How Biden Made His Comeback

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S1: So what is your travel schedule been like over the last few weeks?

S2: Well, you know, I have been pretty much following the primary calendar. I was on the ground in Iowa. I was on the ground in New Hampshire.

S1: Iren Hanes covers politics for the nonprofit news service the 19th.

S3: Like a lot of political journalists. We are live and live in our hotels and living at campaign events these days.

S4: But, Erin, she’s looking at this primary season through a very particular lens.

S2: I get to cover how themes of race and gender are playing out in the 2020 campaigns over the last month.

S4: That means she’s been to shrimp and grits dinners in South Carolina. She’s spent the anniversary of Bloody Sunday with Michael Bloomberg in Selma, Alabama, Virginia. And when the results begin to roll in on Super Tuesday, Aaron was one of the first people I wanted to get on the phone.

S5: This race is not about Joe Biden. It’s about who can beat Donald Trump. And the coalition is coming together, said if it’s between Biden and Bernie, we are leaning with Biden. Right. Biden didn’t just win these states. Five ran up the score in these states. Look at this, a thirty point win last night for Joe Biden in Virginia, where by a large, black voters are saying we’re going to determine who the nominee is going to be. We’re going to pick the person that we think is the best to beat Donald Trump. And the Democratic Party is honestly going to follow our lead.

S1: How would you describe. If I ask you to describe in one word what has happened to the Democratic field in the last week, like is it a reshuffle or like turned completely upside down? Like, how would you characterize it?

S6: Clarifying is probably the word that I would use.

S3: Wow. 20/20 started out with, you know, about two dozen candidates and certainly a lot of people who were very qualified and talented. I think, you know, in an a lot of ways that was paralyzing for a lot of Democratic voters. There were too many choices, right?

S1: Yeah. It’s funny because you sent this tweet, you said in the last 72 hours, black voters are clearing the field and clarifying this race in a way that the first two contests simply did not and could not. Can you just explain what you meant by that?

S3: You know what I was saying in that tweet and really what I’ve been saying for much of the past year is, you know, for all the hand-wringing that we’ve had over, you know, what electability means, I think that what electability really means is who black and brown voters are going to choose this cycle because there is no path to the nomination without those voters to some extent.

S4: All of these Democratic candidates have been pinning their hopes on black and brown voters. But this week, it was Joe Biden who seemed to have made the case in Alabama and Virginia. He got support from 70 percent of black voters in North Carolina and Texas. It was 60 percent.

S3: You know, when you have numbers that kind of decisive, I mean, that that’s really a declarative statement for a candidate in a way that we really didn’t see. Iowa and New Hampshire were both very close contests with with multiple people being able to claim varying degrees of victory today on the show.

S1: Aaron’s going to help me pass Super Tuesday results from her perspective. If Joe Biden really has won over this key slice of the black electorate, what does that mean for the rest of the field? I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next. Stick with us.

S4: We should just start by saying that this week has been a really good one for Joe Biden. He kicked it off with a primary win in South Carolina.

S7: Thanks to all of you. Democratic Party. We just want to. We’ve won.

S4: But when I asked Erin Haynes whether she thought any of these endorsements had impacted Biden’s chances, whether anything Joe Biden even said made a difference. She’s pretty clear.

S6: I don’t think so. I mean, and I’m really glad that you ask this question, because I think that we are where we are in this race because of black voters and black voters speaking so loudly and so decisively in this 72 hour window. Black voters made the case that Joe Biden was electable. Black voters are the explanation for Joe Biden’s comeback.

S4: When Aaron says the past couple of days have been clarifying for Democrats, she means the people who are largely considered the backbone of the party. Black voters and leaders, especially black women. They have made their decision. It was by no means a simple one.

S2: So a lot of black voters and particularly black women were making a head versus heart decision. Right.

S8: I mean, there has certainly been polling and surveying to to indicate that, you know, for black women, black women see voting overall as a responsibility is not necessarily about loyalty to a particular candidate all the time. And so would that be in the case as black men begin to focus, more particularly headed into those last few days in South Carolina? I think that Jim Clyburn endorsement did a lot to help black women make up their minds and go ahead and pull the lever for Joe Biden. Jim Clyburn is somebody who has a lot of respect in South Carolina. You know, particularly among black women. And so hearing him kind of lay out the stakes of this election. I think that was clarified for a lot of people.

S1: Yeah, it was striking, though, to read your reporting because it was so many of these women saying, you know, this person like Joe Biden may not be my personal favorite or like it feels like settling, but it just sounds like so many of these women sort of when it came down to it, they just pulled that lever for, you know, the person they thought I guess would be the most electable. I don’t know if you would say it that way.

S2: I think that’s definitely part of it. Look. Black women and I’ve said this a lot and some people kind of see this as a pejorative term. But I absolutely don’t need to call black women or black voters pragmatic. What I mean when I say that is that they are strategic. Right. And I mean, the stakes as they see them in this election are that their priority is to defeat President Donald Trump, who they see as somebody who is racist and enacting racist policies and doing them and their community harm. And what we know about black women is that when they vote, they don’t just vote for themselves. They don’t just vote for their immediate family. They vote for their community. They vote for the race. They vote for the country.

