South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn was, before the South Carolina primary, best known for his role as the House Majority whip.
He’s now best known as the Dr. Frankenstein to the Frankstein’s monster that is former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign.
It’s unclear which role he relishes more, but when Rep. Clyburn passes from this vale of tears — not too soon, one hopes — his role in resurrecting Biden’s campaign with a mere endorsement before the Palmetto State’s primary will be in the first paragraph.
Clyburn, who is black, helped energize the state’s African-American community to come out and vote; according to USA Today, exit polls reveal that 47 percent of primary voters said the endorsement was an important factor when they cast their ballot.
While Biden was expected to win the primary, his domination in the state — 48 percent of the vote compared to 20 percent for Bernie Sanders in a state where Sanders had expected to build on his momentum from a solid win in Nevada — helped propel the former vice president to a huge Super Tuesday delegate haul and 10 state wins.
Given what that endorsement did, I’m willing to give Clyburn a pretty wide berth to talk about the 2020 Democratic primary process.
Not wide enough to insinuate that it’s time to shut down debates, however.
Appearing on NPR on Tuesday — the day that was dubbed “Super Tuesday II” by the media — Clyburn indicated that if Sanders didn’t win any states, it was time for the Democratic National Committee to “shut this primary down.”
“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 said.
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
“I think we will be at a point where Joe Biden will be the prohibitive nominee of the party,” Clyburn said.
“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 isn’t the only Democrat saying some permutation of this. James Carville, who’s suddenly become omnipresent on MSNBC after spending the last several years perfecting a method of mainlining caffeine, says the same thing:
Carville: “These voters want to shut this thing down.” pic.twitter.com/qtphpsyg1h
— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) March 11, 2020
By Clyburn’s metric, Sanders is technically still alive.
He won the North Dakota caucuses and, while he’s behind in the vote count, still has a chance of winning Washington state. However, it’s curious that Clyburn wants the primary shut down and the debates canceled.
There are several things worth noting here.
While Biden is a very well-established front-runner at this point, 2020 is an unusually labile primary process; it’s barely been a month since a former South Bend, Indiana, mayor was the delegate leader.
How many times have we had a new front-runner? Furthermore, the last time there was even a debate, South Carolina hadn’t happened yet and Biden had woefully underperformed in all three previous primaries.
Sanders doesn’t even get a chance to change voters’ minds?
Here’s the more disturbing subcontext, though: The next few debates will involve two people on stage for a few hours at a time.
One of them is Joe Biden.
They’re gone. The likelihood that Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — who has two delegates — will be invited to any future debates is slim. (As former candidate Andrew Yang put it, the qualifications for the next debate would be “whatever Tulsi has plus one.” It was a bit more than that, but the sentiment wasn’t inaccurate.)
Why is that important? Joe Biden is a gaffe machine whose gaffing is becoming more pronounced. Not only that, but the gaffes aren’t just the cute ones anymore, nor are they confined to forgetting a word or a name.
That wasn’t just a candidate trying to look tough for the cameras. That was a candidate wanting to be a tough and forgetting there were cameras.
Clyburn saved Biden from a disaster in South Carolina. Keep in mind that the polls had narrowed to 5 points in early February, which would have meant almost no difference in delegates between Biden and Sanders from a state that Biden considered his hedge after three consecutive disasters.
“You brought me back,” Biden said after his 28-point win. It wasn’t necessarily an exaggeration.
That said, Clyburn can’t save Biden from the debate stage.
The next debate in Arizona won’t be shut down, and it’ll certainly be a test-run of Biden’s seaworthiness. The question is how many Democrat heavyweights follow Clyburn’s lead.
James Carville may be an influential pundit but he is just that — a pundit. Powerful though he may have been at one point, now he mostly bounces around in a chair at MSNBC like a hyperactive child who’s eaten three pieces of chocolate cake.
There’s a strong case to be made that, in the segment above, even anchor Brian Williams wasn’t listening. DNC head Tom Perez definitely wasn’t.
Clyburn is, however, in a position of great power. He’s also the guy who basically brought Biden back from the dead. Now he wants to shield his Lazarus.
This isn’t to say the situation isn’t dire for Sanders. Vox is basically holding his funeral, noting that only 53 percent of delegates are left now and only 38.5 percent will be left after next Tuesday.
It’s unlikely Sanders will stage some kind of a comeback. Then again, it was profoundly unlikely Biden would come back after Nevada, either — and yet, here we are.
Shutting competitive primaries down just because of a two-week turnaround, delegate-rich though that turnaround may have been, is problematic not because it’s the party establishment trying to ensure an insurgent doesn’t get the nomination.
Bernie Sanders isn’t just, to quote the very unpopular Woody Allen, “one of those guys with saliva dribbling out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about socialism.”
This is a man whose political positions and associations make him an existential danger to America were to ever get behind the desk in the Oval Office.
Clyburn doesn’t want to shut it down because of that, though, one guesses.
Like the rest of the people around Biden, he’s trying to insulate the former vice president from any more gaffing.
More debates mean more Joe Biden at a time when his handlers are trying to show less of him.
If you pay attention to these things, you’ll notice how his speeches are getting shorter. That’s not by accident.
The House majority whip will always be remembered for resurrecting Biden’s campaign.
Bully for that. He shouldn’t also be remembered for trying to stop the process so that Biden doesn’t have to face his worst enemy: himself.
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