Warren Can’t Win

96 percent of the delegates have yet to be awarded. How can the race be down to two?

After Joe Biden’s win in South Carolina turned the Democratic primaries into a two-man race, I called for all the candidates who couldn’t win to drop out. And I questioned Elizabeth Warren’s decision to double down on attacks on the remaining candidates, arguing that it would damage the eventual nominee’s chances against Donald Trump in November.

By the end of that day, Pete Buttigieg had dropped out. Yesterday, Amy Klobuchar did the same. Both, along with Beto O’Rourke, flew to Texas to endorse Biden to forge an anti-Bernie Sanders consensus.

But Warren has vowed to fight on at least through the end of March and seems to have the money to do so.

New York‘s Sarah Jones came out yesterday arguing “It’s Time for Elizabeth Warren to Drop Out.” Her argument is similar to mine but, as a woman, is less likely to be attacked as sexist.

Elizabeth Warren may not even win her own state tomorrow. Though a recent Boston Globe/WBZ TV/Suffolk University poll shows Warren neck-and-neck with Bernie Sanders in Massachusetts, FiveThirtyEight’s polling average shows Bernie Sanders with a five-point lead overall, and Warren’s lack of an obvious lead does not portend great things for her candidacy. Second place would be an ignominious result for Warren, and yet it would be her highest finish of the primary. Massachusetts remains the only Super Tuesday state that Warren could feasibly win. There is one way for the senator to preserve her dignity while advancing the progressive cause she espouses, and that is to drop out of the race — and endorse Sanders.

Now, as someone who plans to vote for Biden this afternoon, I’d prefer she not do that. But it does seem to be the right move if she wants a progressive to win the nomination.

POLITCO’s Alex Thompson, writing after South Carolina but before the Buttigieg and Klobuchar withdrawals, explains “Why Elizabeth Warren thinks she can still win the nomination.”

Elizabeth Warren can win debates, but not states: There’s a chance she will walk away from Super Tuesday having not carried any of the first 18 contests, including her home state of Massachusetts.

Yet she, her campaign and their close allies say she’s in the race all the way to the convention, despite her latest drubbing in South Carolina on Saturday. They insist she still has a path to the nomination, narrow as it is.

Warren’s strategy, laid out in conversations with more than a half-dozen of her aides and close allies, relies largely on outlasting several of her less well-financed rivals and trying to collect their supporters when they drop out. One aide told POLITICO that the campaign thinks multiple candidates will withdraw in the next 7 to 10 days, shaking up the race.

The aide didn’t name names, but outside allies did. “Others like Pete [Buttigieg] and Amy [Klobuchar] have had feel-good blips of momentum, but will enter Super Tuesday without strength,” said Maria Langholz, press secretary for the Warren-aligned Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “[Warren] enters Super Tuesday with lots of groundwork laid, two fantastic debate performances during early voting in upcoming states and an overall position of strength.”

Warren advisers believe she can remain in the hunt by collecting a significant number of delegates on Super Tuesday and then again on March 10 — they are optimistic about California, Colorado, Texas, Michigan and Washington — even if they don’t win any states outright. Campaign manager Roger Lau said earlier this month that Warren was “poised” to finish second in eight Super Tuesday contests and in the top three in all 14.

The team is also more openly discussing what it has been talking about internally for weeks. Warren’s path to victory is likely at a contested convention and not by outright winning a majority of pledged delegates, which they believe no other candidate will achieve, either.

I’ve guessed multiple times that this was her strategy. I don’t see how it succeeds but she’s welcome to try it. I just wish she wouldn’t take a scorched earth approach at this juncture given the longness of the odds.

Ben Matthis-Lilley, though, offers the ultimate Slate-pitch with “You Can Still Vote for Elizabeth Warren if You Think She’d Be the Best President.”

Morning broke on Monday, and, with the news that Pete Buttigieg has dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary, it apparently became smart to say that the race is now between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden and no one else. Here’s a dissenting view: That’s absurd! Forty-six states have yet to vote, including the 22 most populous states; 96.1 percent(!) of the convention delegates that Democrats will vote to award remain unawarded. As Biden’s performance in South Carolina shows, a candidate’s narrative momentum can be reversed in a single day. No one is out of the race until they are out of the race.

