Voters in South Carolina are casting their votes today, selecting whom they want to be the Democratic nominee for president. If the polls are to be believed — and no one really believes them — former Vice President Joe Biden will win by a comfortable margin.
South Carolina has always been Biden’s “firewall,” meaning, I suppose, that the state was a wall through which none would pass save him — including the prairie fire that is Bernie Sanders.
In truth, the state sets up very nicely for him. Democrats in South Carolina tend to identify more as “moderate” than as “liberal.” Those terms may be relative in a Democratic Party that seems hell-bent on nominating a socialist to head the ticket, but Biden’s moderately liberal agenda doesn’t scare too many people. For the most part, he opposes the grandiose spending schemes of Sanders and the AOC wing of the party, which makes him less kooky than the other kooks running for president.
Make no mistake. Biden may not be the revolutionary character that Sanders is, but that doesn’t make him less dangerous. For South Carolina Democrats, he’s just about right.
For much of the past year, Mr. Biden has been the front-runner who couldn’t: couldn’t hold his lead; couldn’t clear the field of moderates; couldn’t keep himself from bungling and exaggerating and meandering into rhetorical cul-de-sacs, weaknesses that continue apace.
But after three states’ worth of losing — three campaigns’ worth, if his failures in the 1988 and 2008 primaries are included — Mr. Biden has at last lurched into a moment suited to his political brand: many setbacks, little discipline, no quit.
“South Carolina is the trajectory,” he told supporters in Georgetown, S.C., clunky but firm, “to winning the Democratic nomination!”
That remains to be seen, of course, but if Biden can do well in the Old South, he might be able to check Bernie Sanders’ headlong rush to claim the nomination at the convention.
But, it’s Joe Biden we’re discussing here. And there’s a lot to be concerned about if you’re a Biden supporter.
Even if Mr. Biden wins on Saturday — no sure thing, given the volatility of the race — much about his campaign has not changed. His support among young people remains anemic. His organization in many upcoming states is spotty at best. He can still be reckless on the stump, where, among other recent misadventures, he appeared to invent an anecdote about being arrested in South Africa on his way to see Nelson Mandela, a claim he ultimately admitted was wrong.
This past week, the gaffes, lies, misstatements, and exaggerations have all seemed to have been forgotten as the state of South Carolina has embraced him.
But for one week, at least, the former vice president is standing before voters ready to reward his strengths, in a Biden-optimized state where his connection with black voters can carry him, and his shortcomings are less forgotten than celebrated.
For all the decades Biden has been in politics, his entire career and legacy has boiled down to this state. His “formal” runs for the presidency in 1988 and 2008 don’t tell the whole story. He has been running for president since he got into politics in the 1970s. This isn’t unusual. But at age 78, most politicians would have retired to sit on a back porch somewhere to reminisce about their past glories.
For Biden, he’s apparently not ready to throw in the towel quite yet.