S4: This pragmatism, it isn’t just the voters who seem to be feeling it. You can see it in the way other politicians talk about the vice president, like here’s South Carolina’s Jim Clyburn talking about his decision to endorse Biden. He’s saying, I trust this guy.

S9: I know you. We know Joe. But most importantly, Jill knows us. That’s right. Tested.

S1: So in November, you wrote this article and was called Why Black Voters Are Backing Joe Biden. It really seems like like looking back, you saw Super Tuesday coming.

S2: Absolutely. And that was in no way an endorsement of Joe Biden. But I think that, you know, reporting that story, what I learned in that story. Well, I learned a couple of things. First of all, I learned that Delaware was almost 40 percent black, which I did not know before reporting that story. But it’s something that the vice president talks about a lot. He is somebody whose career began on the backs of black voters that sent him into office and the black voters that kept him in the Senate for seven terms. And he has always had you pinned on black voters for his political success. Right. And that’s kind of counter to the narrative that a lot of us kind of went into 20/20 thinking about Joe Biden. Right. Like Joe Biden, strength is supposed to be, you know, his ability to to really reach the working class, blue collar white voter. Right. But no, like he actually has deep, longstanding relationships with black people. You know, somebody with a 50 year headstart in dealing with the black electorate was almost automatically going to have an advantage, even even with candidates of color in the race.

S10: Yeah. I mean, you’ve described black voters as kind of pragmatic. But what you described in that article was more like love, familial trust. Yes.

S2: And a love and trust that preceded his relationship with Barack Obama. Right. Like like black people felt like they knew Joe Biden. He was somebody that felt familiar to them and felt like maybe they knew him and they care and that he cared about them. And, you know, I don’t I don’t think that that is something that can be undervalued. I think we’ve certainly seen it play out here. I mean, when you looked at Representative Clapton’s endorsement of Joe Biden, that was very emotional. That was very personal. Right. And I think it was a testament to the kinds of relationships that Joe Biden has built politically in general and with black folks in particular.

S1: I want to sort of just interrogate this idea that like we’re dancing around, which is we’re talking about black voters. But of course, black voters aren’t one thing. There are many things. So how do we understand the numbers that came back out of Super Tuesday?

S2: I think the way to think about it is, yes. Black voters are not a monolith. I will say that and repeat it. You know, for the entirety of this election and beyond. But at the same time, like if we think about black voters, if we can actually see black voters as issues voters. Right. If we can see them as rural, as educated, as blue collar, as people who have economic anxiety. Right. Like, who is the candidate that black voters who fit into those different categories or who prioritize those different categories? Who is the candidate that they feel speaks to those issues? I think that what we’ve seen, at least in these early contests, is that they feel largely that Joe Biden is that person. Now, I will also say Senator Sanders has certainly resonated with a lot of younger voters, younger, black and brown voters around issues of economic anxiety, around health care. Right. The things that are speaking to their lived experience that Senator Sanders has been able to tap into.

S4: You can hear Aaron circling around this idea, and it’s an important one that black voters, they aren’t a single thing journalists. A lot of times they talk about black voters as a group in a way they’d never talk about anyone else. And we don’t want to do that here. But if you dig into the data from this week, it’s undeniable that there is something at work here. Looking at the median support from Super Tuesday states, 35 percent of white people voted for Joe Biden. Fifty eight percent of black people did the same. I’ve seen a couple of black pundits and writers kind of trying to explain what’s happening here. You know, to folks who may be seeing black voters as one thing and and trying to understand exactly what’s going on. I heard one person describe the voting as harm reduction, which I thought was really interesting. That’s accurate. And then there was this one quote in the Times that I think I said Herndon God, which was a voter saying we meaning black voters, we understand white people better than white people know themselves. I’m wondering if you saw that, too, and what you thought about it.

S6: Both of those things are absolutely true. So you know what? I what I have heard from black voters on the trail of what I’ve written about is the notion that racism is on the ballot for black people in 2020. You know, you have black people, black families, you know, concerned about their safety. Right. And feeling like they are in a current political climate where their safety is not necessarily being prioritized at the highest levels of government. I think the other piece of what you mentioned, like for our survival almost since we arrived, you know, in this country 400 years ago, like dark people have to. They have to understand white people, like they have to figure out how to navigate kind of mainstream culture in a way that is not necessarily reciprocated. Right. Like you had a lot. You had so many white candidates this cycle wrestling with issues of white privilege, wrestling with questions of race, and frankly fell fairly awkwardly. Right.

S11: Well, I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin. I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country. Turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate and seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me working side by side, shoulder to shoulder.

S2: You had, you know, a mayor, brutish edge for who for an entire year tried to reach out to black people, had a black agenda that just was not resonating for some reason with black voters. And he, you know, was on kind of a journey. And so, you know, I think that the election has been illuminating in that way because, you know, these are white people who happened to be running for president.

