To winnow primary field, Obama and other Democrats must speak out 

As Super Tuesday looms, none of the seven remaining Democratic presidential candidates has signaled any intention to leave the race. If allowed to continue, this could spell disaster for Democrats, increasing the already significant chance that no candidate will have a majority of delegates before the convention. This in turn will leave the party deeply susceptible to an open split between its liberal and moderate wings in Milwaukee, which could make beating President Donald Trump that much harder.

It’s time for party leaders to step in. As soon as the Super Tuesday returns become clear, Barack Obama and other top Dems must call for all but the top three candidates to leave the race, immediately, before the next large rounds of primaries March 10 and 17. Only this action can force otherwise reluctant candidates to put party ahead of ego and drop out.

Until now, former President Obama’s reluctance to weigh in too heavily on the primary process has been understandable, even laudable, as he has been clearly worried that siding with, for example, his former Vice President Joe Biden would alienate liberals supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.Mass.) and exacerbate rather than heal ideological fractures within the party.

But such prudence could quickly turn into political malfeasance if perpetuated beyond Tuesday’s vote. Obama must now speak out clearly and forcefully. 

Many other senior Democrats — figures like Ed Rendell, Harry Reid, Jennifer Granholm, and Claire McCaskill — should likewise sing the “It’s Time to Leave” tune before it’s too late.

First out must obviously be left-wing billionaire crusader Tom Steyer, who has so far spent more than $52 million in January alone without winning a single delegate, while polling at about 2 percent nationally. He is now known mostly for his bizarre attempt to buy votes in South Carolina, a foray that has only hurt Joe Biden for no evident strategic purpose (except perhaps to help Sanders or fellow billionaire and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg).

This also means Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) must exit, since she lacks a national campaign structure and will probably finish far back March 3 in mega-states like California and Texas, with very few delegates to show. While some in Klobuchar’s camp may believe staying in the race for a few more weeks would increase her chances of gaining a VP nomination, in actuality showing a willingness to put party first might make her a unifying figure and thus more valuable to the eventual nominee.

Trickier are the fates of Biden, Bloomberg, Warren and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Warren has at least finished third once and fourth twice, but the trajectory of her campaign is unmistakably downward, as Sanders has sucked out all the left-wing oxygen her campaign formerly thrived on. And while she might be tempted to bow out and endorse Sanders, she would be wiser to keep her powder dry, as the nomination is by no means yet guaranteed for the Vermont Democratic socialist. After all, Sanders has yet to show that he can expand his appeal to a majority of primary voters in any state: he actually gained many fewer votes in neighboring New Hampshire than he did in 2016.

Buttigieg might understandably be reluctant to leave the campaign next week given his impressive finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Yet the structural challenges of his campaign mirror those of Klobuchar, albeit Buttigieg is raising a bit more money. And for all his criticisms of Sanders, it must be increasingly clear to Mayor Pete that his continued presence in the race is only likely to help the 78-year-old junior senator from Vermont. A huge surprise strong showing by Buttigieg in California or another major state Tuesday could, of course, alter this dynamic. But absent such a miracle, the 37-year-old former South Bend mayor must look to play the long game, recognizing that putting party above his temporary self-interest may yield remarkable long-run dividends from grateful Democrats in presidential races for decades to come.

No surprise, Bloomberg’s calculus is entirely dominated by money. The blunt argument of his camp and supporters is that only his billions can monopolize the airwaves and web sufficiently to be the viable alternative to Sanders. With an astounding $500 million and counting already spent, this proposition will be thoroughly tested in California, Texas and other large states Tuesday. If Bloomberg performs poorly even after the largest political spending spree in political history, Democrats should unite in calling for him to get out. 

But even in this event, another problem becomes clear — Bloomberg is not really a Democrat. A famously defiant figure, he will likely feel no compunction to leave the race no matter what effect he is having, or whoever asks him to. For all those Democrats who secretly hope his billions can defeat Sanders, and then Trump, this is the real devil’s bargain of Bloomberg. Moreover, the liberal wing of the party (and even some moderates) are increasingly outraged that one of richest 10 people in the world is attempting to buy their nomination, perhaps willfully in defiance of party interests. And, as I recently wrote, his continued presence may also further radicalize many Democrats into supporting Sanders as a matter of party solidarity and reaction against Bloomberg as demonstrable manifestation of the very plutocracy Sanders is running against.

It is Biden who may face the hardest choice. He must clearly win South Carolina and then do better than expected in Super Tuesday, for no other reason than to replenish his rapidly dwindling campaign coffers. Yet when the smoke clears March 4, it may be that party regulars rediscover the virtues of Uncle Joe — namely that he has a better chance than Bloomberg or Sanders of unifying rather than splitting the Party. 

Whatever the results March 3, party leaders must finally speak up and force out the four or five candidates who will clearly have no chance of winning. To do less is simply to watch as Sanders wins a plurality in state after state, and Democrats end up with a nominee who has less than majority support in his own party.

Paul Bledsoe is president of Bledsoe & Associates, a policy and communications consultancy. He is also a lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy. He served as staff member in the U.S. House, Senate Finance Committee, Interior Department and on President Bill Clinton’s White House Climate Change Task Force.

Tags 2020 Democratic candidates 2020 election Amy Klobuchar Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Claire McCaskill Democratic Party Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Harry Reid Joe Biden moderate Democrats Pete Buttigieg Super Tuesday Tom Steyer

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