The Democrats’ fractured field
The New Hampshire primary left the Democratic Party splintered between its moderate and left wings this week after Sen. Bernie Sanders notched a narrow victory over centrists Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Sanders won with nearly 26 percent of the vote, but that total was the weakest for a New Hampshire victor in party history. Moderates split between Buttigieg (24.4 percent); Klobuchar (19.8 percent) and Biden (8.4 percent). “This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” a victorious Sanders told a joyful crowd.
Former front-runners Biden and Elizabeth Warren were in deep trouble after finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, and earning no delegates; they also trailed the top three finishers in Iowa. Both, however, vowed to fight on, with Biden departing New Hampshire even before the polls had closed in order to attend a “launch party” in South Carolina, where he is counting on strong support from the state’s African-American community. A Biden adviser confided to Politico.com that the “horrendous” Iowa and New Hampshire results had demoralized the campaign. “I think we’re going to make it to South Carolina,” the adviser said, “but I just don’t know.” Meanwhile, Warren reacted to her lackluster finish with the prediction of a “long primary fight.”
Klobuchar rose on the strength of vigorous campaigning and a strong debate performance last week, in which she criticized Buttigieg for his lack of experience and President Trump for “a complete lack of empathy” for working people barely making their rent. Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Ind., followed his first-place finish in Iowa with another strong performance. “We are here to stay,” Buttigieg proclaimed as supporters cheered “President Pete!”
What the editorials said
New Hampshire’s results “shuffled the deck,” said The Republican of Massachusetts. Warren and Biden were big disappointments, and Sanders “underperformed” in a state he hoped to dominate, while “the biggest surprise” was Klobuchar. The danger for her and the other “non-Bernies” is that moderates will “split the pragmatic voters” and enable the 78-year-old Sanders to win with 30-something percent of the vote. Matters will grow only murkier once billionaire Mike Bloomberg officially joins the ballot on Super Tuesday, or March 3, when 14 states vote. (See Controversy.)
The Democratic primary could be history repeating itself, said The Wall Street Journal. In 2016, Donald Trump capitalized on a large Republican field to seize the nomination with a comparatively small, yet fervent, base. Now comes Sanders, “the socialist from next door,” with his similarly unshakable base of Millennial and left-wing support, hoping to exploit a divided field. As long as multiple centrist candidates remain, his “socialist plurality has the advantage.”
What the columnists said
“Where the heck has this Amy Klobuchar been for the last year,” asked Megan McArdle in The Washington Post. Ever since she went toe-to-toe with Bret Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, she seemed like the perfect antidote to President Trump. She’s a woman, a pragmatist from the Midwest, and “funny, warm, and sincere” on the stump. But it took until this past week for her to make “her case forcefully.” The question now is “whether she has enough time left to get this done.” Probably not, said Ed Kilgore in NYMag.com. Both she and Mayor Pete may “hit a wall in Nevada and South Carolina,” the next two states, because they poured all of their resources into Iowa and New Hampshire. Neither Klobuchar nor Buttigieg are popular with minority voters, and will struggle over the next month to keep up with Sanders’ “small-dollar donations machine” and Bloomberg’s billions.
Sanders’ front-runner status “should terrify” Americans who believe in liberty and free markets, said Brad Polumbo in WashingtonExaminer.com. The so-called democratic socialist has promised a profound reordering of the American economy that would nationalize health care, heavily regulate most industries, and nearly double federal spending. Even “a stubborn Congress” can’t save the country from his radical agenda. Sanders has already promised to issue a host of executive orders “to kick-start a revolution” on everything from border security to climate change.
Now that Warren’s campaign appears to be over, said John Judis in TalkingPointsMemo.com, many will point to her waffling on “Medicare for All” as her fatal mistake. But if “you make a timeline” of her rise and fall, you’ll see instead that her strength accumulated in October after Sanders suffered a heart attack. Once Sanders “regained his footing” and Buttigieg peeled away some of her educated, technocratic supporters, Warren began sinking.
Biden’s collapse was “a disaster for liberalism and the Democratic Party,” said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. For almost a year now, the former vice president commanded the loyalty of Democrats nostalgic for the Obama years, and his popularity “stunted the growth” of other center-left candidates, including Klobuchar and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Now “the sheer disarray of his opposition” makes Sanders the favorite, despite his embrace of “wildly unpopular policies and a wildly unpopular socialist label.” Four more years of Trump now looms.
The likelihood of a contested Democratic nominating convention is rising, said Ronald Brownstein in TheAtlantic.com. No candidate has demonstrated the ability to build “a coalition broad enough to span the party” and muster the 1,991-delegate majority necessary to crown a nominee prior to the July summit in Milwaukee. Sanders’ 26 percent in New Hampshire was a far cry from the 61 percent he earned in 2016, and the weakest showing by a victor in that state since the 29 percent Jimmy Carter captured in 1976. And while Sanders showed strong support among young voters (42 percent of those under 45) and “very liberal Democrats” (48 percent), he demonstrated “little crossover appeal” among older and more affluent primary voters, said Chuck Todd in NBCNews.com. With the centrist vote split, it appears “we now have a delegate race on our hands” that could go all the way to the convention.
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from AP, Reuters, Getty ■