Image Credit: Phil Roeder
The head to head debate was a must win for Bernie Sanders if he is to have any chance of becoming the Democrat candidate to face Trump at the next presidential election. After a not so super Tuesday for Bernie, Biden won 10 out of the possible 14 states contested on March 3rd, he has lost some of the vigour and rambunctiousness that resonated with so many earlier in his campaign.
This was evident in the debate, held in an empty CNN studio in Washington after relocating from Phoenix amidst the Covid-19 outbreak. The tepid discussion suited Biden who was rarely under fire from Sanders besides previous voting records on the Afghanistan war and abortion.
Biden has maintained his lead since the pendulum swung in his direction and currently has a total of 1215 pledged delegates to Bernie’s 909. Though the democrat nomination is very much a marathon not a sprint, a candidate needs 1,991 pledged delegates to be confirmed as the nominee, pressure will build on Sanders to drop out of the contest before the convention July 13th in Milwaukee. The Economist estimates Biden’s has much as 69% of the vote compared to Sanders’ 26% based on pollster’s results up until 11th March. Pragmatism appears to have won out over idealism. In Biden’s words “People want results, not a revolution.”
South Carolina and its African American vote was a clear scalp for the Biden campaign, winning 86-11 of that demographic. Bernie has remained popular among the younger generation, though they have only represented 12.5% of the electorate so far. It’s easy to follow a socialist leader on Instagram and retweet his posts but the polling station has proved a step too far for many young voters.
The older generation have formed the bulk of the electorate and Biden has courted favour where Sanders did in 2016, among white voters, union members and college graduates. Bernie’s main pitfall among voters has been his electability if eventually pitted against the nailed-on republican candidate Trump. However, Biden’s unifying force for the party may be overstated with Bernie Bro’s, Sanders’ loyal supporters, stating they could never vote for Biden in a presidential election. Considering 12% “Bernie Bro’s” voted for Trump in 2016, this may have significant consequences.
Covid-19 has of course had profound implications for the Democrat nomination. It has changed the debate, delayed the process and somewhat overshadowed the whole affair. Healthcare has become the central point of contention for the candidates with both Biden and Bernie quizzed over what their response would be to such a crisis. Biden’s healthcare policy would respond as quickly and efficiently as possible to the crisis but ultimately return to the status quo of America’s private healthcare system.
Bernie’s response differed radically, committing himself to introducing a Medicare system for all American citizens, free at the point of use but costing approximately $2.2 trillion. This would be funded by a modest tax on Wall Street speculation and raising income tax for the top 1.8% of Americans- these policies raise $2.4 trillion. Criticism of this proposal is that admist Covid-19 wreaking havoc worldwide, an overhaul of the welfare system in the US detracts from the immediate pressures of the virus. On the flipside, the coronavirus has seriously exposed the flaws in the US healthcare system. Delays to testing and effective guidance for the population from the government have been severely lacking.
If Biden’s lead over Sanders continues to grow, pressure will build on the Vermont senator to halt his campaign. However, with voting postponed in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland and Louisiana, Bernie may yet have time to swing votes his way.
Indeed, he may continue his campaign given the platform given to him by the primaries to spread his message of “justice for all.” If Biden is to succeed against President Trump on 3rd November 2020, he will have to extend his appeal to the Bernie-besotted younger generation. Senator Sanders’ second campaign to be the Democrat candidate may once more be short-lived, his values and ideology almost certainly will not.