Why the GOP Didn’t Unite Against Trump the Way Democrats Have Against Sanders
Published in The Washington Post
on March 9, 2020
The rapid consolidation of the Democratic establishment behind former vice president Joe Biden has led many pundits to lament that Republican leaders didn’t do the same against Donald Trump in 2016. This error shows how they still misunderstand Trump’s appeal and support.
Voters, not the party, were the main cause for Biden’s resurrection. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) supporters are mainly an ideological faction on the party’s left. Polls both before the primary season and after the first three contests showed that Sanders’s support was heavily tilted toward voters who called themselves very liberal. These people were vocal, but they never comprised more than a third of the total vote in any of the early contests. Moderates and conservatives were more numerous, meaning that a candidate need only amass a large majority among those factions to defeat Sanders. Biden did not only that, but also he beat Sanders among somewhat liberals, which is why he gave Sanders such a thumping last week.
He did so in large part because of demographics. Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg had done well with white moderates in Iowa and New Hampshire, but he proved incapable of winning black or Latino support in Nevada or South Carolina. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) similarly peeled away white moderate votes from Biden in early races but had no significant minority support. Once Biden showed he could win supermajority support among blacks while holding his own with whites in South Carolina, it was clear Buttigieg and Klobuchar had no chance to win the nomination. Their quick exit and endorsements of Biden allowed them to gracefully depart the race while currying favor with the establishment to which they both belonged.
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Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.