S6: It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are any more versed on issues of race than than most white people in America, frankly, because they just they haven’t had to be.

S10: I guess what you’re saying is when you talk to black voters, what they may be saying is we don’t want to guide your journey. We want to know that you have journeyed and you’ve come to a place where you can hear us. And when you look at Joe Biden, there’s a history there that feels solid.

S6: Right. And that this is somebody who was thought about these things before 2020. Right. And is able to make the connections between, you know, saying something like this is a battle for the soul of America and how that relates specifically to black folks and also that someone like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren may feel like more of a risk.

S1: And this is kind of an emergency right now.

S6: Right. Right. And that is the way that a lot of black voters do feel. Is that. The stakes are high for them and maybe higher for them than white voters and that, you know, the outcome of this election is something that they feel will truly affect their lives going forward.

S4: Despite Joe Biden’s stunning comeback on Tuesday, Senator Bernie Sanders is still in this thing. On Tuesday, younger and Latino voters helped carry him to victory in California, the biggest prize of the night as he looked ahead to next week’s primary contests. Sanders sounded fiery as ever.

S12: We are going we are going to defeat Trump because we are putting together an unprecedented grassroots bullecourt generational bow tie racial movement.

S4: But turn back to those numbers. And there is a cause for concern. Sanders holds a strong lead with black voters under 29. But anyone older than that? It’s not looking great.

S10: Have you spoken to any older black voters about Bernie Sanders and sort of gotten a read of this? Yeah. So what if they said when you when you talked about him?

S13: Well, a couple of things. One, they do not think that necessarily think that a socialist can get elected in a general election and again, their priority is defeating President Donald Trump. But the other thing is, even if they are open to his his policies. Right. Look, I think there are black voters who certainly are on board with a Medicare for all agenda or eliminating college debt or raising the minimum wage. Those kinds of things that Bernie Sanders has been talking about for so long and certainly are certainly a part of his 2020 platform.

S14: But I think that, again, going back to kind of the pragmatism, what they say to me is that they’re concerned about Senator Sanders, his ability to enact a lot of the policies that he supports, even if they’re on board with some of these ideas, they just don’t know how they’re going to come to fruition.

S15: And so that gives them hesitancy in some in deciding to support him.

S4: Got it. And in the case you’re making, is it so hard to go against? Because it’s really it’s about optics. It’s not about that. You’re saying the issues. Yeah, voters may agree with him on the issues.

S15: But but but are these things actually going to happen? Is the question that black folks have like. They may love the idea of eliminating college debt, but do they see that passing in in a in a divided Congress?

S16: You know, may love the idea of Medicare for all. Think think that everybody should have health care. Don’t see how it’s going to happen in this Congress.

S17: And don’t see how a Bernie Sanders candidacy gets them, the Congress that he would need to make those things happen.

S1: As we get closer and closer to the Democratic convention in Milwaukee. Aaron says the real lesson of Super Tuesday is that these two front runners, both white guys, are going to have to start distinguishing themselves and making it known they represent everyone.

S16: You know, now is the time to start reminding people that women are the majority of the electorate. Women, period, are the majority of the electorate. And so to not address all issues as women’s issues would be malpractice at this point in the primary cycle, frankly.

S10: So but what does that look like when you have, you know, two white guys who are sort of the front runners? You know, the next big decision these candidates can make is choosing a vice president. Right. So I just wonder, like, does that mean what does that mean about the vice presidential pick?

S14: You know, what I’m hearing from a lot of black women voters is that they want to be valued for input as much as their output. Right. Output, meaning votes. Input. Meaning what? What do I get for this? But what is the return on my investment in you as a candidate? I think you know, a couple of things. One, it was really interesting to see I don’t know if you caught this at Mary, but the last debate when Vice President Biden said at the end of that debate that he was going to put a black woman on the Supreme Court.

S18: The fact is, we should be doing we talked about the Supreme Court. I’m looking forward to making sure there is a black woman on the Supreme Court to make sure.

S14: I don’t think that was an accident. I think that he’s fully aware that that would be a thing that he feels that he owes to the black women who could make him the potential nominee. Definitely hearing from women voters, especially as the possibility is vanishing that there will be a woman nominee this cycle. Well, you know, we’ve never had a woman vice president either. Is this the year that that needs to change? We don’t talk to white men on the ticket is not something that is going to excite the majority of this electorate. And so now you’re talking about a woman, person of color or both.

S4: Aaron Hains, thank you so much for joining me.

S15: Thanks for having me. This has been great.

S19: Aaron Haynes is editor at large for the 19th. A new service is launching later this summer, but her stories also appear in The Washington Post. It might be easiest to keep up with her on Twitter. She’s at E! Marvelous. And that’s the show. What next is produced by Daniel Hewitt. Morris Silvers, Jason de Leon and Mary Wilson. Tell me what you thought of this episode. You can find me on Twitter. I’m at Mary’s desk. Lizzie O’Leary will be here tomorrow. Make sure to listen to what next TBD. And I’m Mary Harris. Catch you back here Monday.