One of the other people who are still in the race, fatalistic over-extrapolation of very recent trends aside, is Elizabeth Warren. If you are a Democrat and polls are correct, you would probably be OK with her becoming the nominee. It might also be relevant to you that she’s not a nearly 80-year-old man who has recently experienced heart problems, evident cognitive decline, or being embarrassed by Elizabeth Warren on national television. So why not vote for her—which, again, if polls and on-the-ground reporting are correct, is probably something you’ve already considered doing?

This is followed by a lot of paragraphs explaining why he thinks Warren is better than Bernie or Biden and why she hasn’t done better thus far. But nothing about how she can actually, you know, win the nomination. He closes with,

Don’t play yourself! If other people don’t like the candidate you like, let them vote that way on their own time. It’s still too early to give anyone else control over your vote. Aspire to full participation in a political system where whatever the most people ask for is what they get. A democracy, if you will. Will you?

Intuitively, this makes all the sense in the world. Thus far, only four states, none of them particularly large, have voted. California, far and away the largest state, votes today—and Warren is projected to come in a strong second there.

Further, the momentum clearly changes. Buttigieg won Iowa and came in second in New Hampshire but soon ran out of Schlitz. Biden was in free fall before South Carolina and is suddenly a strong favorite in the FiveThirtyEight projections.

It really doesn’t make any sense to say that Warren is toast. But, barring some bizarre development where the Democratic convention falls behind the third or fourth-place finisher, she’s toast.

She has done poorly thus far in winning delegates—essentially the same as Klobuchar and far worse than Buttigieg—but has attracted more money and has thus stayed in the race. But there’s simply no way for her to catch up at this point and emerge with the most pledged delegates.

Partly, that’s because the polls show her to continue doing poorly—which, granted, is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mostly, though, it’s because the semi-proportional system the Democratic Party has established for awarding delegates means she can’t win enough votes even if she somehow starts winning states.

If Biden and Sanders do as well as projected in today’s Super Tuesday states, the math is literally impossible. Indeed, she’s likely to be in fourth place at the end of the day, far behind Bloomberg. It’s conceivable she’ll lose Massachusetts.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Elizabeth Warren, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    96 percent of the delegates have yet to be awarded. How can the race be down to two?

    Just hazarding a guess here, take it for what it’s worth, but probably because the American electoral system is utterly fucked from top to bottom.

    Or maybe it’s just me who feels that way after the past few years. I have to say my faith and trust are at a mighty low ebb.

    10
  2. Kingdaddy says:

    I’m glad she was on the ballot today, because I voted for her. Here’s my logic:

    Even if it’s unlikely that she will win the nomination, it’s a non-zero probability.

    I’ll vote for the ultimate candidate in November. I’m not voting for Warren because I’m a spoiled little voting brat who can’t imagine voting for anyone but the person who most appeals to me. I’ll make the choice between imperfect options (or one imperfect and one horrible option).

    However, with the small sound that my single vote makes, I don’t want either Sanders or Biden to feel that they can coast through the next several months. Both are deeply flawed candidates who need to work hard on addressing those problems. Therefore, in the likelihood that Warren doesn’t win, I want the frontrunners to know that they were not my choice — and not because I’m just being petulant.

    Plus, she’s a woman, and I want to remind the eventual candidate of the importance of that demographic. (Not that they should need reminding, at this point, but you never know.)

    13
  3. Kingdaddy says:

    Just to be clear, all tactical signaling to the other candidates aside, I genuinely like Warren. I really wish that she hadn’t fumbled the health care funding question.

    And she can think on her feet, a presidential requirement that Biden seems to be lacking these days.

    9
  4. Michael Cain says:

    She positions herself as the progressive candidate who’s not your crazy uncle, and Bernie has to withdraw for health reasons.

    7
  5. Kingdaddy says:
  6. Hal_10000 says:

    There’s a part of me that wonders if she’s trying to draw support away from Bernie to help Biden win. But there’s no path to the nomination for her. Even if no candidate has a clear majority, they’re not going to rise up in acclimation and nominate Warren.

    96 percent of the delegates have yet to be awarded. How can the race be down to two?

    Because we’ve had 847 debates and lots of polling. Various candidates turned out to be garbage. And the candidates who would normally stay in — Buttigieg and Klobuchar — dropped out because they’d rather get Biden than Sanders. IOW, the Dems are dealing with the Sanders insurgency the way the GOP did *not* deal with the Trump insurgency.

    10
  7. PJ says:

    @Hal_10000:

    There’s a part of me that wonders if she’s trying to draw support away from Bernie to help Biden win.

