
Tulsi Gabbard made waves when she slaughtered the Kamala Harris campaign on a debate stage, setting the Senator up to bleed out the rest of her time on the campaign trail before calling it quits. Klobuchar appears to be gaining a bounce in the polling and the vote based off a strong performance, but like Gabbard, it probably won’t last. Klobuchar simply doesn’t add something to the race that isn’t already offered by one of the other “moderates,” and despite what could have been the strength of her gender, she is ultimately destined for another downslide, probably past Warren and back to the kids’ table.
3. No One of Significance Is Leaving… Which Means This Thing Will Drag On
Andrew Yang and Michael Bennett have called it quits. Warren will not. Gabbard will not. Klobuchar will not. Biden, Steyer, Bloomberg, and Buttigieg will not.
Bloomberg is playing the long game, setting up media buys and getting into every market he can to serve as a safety net against the populist rise of Bernie Sanders. Buttigieg doesn’t have the money to keep up, but he’ll try. Warren will try to be Sanders Lite, keeping far-left voters from solidifying around him. Klobuchar, Gabbard, and Steyer prevent Biden from shoring up his vote and fighting back against Buttigieg, much less Sanders.
As a result, the Democrats are on a track that will create an even more bitter campaign than the Republicans had to go through in 2016, and they could very well end up in a similar position…
…except that the American public is not as keen for socialism as Bernie’s fans are. That the Democrats can’t seem to put a stop to him says a lot, and none of it is good for them. Not that there is a candidate who is a sure-fire shot to win against Trump, mind you, but there are candidates who, as mentioned before, have a larger pool of moderate voters they can draw from than Sanders, who has only garnered one-fourth of the vote in both of the states that have had election days so far. That’s not enough to win the nomination, but it is enough to make him the dominant voice in the field, and the Democrats will have to find some way to take him down without alienating his rabid base.
What Does That Mean?
Bottom line? The Democrats are destined to repeat the Republicans’ struggles from 2016, but harder and with more bitterness. There is very little evidence that anyone is strong enough to take Sanders down, but there is just as little evidence stating he is inevitable.
We simply can’t read the tea leaves as much as we’d like to be able to. All we can say for certain is that popcorn sales should spike, because it’s about to get (as my students would say) lit.