1. Most significant result of the night: Former Vice President Joe Biden is no longer the frontrunner for the center-left majority constituency of the Democratic Party. His fourth-place showing in Iowa was abysmal, and his fundraising is likely to dry up. He has become the Ed Muskie of 2020, a presidential candidate who in 1972 started as the frontrunner but declined quickly into the status of an also-ran.
- If Biden loses the Nevada caucuses (caucus is now a dirty word) on February 22, he is finished as a contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Due to a lack of money, the former Vice President may well be then compelled to withdraw from the race before he reaches his “firewall” primary in South Carolina on February 29.
Biden is foolish to attempt to play in the February 11 New Hampshire primary, where Iowa popular vote winner, Vermont US Senator Bernie Sanders, is highly likely to win. The former Vice President should be spending every waking moment campaigning in Nevada before February 22 while publicly downplaying the significance of the New Hampshire contest.
- Before discussing the prospects of the candidates likely to inherit the Democratic center-left mantle should Biden withdraw from the presidential race, it is first necessary to analyze the most significant Democratic Party constituency, the African-American community, which constitutes approximately 25 percent of the Democratic vote nationally and which tends to vote in a center-left direction rather than with the Democratic Progressive Left.
According to a Washington Post-IPSOS poll released on January 11, more than 8 in 10 black Americans say they believe Trump is a racist and that he has made racism a bigger problem in the country. Nine in 10 disapprove of his job performance overall.
The drop-off in African-American turnout from 66% in the presidential election of 2012 to 59% in 2016 was the major factor in Hillary Clinton losing the three battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin and therefore, the election.
It was the increase of 10.8% in African-American turnout in the 2018 midterms, sparked by anger at Trump, as compared to the last midterms in 2014, that was perhaps the major factor in the Democratic gain of 40 seats in the House of Representatives. The increase in the African-American vote in 2020 will have a major impact in New Jersey, which has an African-American population of 13.5%.
Accordingly, aside from his abuses of power, as described in the impeachment trial, Trump has two major political weaknesses: 1) The degree to which he is despised in the African-American community; and 2) his unpopularity on the healthcare issue.
- Yet the African-American community is where the Democrats may now have a major problem in the event of a Biden withdrawal. While Biden is not beloved in the African-American community, as was Robert Kennedy, he is trusted. The three Democrats who will be competing to inherit the Democratic center-left vote in the event of a Biden withdrawal, to wit, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Iowa delegate winner and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Minnesota US Senator Amy Klobuchar have serious problems with the African-American community, Bloomberg due to his “stop and frisk” policy while New York City mayor, Buttigieg due to his problems with the South Bend, Indiana African-American community over police practices, and Klobuchar due to her prosecution of an African-American young man in Minnesota who many believe to be innocent.
This creates two major problems for the Democrats. If Bloomberg, Buttigieg, or Klobuchar is the Democratic nominee, they may not generate the African-American turnout necessary to defeat Donald Trump. Yet more immediately, although the views of Sanders are to the left of the majority of the African-American community, he is far more popular among Black Americans than Bloomberg, Buttigieg, or Klobuchar.
This is documented by a Washington Post-IPSOS poll released on January 11. The current Democratic presidential candidates have the following favorability ratings in the African-American community: Biden, 78%; Sanders, 71%; Bloomberg, 33%; Buttigieg,30%; and Klobuchar, 25%.
If Biden withdraws before the South Carolina primary, Sanders will absolutely effectively excoriate Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar in debate on their African-American community weaknesses. This will enable Sanders to win the African-American community vote in every state with a substantial African-American community and garner victories in South Carolina and in such Super Tuesday March 3 primary states as California, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Massachusetts. Bernie would then become the frontrunner for the Democratic Party nomination. And Sanders is the candidate Trump would most like to face in the November election.
- Bloomberg is trying to boost his low favorability ratings in the African-American community by making large financial philanthropic grants to projects in major African-American urban centers.
This activity has already won him significant endorsements from some key Black mayors. I believe, however, that this will have only a negligible impact in boosting his favorability ratings among rank-and-file Blacks. His long-term defense of his “stop-and-frisk” policies as mayor became a matter of political toxicity among Black voters. This cannot be rapidly reversed by his apologies and financial largesse.
- A personal note on Michael Bloomberg. I worked closely with him and his administration while he was Mayor of New York City and I was Bush 43 Region 2 EPA Administrator. I was able to work very well with him, and I think he would be a most effective president.
I have to admit something of political as well as personal significance. There was a reason Bloomberg treated me so well. He knew that the person who had persuaded the Bush White House to appoint me to my EPA position was Republican National Committee Finance Chair and former Chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Lew Eisenberg.
Bloomberg and Eisenberg had been friends for decades. Every time I saw Bloomberg, he would joke with me that he resented the fact that Lew was a better golfer than he.
Lew Eisenberg is now Donald Trump’s Ambassador to Italy, and I became a Never-Trumper. This resulted in my losing Lew as a friend. I don’t regret for one second anything I did in my opposition to Trump. It does sadden me, however, that I lost Lew as a friend. He is a good and great man.
And let me predict the following: If Bloomberg is elected President, he will want Lew Eisenberg to serve in his administration in a high position, such as Secretary of the Treasury or Chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Directors.
My favorite Bloomberg memory: He and I did an event together at Shea Stadium in March, 2008, announcing the signing of an environmental memorandum of understanding for Citi Field. It was the day after the news broke about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s involvement with a prostitute. Bloomberg and I both despised Spitzer, and on the morning of this event, we both exhibited in our conversation with each other a considerable amount of schadenfreude regarding Spitzer’s fall from grace.
- Massachusetts US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Progressive Left Democrat finished a respectable third place in Iowa. She has permanently lost to Bernie Sanders, however, the allegiance of the great majority of Progressive Left Democratic voters, and she will be unable to reinvent herself as a center-left Democrat. In Presidential Campaign 2020, Elizabeth Warren is going nowhere.
- In order to most effectively exploit Donald Trump’s massive liability on the healthcare issue, the Democrats much avoid a platform fight at their convention in Milwaukee and develop a unified position. My recommendation: Expand ObamaCare and add a public option.
- Sign of the times: I have watched all 54 Super Bowls. In last Sunday’s game, both Bloomberg and Trump, aware of their problems in the African-American community, featured Blacks prominently in their campaign commercials. I don’t recall a single African-American appearing in a commercial in the first Super Bowl on January 15, 1967.
- Iowa should never again be allowed to host the first campaign contest. And their contest should be a primary election, not a caucus. In fact, the caucus system of selection of presidential convention delegates should be eliminated, and all states should select their convention delegates through direct primaries.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.