The resurrection of the US political establishment

Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race will be a Hillary Clinton of 2016. He will not pacify anti-establishment rage.

Biden super tuesday Reuters
Democratic United States presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop in Los Angeles, California, on March 4, 2020 [Mike Blake/Reuters]

Joe Biden has rerisen. 

His resurrection is the resurrection of the establishment. 

In this case, and in this context, the resurrection of the Democratic Party as a political party by, for, and of, the establishment. A political party that will embrace and protect the status quo of money: money in politics, money buying influence, and money exercising power – though in the polite, familiar ways we are used to, not in the vulgar, low-life, rub everyone’s face in it, Trump-style. 

Joe absolutely represents the establishment. Barack Obama picked him, the oldest most establishment white guy around, as his vice president to balance against the radical shock of having an African-American president. At the start of this run, all the establishment figures in the party and in the media embraced him. 

The positive is that he is about as honest and decent a representative of the breed that there is.  

1,991 delegates are needed to win the nomination. 

At the moment, Biden has 565 to Sanders‘s 506. While some of that represents estimates and it is changing, the basic ratio is correct. The consensus – especially the establishment consensus – is that the Super Tuesday victories that got us to this delegate count have put Biden on the road to certain victory. Barring unforeseen jarring events, this is likely true. 

In the candidate selection process, delegates are awarded proportionally. In the real election, that happens in only two minor states – Maine and Nebraska. In all the rest, the winner – albeit by a single vote – gets all the votes from that state. 

That introduces a whole set of distortions. 

The most important is that winning in the primaries may have nothing to do with winning the general election. 

What states are genuinely up for grabs?

There are all kinds of polls and tracking trends and this and thats, but the most realistic and practical view is to assume that all the states that went Republican in the Obama-McCain election of 2008 are Republican and all those that went for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016 are Democratic. By that rule of thumb, only one of the 14 states that had Democratic primaries on Super Tuesday will be genuinely contested in the 2020 election – North Carolina. 

Yes, the Dems dream of converting Texas. The media loves the idea because it is exciting. But it is very unlikely. If they do win Texas, it will mark a change as sweeping as Ronald Reagan’s victory over Jimmy Carter in 1980, when he took all but six states and the District of Columbia. 

The establishment’s sales pitch against Sanders and for Biden (or – until now – a Biden substitute) has been that Trump would beat a radical, but will fall to an establishment type. It seems sort of sensible. Americans voting for a Socialist? Never! Except that they elected an African-American! Then an orange-skinned, pu*** grabber with a long history of cheating people.

Both represent revolts against the establishment. Biden, who has lost his two previous attempts, could certainly be the Hillary of 2020. Does the electorate have enough rage and disgust at the Trumpian version of establishment destruction to come out and vote for a return to the dull older virtues? Also, if Sanders voters see Biden’s nomination as an establishment manipulation, will they come to vote or stay home to sulk? 

In a lot of states – including Super Tuesday’s California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, even Virginia – it does not matter – because of the electoral college. They are Dem states. 

We have not yet had primaries in most of the states where it does matter. 

We are far from seeing how the various factions will conduct themselves when the real election comes. 

Right now, it looks like Biden is the nominee. But there is a level on which Sanders has already won. The party’s positions on healthcare, raising taxes on the rich, the Green New Deal, did not come from Biden, they came from Bernie. It would be great if he – and his followers – can celebrate that. For that matter, if Biden can, too, and say thank you, please join us in making your ideas come true. 

Almost as a footnote, it brings up the issue of prosecutions. 

Let us presume that a Democrat wins. 

Trump, his family, and his administration are rife with corruption and abuse of the law. One of the great and enduring flaws of the Obama administration was the failure to prosecute the financial crimes that led to the crash of 2008. Obama was very eager to say, “Hey, I’m one of you. You rich, white guys don’t have to be afraid.” But it backfired. The rage of the people against the rich turned to the Right. It became the Tea Party then the Trumpers. It put the Obama seal on the Age of No Accountability, and Trump has run with it. 

Biden and the establishment figures around him are peddling “reconciliation”. If that leads to no prosecutions, it will be a huge mistake. It will also be an affront to truth. It is only in criminal prosecutions, with documents dragged out by subpoena and testimony under penalty of perjury, that any kind of hard truth is established. All else remains “he said, she said”, Kellyanne Conway’s world of “alternative facts, Trump-verse where there are no consequences for lying. 

This is not an issue that any Democrat has run on. It is hard to know if it would be negative or positive as a campaign issue. Trump ran on it. “Lock her up, lock her up!” It sure worked for him. Will it work better or worse when there are actual crimes to go after? 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.