I shouldn’t be surprised by this but I am. A little surprised.
New: A Buttigieg endorsement for Biden is likely, two people close to Buttigieg say, but whether he makes the decision before Super Tuesday is unclear. @jeffzeleny reporting
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) March 2, 2020
Makes sense, no? Buttigieg started the race as a more or less leftist candidate, then drifted towards the center once he realized the progressive vote wasn’t going to budge from Bernie. He repositioned in hopes of becoming the “Not Bernie” moderate in the race and did surprisingly well in seizing that niche in Iowa and New Hampshire. But Biden foiled his plan to expand that brand nationally by blowing the doors off in South Carolina, leaving Pete as a centrist afterthought on Super Tuesday. Logically the only move left was to get out now, back Joe, and expect some political patronage from the new president if Biden goes all the way this November.
Simple enough, so why am I surprised? It’s just because Buttigieg is a conspicuously young and ambitious politician and the next generation of Bernie-loving Democratic voters looks like they’ll be further left than the party is now. And those voters are going to hate Pete for trying to derail the Sanders coronation this year by backing Biden. They hate him already for having been a thorn in Bernie’s side in the primaries and they hate him for spreading the message on the biggest political stage that it’s okay to be young and a liberal and not buy what Bernie’s selling. But they’re going to really hate him for trying to knife Sanders even after his own presidential chances have evaporated by siding with Old Man Biden when Bernie seemed poised to win the nomination.
And Pete’s going to hurt Sanders by dropping out, make no mistake. Not just in freeing up voters to move to Biden either, although of course that’ll happen to some extent. He’s also freeing up voters to move to Bloomberg, Warren, and Klobuchar — all of which is bad news for Sanders tomorrow.
Buttigieg was projected to get under 15 percent in the vast majority of states and districts on Super Tuesday. Thus, his votes were essentially wasted. Redistributing his votes to other candidates will help them to meet the 15 percent threshold, however. In particular, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg were both close to the 15 percent line in many states or districts. So even an extra percentage point or two would help them get over that line in more places. For instance, both Bloomberg and Warren were projected to finish with an average of 14 percent of the vote in California before Buttigieg’s dropout. Now, they’re forecasted for 16 percent instead.
Biden was also projected to finish under 15 percent in some states and districts — so Buttigieg’s dropout helps him out also in a few places. Biden went from a projected 14 percent of the vote to 16 percent in Minnesota, for example.
Remember that 15 percent is the magic number in Democratic primaries for delegates. If you hit that number in a particular district you get a piece of that district’s pool of delegates; if you fall short you get jack, which means a bigger haul for the candidates who did reach the 15 percent mark. Bernie will win tomorrow in California but it makes a big difference if his opponents are consistently missing the 15 percent mark or, thanks to Buttigieg’s voters, consistently hitting it. If it’s the latter then Bernie’s share of delegates will be much smaller than expected. Which means it’ll be easier for Biden to catch him over the course of a months-long race. Which means the odds of a contested convention will be much higher than they were last week.
As of this morning, thanks to Biden’s landslide in South Carolina and Buttigieg’s withdrawal, Nate Silver’s model places the odds of a brokered convention at 64 percent. Bernie’s odds of clinching the nomination have fallen to 23 percent, half of what they were after his win in Nevada.
There’s more bad news for Sanders: Of the three candidates left in the race who stand no chance of being nominated (Bloomberg probably belongs in that category too but let’s keep him out for now), Buttigieg was the only one whose withdrawal would be pure downside for Bernie. Remember that Sanders is fighting on Elizabeth Warren’s and Amy Klobuchar’s home turfs in the Massachusetts and Minnesota primaries tomorrow and in each case they’re the chief threat to take delegates from him, not Joe Biden. If either of them, or both, had quit after South Carolina, Bernie would clean up in their home states tomorrow. Yet instead of dropping out, each of them is fighting on — at least for one more day.
CNN’s @jeffzeleny reports that Bidenworld WANTS Warren and Klobuchar to stay in the race so they can deny Bernie a haul of delegates in MN/MA.
Delegate math, boys and girls.
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) March 1, 2020
The worst-case scenario for Sanders this past week was (1) a Biden blowout in SC, (2) Warren and Klobuchar refusing to get out, (3) moderate voters shifting from other candidates to Biden, and (4) a strong Biden performance tomorrow night, especially in the south. We’ve now seen the first three of those happen (and may yet see a Buttigieg endorsement of Biden soon, to further shift votes) and the fourth could be en route if Biden’s huge success among black Democrats in SC turns out to be a region-wide phenomenon. And if it does, that would place Bernie on the brink of a true disaster — Bloomberg throwing in the towel tomorrow night after he underperforms and deciding that his money will be best spent going forward by taking out Sanders.
As for Pete:
— Kyung Lah (@KyungLahCNN) March 1, 2020
People were marveling last night after he announced his withdrawal that if Buttigieg runs for president again in 2060 he’d be younger than Bernie is now. That’s how precocious he is. (As things stand, the youngest man left in the Democratic race is, uh, Old Man Biden.) But as I say, a politician with that much runway still in front of him has keen reason to notice which way the party is drifting ideologically and to do what he can to stay on its good side. Buttigieg is … not doing that by potentially endorsing Biden. So why’s he considering it?
My guess is that it’s a combination of wanting to earn favors from the Democratic establishment and also wanting to continue to build goodwill among black voters ahead of a future national run. Buttigieg did a lot of outreach to African-Americans during this campaign with little to show for it vote-wise. He’ll have to do much more going forward to be viable nationally, but it can only help if he aligns himself now with the favored candidate of black Democrats this year, the former VP to the first black president. Meanwhile, if Biden overperforms tomorrow night and ends up holding off Sanders for the nomination, many powerful establishment Democrats will be grateful to Pete for having done his part to resolve the “muddle in the middle” this year at a crucial moment when Biden needed moderates to consolidate behind him. He’s been a very good soldier for the party’s leadership by quitting and he’ll remind them of it as needed. He must be betting that that leadership will remain center-left, by and large, well into the future. And maybe it will: If socialism is as much of a nonstarter in national elections as righties and even most liberals believe, Democrats will need to remain kinda sorta formally “moderate” for reasons of basic viability.
I think he may be thinking short-term too, and not just in terms of Biden appointing him to be the head of HUD or whatever. Buttigieg will have a difficult time getting elected to statewide office in Indiana but it’s probably less difficult now that he’s well-known to Democratic voters nationally *and* has conspicuously aligned himself with the centrist wing of the party. Joe Donnelly won a Senate seat there as a Democratic moderate as recently as 2012, in a “blue wave” year. Pete would need a favorable national climate to pull off something similar but he’s one of the more famous Dems in America right now and enjoys a big donor network. He could win. Or, if he wants to improve his chances, he could relocate to a state like Virginia where there are lots of well-educated suburbanites who’ll find his resume and centrism appealing. Imagine Buttigieg running for governor there a few years from now with President Joe Biden helping to rally black Democrats to turn out on his behalf.
He’d better hope that the leftward pressure on the party from below isn’t as strong as it seems, though, or he’ll be paying for his looming endorsement of Biden forever. Imagine the Pete vs. AOC presidential death match in 2028. Hoo boy.