In the wake of Super Tuesday, five important truths ring clear. Democrats and the media will not discuss them, but here they are.
First, “young” and “new” voters are not turning out for these Democrat primaries and caucuses. Unlike both Obama elections, young Americans are uninspired by Democrat choices. Sanders – who touts a “young” following – flopped, falling behind in delegates. Biden, more interested in race than age, lost the young too.
On the numbers, young turnout (ages 18 to 29) was down 16 percent from 2016, for example, in New Hampshire – which was less than 2012 and 2008. The number is emblematic. Three inferences follow: Perhaps the Socialist manifesto of Sanders and Warren (who just dropped) is not so exciting. Or maybe young voters are not pumped to elect a 78-year-old Sanders or a 77-year-old Biden, who forgets where he is half the time, and the other half, forgets what to say.
Or maybe, just maybe, low turnout among young Democrats reveals something else. Maybe they see a better, more promising and diverse job market – read: brighter future – under the Trump-led economy. Free stuff is great, but not as satisfying as a good, solid, well-paying job. Older Americans already vote more conservative; maybe younger ones will too.
Second, the best Democratic candidates never ran. The Democrat Party today offers no Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Sam Nunn, or reasonable, competent, seasoned, smart, respectful and centrist candidate. They did not run. Those possibilities got sidelined by an angry mob.
The Democratic Party, after Trump’s 2016 victory, chose the low road – seeking to delegitimize an elected president, in part because so many expected jobs in a Clinton Administration. Losing is bad enough; losing when you expected a job is worse. Even the defunct candidate cannot keep quiet. She rips into the Democratic field with strange, misplaced glee. Her time is over, and she does not know it.
The Angry Bird Party then reshaped to become unapologetically partisan, less about America – our history, exceptionalism, positive and optimistic temperament – than about “getting” Trump. That strategic choice, made four years ago November, was an error. Many know it now but won’t say so.
An anger-riven, radicalized Democratic Party became a misguided missile, taking forays into a spurious “Russia collusion probe” – that came up empty; then launching a partisan impeachment, which revealed Democrat disdain for due process; finally embracing Socialism – an agnostic “Hail Mary” pass thrown backwards, toward the old Soviet Union. These stratagems were abject failures.
What the Democratic Party cannot admit, but would be well to, is that these choices were poor – and devastating to the party. They rested on negative motivation – toppling an elected president mid-term, creating a contrast so sharp, stark and indefensible that most Americans cannot give it a second look. Low Democratic primary turnout reflects disinterest in candidates, exhaustion with anger. It also foreshadows low Democratic voter turnout – young and older – in November.
Third, while national media play the horserace between leftist Sanders and doddering Biden, something profound is happening. The Democratic Party is splitting, creating an ideological fissure within the ranks that is unlikely to heal by November.
Sanders supporters sense they are again being sideswiped by Democratic insiders. Debate rules were altered to permit rich-man-moderate Mike Bloomberg on stage, before he dropped. Old Biden surrogates are appearing to coyly suggest Sanders is a nut, Biden cogent enough to lead.
The effect of this sudden bidding-up of Biden is having an effect. Maine offers an example. Biden pulled off an uncelebrated upset in that primary, turning a 20-point deficit into a curious if shallow primary victory. The Anyone-But-Sanders crowd turned out to beat the Anyone-But-Biden crowd. Not great motivation for a unified November turnout.
What many Democrats know is that Sanders voters will not support Biden, nor Biden voters rollover and support Socialist Sanders. Chances are better for nailing Jell-O to a wall. Neither camp has any love for the other, and both have portions more inclined to vote Trump – as many Sanders voters did in 2016 – than salute smartly for a flailing candidate they disdain.
Fourth, the outpouring of love for Biden this week reveals a certain cynicism in Washington. What it says – without expressly saying so – is: We all know Old Joe is only half with us, but if he wins, we get gifts. We get rid of Trump, jobs in a Biden Administration, reinstatement of establishment liberals, end the Sanders Socialist schtick, and get a younger candidate in 2024. The bond is weak, but that’s the motivation in a nutshell.
Finally, this week – amid sloshing between giddy Socialists and Biden boosters – we know another fact. Beyond low voter turnout, especially among the young; beyond having no reasoned, seasoned candidate; beyond deep ideological party fissures; and beyond the pivot to Biden, there is one additional reality.
Every time an attack on Trump is launched, lands and fails, Trump’s prospects in November get stronger. The more times false information is lofted, and rejected, the more people turn to what they know – for sure. What is that? The US economy is flying high, 401(k)s, 529s, prospects for job growth, investment and retirement income, low inflation and projected returns. The border is more secure, national security stronger, Supreme Court and federal bench less activist. In the end, as dust settles, the real winner this week may have been Donald Trump.
Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of state for President George W. Bush, former naval intelligence officer and litigator. He served in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses, as congressional counsel for five years, and wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003) and “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), the latter on WWII vets in a Maine town.