    Talk to some Bernie supporters.

    It’s a DNC plot! They are stealing the nomination from Bernie!

    3
  8. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey:

    Just hazarding a guess here, take it for what it’s worth, but probably because the American electoral system is utterly fucked from top to bottom.

    Yes, pretty much. The Democrats may well wind up nominating the candidate I preferred at the outset of the contest. But the process is absurd and complicated.

    @Kingdaddy:

    Just to be clear, all tactical signaling to the other candidates aside, I genuinely like Warren. I really wish that she hadn’t fumbled the health care funding question.

    I like her. If she were less extreme ideologically, she might well have been my favorite of the candidates; as it was, it was Buttigieg. But I’ll vote for Biden because he’s not only my favorite of the remaining candidates but the only non-Bernie who can win and I want to max his chances of getting the most delegates in Virginia.

    @Michael Cain:

    She positions herself as the progressive candidate who’s not your crazy uncle, and Bernie has to withdraw for health reasons.

    Okay. But she have just as easily done that by pulling a Klobuchar and dropping out and backing Sanders ahead of Super Tuesday.

    6
  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    True, she cannot win the nomination.
    I fear neither Biden or Sanders can win the General.
    IMHO only Warren and Bloomberg can stand up to the withering attacks that are in store for the eventual nominee.
    Biden and Sanders will be toast…reduced to blithering idiots.

    1
  10. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner:

    But I’ll vote for Biden because he’s not only my favorite of the remaining candidates but the only non-Bernie who can win and I want to max his chances of getting the most delegates in Virginia.

    Same here. I prefer Warren, my wife preferred Buttigieg, but we’re both voting Biden today to help him max his delegate take.

    3
  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    Bernie’s health is the main reason for her to stay in. Biden’s too, but he doesn’t seem to have any issue, he’s just old.

  12. MarkedMan says:

    I can think of 4 reasons for her to stay in. It may be a combination of these or something I haven’t thought of.

    1) She still thinks she can win. Let’s face facts, Biden was almost completely written off just a week ago. Trump was never going to be the Republican nominee. And Obama didn’t have a chance against Hillary. Point is, every prognosticator is forever stumbling over every other one in rushing to declare this or that candidate dead, so it’s hard to tell actual analysis from just a herd of sheep bleating at the top of their lungs.

    2) She thinks there will be a contested convention and she hopes to make her case there. If this is true, she should already be making outreach to the delegates.

    3) She doesn’t trust Bernie and has made a deal with Joe to stay in, in exchange for a position. Joe calculates she’ll pull more voters from Bernie than from him.

    4) She trusts Bernie and has made some kind of a deal with him. (Was that what his hasty announcement that his VP must be a solid MFA supporter was about?) Bernie calculates she’ll pull more voters from Joe than from him.

    7
  13. Kathy says:

    @Mikey:

    Just hazarding a guess here, take it for what it’s worth, but probably because the American electoral system is utterly fucked from top to bottom.

    Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

    We have a winner!

    The process is way too long. essentially it’s an 18 month election, give or take, with speculation running rampant long before then. It’s not just FUBAR, it’s insane.

    2
  14. R.Dave says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Beat me to it. Washington Monthly ran an article a few days ago that cited stats and studies to argue that Sanders’ age and recent heart attack indicate he has roughly a 1 in 4 chance of dying before the election and a 50/50 chance of dying in his first term if elected (subject to various caveats and unknowns we can’t evaluate because he won’t release his medical records). And that’s just the risk of actually dying. I’m sure the odds get even worse when you add in the chance of another serious cardiac event that he survives but which prevents him from continuing his campaign/term. It may be morbid, but there’s a very real chance that Warren becomes the last progressive option because Sanders is knocked out for health reasons.

    3
  15. mattbernius says:

    @Hal_10000:

    There’s a part of me that wonders if she’s trying to draw support away from Bernie to help Biden win.

    That’s been my take for a few days. Again, she’s ultimately an institutionalist and a Democrat. So Sanders is antithetical to both those positions. That’s before we get to the fact that Warren might still be legitmately upset about what he said to her about beating Trump (or what she felt she heard him say).

    2
  16. Jen says:

    @PJ:

    It’s a DNC plot! They are stealing the nomination from Bernie!

    Yep. I’ve been seeing a LOT of this.

