Democrats Decide That Joe Biden, as Risky as He Ever Was, Is the Safest Bet
Sign up for NYT Chinese-language Morning Briefing.
The scene, on its face, might not have been surprising a year ago: Joe Biden — appraised among Democrats as a decent man and affable sidekick to the party’s most popular figure — racking up primary victories and having fun talking about it.
“They don’t call it Super Tuesday for nothing!” he told supporters in Los Angeles, shouting through a list of states he had won amid a medley of fist-pumps and we-did-its.
But a week ago, the result would have been something close to unthinkable.
Lifted by a hasty unity among center-left Democrats disinclined toward political revolution, Biden has propelled himself in the span of three days from electoral failure to would-be juggernaut. He has demonstrated durable strength with African Americans and emerged as the if-everyone-says-so vessel for tactical voters who think little of Sen. Bernie Sanders and fear that his nomination would mean four more years of President Donald Trump.
Biden’s performance included decisive early wins across the South, victory in delegate-rich Texas and triumphs in some places where he did not even campaign as Super Tuesday approached, like Minnesota and Massachusetts, home to Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The dominant showing made clear that the primary has effectively narrowed to a two-man race with Sanders, as Michael Bloomberg’s first brush with national voters yielded meager returns on a colossal financial investment.
拜登获胜的州包括：他以决定性票数早早赢下的南方各州，代表票数众多的得克萨斯州，以及在超级星期二临近时他甚至没有去进行竞选活动的一些州，比如明尼苏达州和马萨诸塞州，后者是参议员伊丽莎白·沃伦(Elizabeth Warren)居住的州。拜登的优势表现让人们清楚地看到，民主党的初选实际上已缩小为他与桑德斯两人的竞争。迈克尔·布隆伯格(Michael Bloomberg)首次面对全国选民的表现不佳，他的巨额财力投入只得到了微薄的回报。
For all Biden’s stumbles — in Iowa, in New Hampshire, at debates, at his own events — perhaps all voters needed was to hear him give a victory speech.
That happened Saturday, in South Carolina, where Biden seemed to temporarily erase every latent concern that had accumulated for nearly a year about his bid.
Yet any suggestion that Biden is now a risk-free option would appear to contradict the available evidence.
He is no safer with a microphone, no likelier to complete a thought without exaggeration or bewildering detour.
He has not, as a 77-year-old man proudly set in his ways, acquired new powers of persuasion or management in the 72 hours since the first primary state victory of his three presidential campaigns.
In fact, Biden has blundered this chance before — the establishment front-runner; the last, best hope for moderates — fumbling his initial 2020 advantages in a hail of disappointing fundraising, feeble campaign organization and staggering underperformance.
When it mattered most, though, the judgment came swiftly from Sanders-averse Democrats.
All right, we’ll take him.
Voters wary of Sanders are probably right that supporting Biden is the tidiest way to keep the democratic socialist from the top of the ticket. They may yet be right that Biden would pose the strongest challenge to Trump. The former vice president is widely admired in the party for moving gracefully through tragedy and serving alongside Barack Obama.
Certainly Trump would appear to have his preferences: Last year, he was impeached after trying to enlist a foreign power’s help to damage Biden. In recent weeks, the president has tweeted mischievous praise of Sanders, seeming eager to elevate him as a prospective opponent.
But what if Trump is wrong? What if every elected official hustling to endorse Biden, after long resisting, is wrong, too? Recent election history, especially Trump’s, has been unkind to conventional wisdom.
Only a couple of weeks ago, some Biden allies were talking quietly about how he could, at least, end his campaign with dignity: Hang on narrowly in South Carolina, hopefully, and bow out, statesmanlike, if Super Tuesday went sideways as many expected.
That Biden’s fortunes have changed says more about the context of this primary than the content of his campaign. Current and former competitors, including Warren, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, all strained to connect with black and Latino voters. Bloomberg flailed on the debate stage as he stepped out from behind the reputational curtain of his ubiquitous advertisements. And many in the party have remained uncomfortable with the kind of unswerving progressivism that Sanders demands.
