President Joe Biden just pulled a fast one on Pete Buttigieg.
And… on Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Gavin Newsom and other Democrat hopefuls who might (despite vows to the contrary) be planning to challenge Joe Biden in 2024.
The president’s political gurus are trying to upend the party’s primary schedule – knocking out Iowa and New Hampshire as leaders of the selection process and moving South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia and Michigan earlier in the calendar. Those changes would seriously disadvantage those potential 2024 candidates and several others.
But, the revised plan would – surprise! -- make Joe Biden a shoo-in by prioritizing states with large Black populations. Democrats should beware: the boost to Biden and emphasis on African-American voters could backfire.
Joe Biden has been taking a victory lap recently, taking credit for his party’s unexpectedly strong showing in the midterm elections. But it is notable that the president personally had little involvement in those races; numerous candidates eschewed his participation, concerned that his low approval ratings might prove contagious.
Even now, Biden is a no-show in Georgia, where incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock is battling Republican Hershel Walker to retain his seat. Barack Obama is campaigning in Georgia, but not Biden.
Ignored midst the giddiness over the GOP’s poor showing in the midterms is that Biden remains deeply unpopular. Real Clear Politics puts the president’s average approval rating at 41%; a recent Quinnipiac poll shows his favorability at 36%.
As important, most of the country does not want Biden to run again in 2024. The same Quinnipiac poll (taken after the midterms) showed 68% opposed to another campaign by Biden; only a bare majority of Democrats were supportive.
Notwithstanding that lack of enthusiasm, Biden appears intent on running. He says he will decide over the holidays, but his proposed remake of the primary calendar suggests he has made his mind up. It also shows he is leaving nothing to chance.
After all, the only group that has a positive view of President Biden today, according to detailed polling, is Black Americans. With every other demographic, including women and young people, Biden fails to crack 50% approval.
Hence, the emphasis on South Carolina. Remember, Biden’s 2020 campaign was on life support by the time Palmetto State Democrats voted for their preferred candidate. In Iowa on February 3, Pete Buttigieg won with 26.2% of the vote; Bernie Sanders was second with 26.1%. Joe Biden placed fourth with only 15.8%.
Eight days later, in New Hampshire’s primary, Biden placed fifth, behind Sanders (25.6%), Buttigieg (24.3%), Klobuchar (19.7%) and Warren (9.2%).
Nevada held its caucuses on February 22. Biden emerged in second place, but with only 20.2% of the vote compared to Bernie Sanders’ overwhelming 46.8%.
As the South Carolina primary on February 29 loomed, 77-year-old Uncle Joe was not in the lead; the New York Times described his campaign as "fragile," and wrote that his "fifth-place finish in the New Hampshire Democratic primary… plunged his campaign further into peril and uncertainty, jeopardizing his fund-raising efforts and potentially upending his path to the nomination."
South Carolina changed all that, with Biden winning 48.6% of the vote, pulverizing Bernie Sanders’ second place 19.8%.
What was different? Exit polling showed Black voters made up 56% of the Democrats who voted in the primary. Of those voters, 61% chose Joe Biden, who was endorsed by Jim Clyburn, the state’s popular Black Democrat leader. Only 3% voted for Buttigieg, while 16% picked Sanders.
Blacks also provided a large share of the votes in Georgia and Michigan, where Biden also routed the competition. In Georgia, which didn’t vote until June 9, Biden won almost 85% of the vote and in Michigan his share was 53%.
The changes to the primary schedule have not yet been certified by the Democratic National Committee; that vote is set for early next year. Some states, including Iowa and Georgia, also have to OK the proposal, which will likely prove contentious. But, most likely, the 50-year-old traditional nominating process as we have known it is history.
The Biden team’s goal is clear: make it almost impossible for someone to challenge the president for the 2024 nomination. So far, no one has openly thrown their hat in the ring, but that hasn’t kept some pundits from suggesting possible contenders. The Washington Post, for example, acknowledges that "the base is still historically unconvinced about nominating Biden again" and lists 9 potential challengers.
On that list, we find Pete Buttigieg, followed by Kamala Harris, Jared Polis, Gavin Newsome, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Gretchen Whitmer and others.
Not one of these potential challengers has a great following among Black voters; Vice President Harris, the first Black vice president, leads the pack but still trails Biden’s approval rating with that demographic. All would be disadvantaged by Biden’s new primary schedule if they ran against the incumbent.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (who says Biden has his full support should he run again) may have gotten wind of the possible primary changes. Maybe that’s why he is pushing to give Black citizens in his state potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in reparations for what he describes as past discrimination in housing. Imagine a presidential campaign from the ambitious Democrat governor calling for reparations nationwide; that would certainly play well in South Carolina – in 2024 or 2028.
Other hopefuls could follow suit. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg could direct a disproportionate amount of the $283.8 billion of infrastructure funds allocated to his agency to Black towns and cities, for instance. After all, the legislation calls for "equity" in its investments, and prioritizes "communities of color."
Democrats are playing a dangerous game. Making changes that favor Black voters might work for individual candidates in some states, but risks losing support from other members of their coalition, including Asians and Hispanics.
Obama gave us identity politics; Biden has pursued the divisive approach in warp speed. It is not good for the country, and it may not turn out to be good for Democrats.