It was in South Carolina where the flailing 2020 Biden presidential campaign, facing a must-win after getting crushed in the first two intra-party contests, was famously revived with the strong hand of Rep. James Clyburn, the most influential Democrat in the state. From there, party leaders fearing the specter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as their nominee essentially shoved every other so-called moderate out the door, clearing the field for Biden. And the rest is history.
And so, it is understandable that the sitting president has a soft spot for South Carolina. In fact, he is apparently so grateful and nostalgic that he decided to step in and re-arrange the party’s decades-long primary schedule to shine the spotlight on the Palmetto state – and himself. Instead of its traditional standing as the first primary state in the south for both parties, but third overall after Iowa and New Hampshire, Biden decided to step in and declare that South Carolina would enjoy the privilege of holding the party’s first contest in early 2024.
But Biden’s nostalgia for the state that saved him is not shared at all by Democrats in both Iowa and New Hampshire who got run over in the process. The statewide parties in both states have committed to holding their contests on the original dates, whether Biden’s name is on the ballot or not. As reported by Axios, Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire are actively exploring the option to “defy Biden and move ahead with their contests – even as the party warns it will strip them of their national convention delegates if they jump the gun … Since Biden’s surprise decision … New Hampshire Democrats have openly bashed the White House and the Democratic National Committee.” Unbeknownst to most, the Granite State is statutorily required to hold its primary “a week before any other similar contest.” Nevertheless, in altering a tradition that stood for as long as anyone can remember, the DNC has issued a deadline of September 1 for New Hampshire Democrats to move their primary after South Carolina’s, but they are unlikely to budge.
Biden or Bust
This Democratic dilemma presents a case study in a constitutional system like ours. In which direction should party discipline be enforced – from the ground up by individual states, or from the top down by national officials? Which is more important, a central organization utilizing its power and influence to decide the primary schedule, or 50 distinct statewide entities forcing their collective will on the national party? This is a defining issue within the party right now. It is difficult to believe that Democratic officeholders in red or purple states support the national party’s open embrace of LGBTQ+/DEI/ESG-style wokeness – all the way to the point of an outright pornographic display recently at the White House.
Throughout all of this, both parties cling to a long-standing yet ultimately inexplicable tradition. In Iowa and New Hampshire, they magnify small states with atypical demographics – both are 90% white — and minimal electoral impact. Then they dilute the importance of more significant states by grouping them together in the behemoth known as Super Tuesday. By the time the largest states like New York and California weigh in, the field has already been winnowed, and the presumed nominee is usually apparent.
All of that said – and Gavin Newsom aside – given the overwhelming advantage of incumbency, Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee come hell or high water unless he chooses to withdraw, which should be a live option but likely is not. However, history teaches us that a messy primary usually leads to the defeat of a sitting president in the general election. In most cases, this is because of a serious challenger, such as Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, his brother Ted Kennedy in 1980, and Pat Buchanan in 1992. In each instance, the incumbent – or his party, in the case of LBJ after he dropped out of the race – went down to defeat in November. In this case, neither of Biden’s two nominal opponents, the underfunded and shunned Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or new-age gadfly Marianne Williamson, represent a genuine threat to Biden in a vacuum. But if things continue on their current path, RFK Jr. in particular stands to be the charmed beneficiary of this president’s controversial decision, likely finishing first in both Iowa and New Hampshire – and gaining the attendant rise in publicity.
What an embarrassment. Thanks to his own unilateral decision, not only would the already unpopular Biden lose twice at the very start of the primary season, but the fact of his defeat and the consequent rash of “who is RFK. Jr.?” stories likely to arise even in corporate media devoted to Biden would send exactly the wrong message to voters who have expressed growing alarm about the ever more enfeebled man occupying the Oval Office. The president’s re-election campaign still has time to fix the mess their man created – but no time to lose.
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