Only some two weeks ago the man seemed to be on a roll. He got over bruising losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, stunned his political opponents in South Carolina and went on to crush them in the Tuesdays of March 3, March 10 and March 17.
Call it an act of providence or a manmade deliberate disaster, the former Vice President Joseph Biden has been stopped in his tracks by the coronavirus, a pandemic that has sent shockwaves globally leaving a major super power in dire straits—at the time of writing America has recorded more than 1,100 deaths with the total number of infected at more than 81,000 surpassing that of even China which is slowly coming around.
It was a three-fold disaster for Biden—individual states started postponing their primaries; his chief Democratic opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, is refusing to quit even if all the statistics for a nomination are stacked against him; and the President of the United States, Donald Trump, who abhors the media suddenly doing daily briefings on the COVID-19, getting free media time and surprisingly even looking Presidential!
Suddenly Biden has been left in the political wilderness: no boisterous campaign rallies because of the crowd factor and advice on social distancing; unable to meet donors publicly or gather for per-plate fund raising; few opportunities for formal debating in a town hall format; and no television reporter chasing him down for views on national and international issues.
At a time when moderate Democrats are pressuring Sanders to call it quits and gracefully at that, the Vermonter is digging in even harder insisting in a latest interview on CNN that he does indeed want to debate Biden in April on issues such as Health Care.
The delegates count thus far has been put at 1215 for Biden and 910 for Sanders; and estimates are that for Sanders to get past Biden it would mean that the Independent Senator would have to win the remaining states by about 20 percentage points—considered a very long shot given what transpired thus far in the primaries.
Bernie Sanders does not seem to be impressed with data analysis. He just wants to stay in and make a point as he did in 2016, much to the consternation of moderates in the party.
Thus far it is being out that some 30 states, territories, and democrats abroad have voted in the primaries/caucuses; and some 27 more states to go. There is still tremendous uncertainty on whether states that have scheduled later between April and June will be able to complete the formalities of delegate choices even if marginal adjustments in the dates have been processed.
For instance on June 2—billed as another Super Tuesday—as many as 11 states are scheduled accounting for more than 820 delegates. Critical states like Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Mexico, New Jersey, Montana and South Dakota long with the District of Colombia are to vote on this date; and it remains to be seen if Wisconsin that has scheduled for April 7 will keep its date or postpone it to June 2. And the state of New York that has currently emerged as the hot spot for the coronavirus infection including deaths has moved its primaries from April 28 to June 23, and questions remain whether this can even take place.
Biden will have to get a huge chunk of this 800-odd delegates if he or the Democratic National Committee is to be in a position to formally and firmly ask Sanders to get out of the way. Again, whether the June 2 primaries take place or not is not in the hands of Biden or the Democratic National Committee; it is on the coronavirus factor.
The most distressing aspect to Biden and the Democrats including Sanders must be the news that Trump’s approval rating in the midst of the coronavirus is at 49 per cent, or the highest point in his Presidency.
A Gallup Poll showed 60 per cent of Americans positively approving of how he is handling the crisis; and the survey strikingly showing that his approval rating rose 8 per cent among Independent voters and 6 per cent among Democrats. Overall 27 per cent of Democrats have approved Trump’s response to the pandemic.
Different polls have shown that Trump’s approval ratings are at around 50 per cent. The traditional argument among pollsters is that Presidents get a “bump” during national crisis as for example President George H.W. Bush at the time of the First Gulf War in 1991 and George W Bush in the immediate aftermath of the terror attack of 9/11 in 2001. The difference here is of a change in perception of a President getting “serious” as the epidemic turned more severe.
The Democrats on Capitol Hill may have finally come to terms with the White House on a US$ 2 trillion plus stimulus package to deal with the effects of the coronavirus on the economy; but not before making the point that this package still does not adequately address the concerns of workers and the middle class Americans trying to meet the grocery bill and rent payments.
Many Democrats and critics of the Trump administration have slammed the stimulus package as nothing more than a slush fund to subsidize the military industrial complex that would include major aircraft industries. But Democrats have not yet been able to hit the White House and its occupant hard enough on some of the simplistic notions that have been bandied about that have been rubbished by health care experts.
With a levelling off of the virus not around the corner, Trump is confident that he can get America up and running by Easter, that is April 12. That to many, even within the establishment, is farfetched and not in touch with ground realities.
The fact that three million Americans filed for unemployment relief last week must be an eye-opener to the Republicans and Democrats, but for different reasons.
(The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington DC covering North America and the United Nations)
(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not reflect the views of The Federal)