In January, as Bernie Sanders was surging in the polls, many pundits claimed he had a real chance at the nomination. After Iowa and New Hampshire, his probability of winning it, according to RealClearPolitics.com, was more than 50 percent. When Mr. Sanders won the Nevada caucus by a large margin, some people claimed the nomination was all but his.
I was skeptical — because of race. A few days before the Iowa caucus, I wrote that even if Mr. Sanders won the first two contests, the huge black vote in South Carolina would stop his winning streak. I pointed out that Barack Obama, who like most blacks doesn’t care for the democratic socialist from Vermont, could endorse Joe Biden at any time if the former vice president needed a boost from blacks.
I was right. As I wrote on Monday, “The final tally [in South Carolina] left Mr. Biden with 48.4 percent of the vote, more than double that of Bernie Sanders, who placed a distant second with 19.9 percent. Exit polls suggest Mr. Biden got at least 61 percent of the black vote and perhaps as much as 85 percent.”
Then Mr. Obama stepped in, though more subtly and indirectly than I had expected:
Mr. Buttigieg talked with Mr. Biden and former President Barack Obama on Sunday night [March 1, the day after the South Carolina primary], according to a Democratic official familiar with the conversations. Mr. Biden asked for Mr. Buttigieg’s support and the former mayor indicated he would consider the request. . . .
Mr. Obama did not specifically encourage Mr. Buttigieg to endorse Mr. Biden, said the official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations. But Mr. Obama did note that Mr. Buttigieg has considerable leverage at the moment and should think about how best to use it. Should Mr. Buttigieg endorse Mr. Biden on Monday, it could reshape the Democratic primary if many of his supporters shift to Mr. Biden, creating a more formidable centrist challenge to Mr. Sanders’s progressive movement.
In his remarks [endorsing Mr. Biden], Mr. Buttigieg directed criticism toward Mr. Sanders, without naming him . . . .
Yesterday, Mr. Biden rode a black wave to victory. Across the South, where, just as in South Carolina, blacks have a large share of the vote in Democrat contests, he won by huge margins. As I write, the votes are still being tallied, so the figures may change, but Mr. Biden appears to have won Tennessee by 17 points, North Carolina and Arkansas by 20, Virginia by 30, and Alabama by 55!
States with few blacks either went for Mr. Sanders, or went for Mr. Biden by much slimmer margins. Utah — 86 percent white and 1.8 percent black — gave Mr. Sanders an 18-point win. In Vermont — 94 percent white and 1.3 percent black — Mr. Sanders won by 30 points, helped by the fact he lives there. Maine — also 94 percent white and 1.3 percent black — is essentially a tie. Minnesota — 83 percent white and 6 percent black — went to Mr. Biden by nine points. The state’s popular senator Amy Klobuchar endorsed Mr. Biden the day before the vote.
What about Hispanics? Some commentators said they would vote for Mr. Sanders in high enough numbers to give him the nomination. I wrote about this in early February:
[The Hispanic] share of the Democrat electorate is around 23 percent — just short of the black share, which sits at 25 percent. In theory, then, if one candidate for the Democrat presidential nomination had the always monolithic black vote tied up, another candidate could counter that almost entirely by winning the Hispanic vote.
This could be crucial in 2020, because the current race appears to be coming down to Joe Biden — who dominates the black vote — and Bernie Sanders — whose campaign is working hard to win Hispanics. Will this strategy pay off? Can Sen. Sanders ride a brown wave to the nomination?
Probably not. In 2016, Sen. Sanders did so poorly with Hispanic voters that even substantial gains with them will not be enough to make up for the black vote he is sure to lose by enormous margins.
Both then and now, Mr. Sanders had undeniably more Hispanic support than Mr. Biden — but still not enough. Texas, which in the last two weeks was considered a sure win for Mr. Sanders, voted for Mr. Biden, roughly 33 to 29 percent. The Washington Post explained the racial dynamic:
The Texas electorate was a snapshot of the Democratic party’s racial and ethnic diversity on Super Tuesday, with no one group dominating the ballot box. According to early exit polls, just over 4 in 10 Texas primary voters were white; Sanders and Biden ran even among this group. Meanwhile, Sanders led by a double-digit margin among Hispanics in the preliminary exit poll data, with more than 4 in 10 backing him, and about 1 in 4 backing Biden. Biden led by a still-larger margin among black Democratic voters in Texas, with 6 in 10 supporting him compared with about 2 in 10 for Sanders.
In other words, not even a double-digit lead with Hispanics was enough to hand the state to Mr. Sanders. Mr. Biden’s racial brew — 50 percent of whites, 25 percent of Hispanics, and 60 percent of blacks — put him over the top.
California’s Hispanic share of the population is about the same as Texas’s (approximately 40 percent) — but the state is only 6.5 percent black, whereas Texas is almost 13 percent black. Making matters worse for Mr. Biden is that California is 15 percent Asian — another group that favors Mr. Sanders — whereas Texas is just 5 percent Asian. Mr. Sanders appears to be beating Mr. Biden in that state, 33 percent to 24 percent, which will give him a lot of delegates. Mr. Sanders’ victory in the minor state of Colorado is easy to explain: it is 68 percent non-Hispanic white, 21 percent Hispanic, and less than 5 percent black.
If Mr. Sanders was winning Hispanics by five-to-one or more, he could beat Mr. Biden. But his victory margins are too small to offset Mr. Biden’s enormous advantage with blacks. There aren’t enough upcoming states with small numbers of blacks for Mr. Sanders to win the nomination. Illinois and New York are large states with many delegates, and in both Hispanics only barely outnumber blacks, and Mr. Sanders didn’t win either of them in 2016. Florida is an important state with many Hispanics, but its Hispanics are unlike their kin in the Southwest. Cubans will not be voting for a Fidel Castro apologist at the same rate as Mexicans. Also, the black population is 17 percent — two and a half times California’s. As in 2016, Mr. Sanders may well continue to rack up wins in small white states (e.g. Wyoming and West Virginia), but those victories will not even come close to offsetting losses in delegate-rich states with large numbers of blacks such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Now that Michael Bloomberg has dropped out, nearly all of his supporters — a mix of white moderates and a surprising number of blacks — will flock to Mr. Biden. Very few supporters of a billionaire ex-Republican will switch to a democratic socialist. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren, whose supporters could go to Mr. Sanders, seems stubbornly insistent on staying in the race.
Though Mr. Sanders does at times pander to non-whites and recite anti-white absurdities, he generally appears to be of the traditional Marxist view that race isn’t very important. He sees the world more in terms of class than race: a battle between rich and poor, not black and white. But race matters. It’s real and it influences everything. Mr. Sanders may not like that, and may even deny it, but race is determining his fate just as it is that of the nation.