As the Super Tuesday II results began to trickle in, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told NPR that the Democratic National Committee should “shut this primary down” and even cancel debates if former Vice President Joe Biden won big that evening and became the “prohibitive nominee.” He went on to suggest that the party needs to cancel the primary in order to protect Joe Biden from himself.
“I think when the night is over, Joe Biden will be the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination, and quite frankly, if the night ends the way it has begun, I think it is time for us to shut this primary down, it is time for us to cancel the rest of these debates — because you don’t do anything but get yourself in trouble if you continue in this contest when it’s obvious that the numbers will not shake out for you,” Clyburn told NPR.
Clyburn endorsed Biden shortly before the former VP’s big win in the South Carolina primary. Biden’s win in that primary helped turn his campaign around, reassuring black voters (in particular) that the former VP was electable. That victory set up the long slew of endorsements that led to wins on Super Tuesday and Super Tuesday II. When Biden defeated Sen. Bernie Sanders (S-USSR) last night in Michigan — a state Sanders won against Hillary Clinton in 2016 — he arguably did become the presumptive nominee.
NPR asked Clyburn if Sanders should drop out, but the whip avoided the question and instead pointed to the DNC as the entity that should force Bernie out of the race.
“I think we will be at a point where Joe Biden will be the prohibitive nominee of the party, and I think the DNC — the Democratic National Committee — should then step in, make an assessment and determine whether or not they ought to have any more debates,” Clyburn insisted.
NEW: House Majority Whip James Clyburn tells NPR if Bernie Sanders doesn't win any states tonight, the Democratic National Committee should "shut this primary down" and "cancel the rest of these debates." https://t.co/qdk7LADWXk pic.twitter.com/ZxbEOb6hPl
— NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) March 11, 2020
The Democratic whip warned that continuing the primary contest could weaken Biden and enable Trump to prevail in November. He cited the 1988 primary contest as a cautionary tale.
Clyburn pointed to a famous campaign ad used against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis which painted Dukakis as soft on crime. The ad focused on Willie Horton, an inmate who was let out on a furlough program that Dukakis supported in Michigan and who raped a woman and assaulted a man in Maryland while on furlough. Clyburn argued that the television ad used by George H.W. Bush was credited to Lee Atwater, a Republican political strategist, but it originated from a primary attack by a fellow Democrat running against Dukakis — then-Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.).
“People will say things,” Clyburn argued, “that you cannot overcome.”
Other 2020 Democrats have attacked Biden, claiming he is not a champion of the black community — a message on which Trump is sure to capitalize. Yet it seems Joe Biden’s greatest political weakness is … Joe Biden. The candidate’s constant string of gaffes has raised questions about his health, and Obama’s former VP has pursued a radical agenda far more left-wing than that of the first black president, including tapping former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) to run his gun policy.
Yet much of the race between Trump and Biden seems already baked in. From guns to abortion to the Supreme Court, Biden is very much on record supporting radical policies that belie any supposed “moderation.” While he stopped short of defending Medicare for All, the former VP supports a public option in health care that would devastate the industry.
Trump’s campaign will likely run ad after ad slamming Biden’s gaffes and his radical policies. Meanwhile, Biden will push the false narrative that Trump called white supremacists “very fine people.”
Clyburn’s call for the DNC to end the primary does not speak well to his confidence about Biden’s ability to defeat Trump in November. While Biden is indeed the presumptive nominee after he beat Sanders in Michigan on Tuesday, he is not the prohibitive nominee — he still lacks the majority of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Were the DNC to end the debates now, that would be extremely unfair to Bernie Sanders. In fact, it may energize Bernie supporters against the DNC, claiming the primary has been “rigged” once again.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.