拜登的命运已经发生了变化，这更多地反映了今年初选的大背景，而不是他竞选的内容。他现在和以前的竞争对手，包括沃伦、曾任市长的彼特·布塔杰吉(Pete Buttigieg)，以及参议员艾米·克罗布查(Amy Klobuchar)，都在争取非洲裔和拉美裔选民的支持上力不从心。布隆伯格从自己无处不在的广告编织的名声帷幔里走出来站到辩论台上时，让人大跌眼镜。民主党内有许多人对桑德斯要求的那种坚定不移的进步主义一直感到不安。
The depth of this last concern with Sanders is uncertain. Entering Tuesday, his predictions of runaway progressive turnout to his cause, a central premise of his case for his own electability, had not necessarily come to pass.
It is also quite possible, after all the Tuesday states are accounted for, that the delegate picture will look very competitive, particularly as full tallies from California roll in. Sanders remains popular across much of the party, even among many who did not consider him their first choice.
If nothing else, a Biden-Sanders matchup is the logical venue for the party’s foremost ideological debate about the proper scope and ambition of government — about whether Trump is a symptom of long-standing national ills or an “anomaly,” as Biden has suggested, whose removal should be the party’s chief animating priority.
The two contenders were products of the same era, shaped by very different forces within it. Sanders became a mission-driven lefty, enthralled by socialist and communist governments abroad and the fight for working people at home. Biden preferred a within-the-system approach, winning a Senate election at 29 and acknowledging some distance from the activist instincts of many contemporaries.
“I wore sport coats,” Biden told reporters once, explaining his limited involvement in antiwar zeal. “I was not part of that.”
That comment came as Biden sought the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. Sanders ran for Congress that year. They both fell short. They both tried again.
For more than two decades, they served in the same Washington, amassing voting records that have often dogged them since. Sanders has said he regrets his voting history on some gun legislation; Biden has faced consistent criticism, including from Sanders, for his vote authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, among other decisions.
This paper trail convinced some 2020 strategists that both candidates would be vulnerable. Their own campaigns did not necessarily see it that way.
“I always thought that this race would be between the clash of two titans, of Bernie and Biden,” said Ro Khanna, a California congressman and Sanders campaign co-chair. “It’s odd that it wasn’t the conventional wisdom.”
Over the past year, alternative outcomes were easy to imagine. There were candidates of virtually every profile, including a half-dozen alone from Super Tuesday states, and a procession of fresh faces like Sen. Kamala Harris and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke who seemed primed to capitalize on voters’ curiosity.
在过去的一年里，不难想像会有其他的结果。曾有过简历各异的候选人，包括来自在超级星期二举行初选的那些州的六名候选人，以及像参议员卡玛拉·哈里斯(Kamala Harris)和前众议员贝托·欧洛克(Beto O’Rourke)等一批新面孔，他们似乎准备从选民的好奇心上获得优势。
Sanders was often dismissed as a factional candidate and 2016 retread even before he had a heart attack last fall.
Biden was depicted as a lackluster contender out of step with the times.
“You cannot go back to the end of the Obama administration and think that that’s good enough,” O’Rourke said last June, calling Biden a return to the past.
“I just think Biden is declining,” Tim Ryan, an Ohio congressman who was then running for president, said last September. “I don’t think he has the energy. You see it almost daily.”
Both men have now endorsed Biden’s campaign. Other fallen rivals, like Buttigieg and Klobuchar, have done the same.
Sanders has a theory about all that. “There is a massive effort trying to stop Bernie Sanders. That’s not a secret to anybody in this room,” he told reporters Monday. “So why would I be surprised that establishment politicians are coming together?”
Of course, politics is about options, and Democrats suddenly have very few, even as some remaining candidates suggest they are being overlooked.
Both Warren and Bloomberg have effectively admitted that their only path to the nomination is a contested convention this summer. This has not stopped either from pressing on so far.
In California on Monday, Warren said that “no matter how many Washington insiders tell you” to support Biden, “nominating their fellow Washington insider will not meet this moment.”
Bloomberg, growing weary Tuesday of questions about whether his run was aiding Sanders, framed the issue in reverse: “Why don’t they coalesce around me?” he asked of moderates during a stop in Florida.
By evening’s end, he seemed to have his answer. They had settled on someone else.