    2
  17. Hal_10000 says:

    @mattbernius:

    she’s ultimately an institutionalist and a Democrat. So Sanders is antithetical to both those positions

    This is an under appreciated difference between them. Warren’s pitch is that she wants to save the system from itself. Sanders is more “burn it all down”. It’s one of the reasons why, while I’m not remotely a Warren supporter, I think she would have been a better choice than Bernie.

    (She’s also had zero attacks to Bernie’s one, so there’s that too)

    5
  18. Scott F. says:

    @mattbernius:
    Neither Sanders getting the nomination, then losing to Trump OR Sanders winning the WH, then failing to realize any policy objectives (as Warren clearly believes Bernie has no realistic plan for) would both be worse for the ultimate aims of progressivism than Biden winning, then bringing progressive voices into his administration.

    I believe her choice A would be a contested convention with her emerging as a middle ground. But, I don’t think Sanders is her choice B, so Biden it is.

    5
  19. charon says:

    Suppose come the convention neither Biden nor Sanders has the magic 1991. Suppose also Warren could combine with either one to get over 1991.

    I can envision several paths forward from that premise, some of which have Lizzie getting something.

    In any case, I vote for her because she really is the best candidate.

    4
  20. EddieinCA says:

    My wife was in tears this morning while voting. Her heart is with Warren, but she voted Biden because she, as a 41 year old white woman, is anti-Bernie even more than I am. She changed her mind in the last 48 hours, due to Amy and Pete’s endorsements. Just an anecdote.

    While I would vote for Bernie as the Dem nominee, she would stay home if Bernie wins the nomination.

    4
  21. Stormy Dragon says:

    As the prophet Groenig foretold, the president after Trump would look like an adult Lisa Simpson and be vexed by the huge budget debt the Trump administration left behind.

    So you can either vote for Warren or resign yourselves to another four year wait until the chosen one appears.

    1
  22. Teve says:

    @charon: she would make the best prez, so that’s who I’m supporting. On the 1% chance Biden or Sanders win I’ll support them.

    1
  23. Sleeping Dog says:

    Over at Vox, Matt Yglesias offers his take on why Warren is doing poorly. Short answer is that her appeal is to a narrow demographic within the party, i.e. people like us.

    5
  24. mattbernius says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Pretty much this. She could be an amazing cabinet member. Or potentially a Prime Minister (if we were a different system). But she’s unfortunately not a great candidate for our particular structure.

    And, honestly, Warren was my choice from a pure policy/wonk perspective.

    2
  25. charon says:

    @Teve: Oh I believe Biden or Sanders would win, especially as Donnie’s neurological issues are becoming more visible. I just really do not like the people Sanders has around himself or trust the way he would staff an administration.

    Biden is clearly past his use-by date, and his issues like student loan debt are going to seriously turn people off.

    1
  26. Sleeping Dog says:

    @mattbernius:

    Warren was my choice as well. Though in the NH primary I voted for Amy, as I believed that Warren lacked that innate feel that a politician needs to be a success a high level. A cabinet position, absolutely, I’d like to see her as Treasury secretary.

    2
  27. Scott F. says:

    @mattbernius:
    If Warren doesn’t end up on the ticket, then she should stay in the Senate. I think she would be able to make more happen there. Unfortunately, I don’t see how either Biden or Sanders have coattails, so if Warren isn’t the head of the ticket, McConnell stays Majority Leader.

    2
  28. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    I believed that Warren lacked that innate feel that a politician needs to be a success a high level.

    This is why we have such terrible leadership. Despite all the research showing that non-charismatic leadership leads to far better outcomes, everyone still wants that charismatic psychopath.

    4
  29. restless says:

    @EddieinCA:

    I feel her pain – I filled my mail-in ballot for Joe instead of Pete on Sunday night.

    But, this morning I walked to my polling place and gave them the mail-in ballot to destroy, then walked to a booth to vote for Elizabeth 🙂

    The primary is where you vote true, right?

    3
  30. Jen says:

    Wouldn’t any cabinet appointment for Warren would mean the Republican governor in MA would get to appoint her replacement? Not sure that would help us out at all.

    2
  31. charon says:

    @Jen:

    Not a problem, state law mandates an election for a replacement (unless you worry a Republican could win a special election).

    There is a calendar clock that would run, she could resign her seat the day after election day.

    1
  32. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    You’re right, but alas the reality is that one needs to be a politician first.