Despite barely campaigning in many of key states until the days immediately following his blowout victory in South Carolina, former Vice President Joe Biden won 11 state primaries on Super Tuesday. Most notably, Biden won the delegate-rich Texas and North Carolina, the latter of which being a state where, according to exit polls, he earned twice as many votes as erstwhile frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders in two telling categories: those who had only made up their mind about who to vote for in the few days leading up to the primary, as well as those who had voted in past primaries. (Biden also beat Sanders among voters who wanted a return to former President Barack Obama’s policies, and weirdly enough, gave him a run for his money among voters who wanted to switch America to a single-payer healthcare system.)
“In certain ways,” wrote Benjamin Wallace-Wells of the New Yorker, “these victories seemed to be happening to Biden,” as opposed to being the result of any concerted effort on Biden’s part. And indeed, what appears to have happened is that Biden’s victory in South Carolina gave “permission” to millions of previously undecided Democratic voters to throw in their lot with him. Given that Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke all endorsed Biden in the hours before Super Tuesday, one might be forgiven if they felt that the Democratic party had quickly cobbled together a conspiracy to prevent Bernie Sanders from becoming the nominee and instead hand it on a platter to Biden despite the fact that he’s, well, Biden. This seems like a terrible idea.
However, we here at The Outline firmly believe in hearing both sides of the argument, and conveniently enough, the other side of that argument is represented by my dad Andy Millard, a North Carolina Democrat who, after months of trying each Democratic candidate on for size, cycling through them like he’d bought them from Zara or H&M, saw the results of the South Carolina primary and decided at the last possible moment to vote for Biden in our primary.
Even more conveniently, my dad was in 2016 the Democratic candidate in a western North Carolina congressional race (the district was hopelessly gerrymandered; he lost) and currently serves as the chair of his county’s Democratic party, so, to a greater degree than a lot of dads out there, he could be described as a member of the Democratic establishment. As such, he was begrudgingly willing to serve as the voice of that Democratic establishment in an interview I conducted with him yesterday morning as I tried to make sense of what happened on Tuesday night. To him, his vote was not exactly an affirmative one for Biden, nor was his a vote a negative one against Sanders; instead, it was a vote cast in the hopes that other people were also voting for Biden and that everyone could all be done with finding someone to run against President Donald Trump.
Despite his status as a member of the Democratic establishment (as determined by me), my dad is also skeptical of the Democratic establishment (as determined by him) as an entity that can get anything done effectively. “No one is better at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory like the Democratic party,” he said. Even if I don’t agree with his vote, I definitely agree with him on that.
This conversation has been edited for length, clarity, and a minimum of father-son squabbling.
As a member of the Democratic establishment, what do you make of the Super Tuesday results?
Voters have been voting strategically, and this is why: This whole election this year, it’s not about stopping Bernie, it’s not about any Democratic candidate. It’s not even about any given set of issues. It’s about one thing and one thing only: Trump. It’s about stopping Trump. Most Democratic voters recognize that it needs to be a clear-cut referendum on Trump. Most second-term elections for presidents boil down to a referendum on the incumbent. This year it’s in much starker relief than usual. Anything we do to drift away from that simple binary choice complicates the decision for voters. Voters know that, particularly voters who’ve been around for a while. Take Bernie. Bernie is not Trump. That’s good. But Bernie brings with him this whole concept of a revolution. By doing that, he brings along with him a more complicated calculus for voters. In our district here in Western North Carolina, there is actually a possibility that our candidate might have an outside chance of winning. The more it’s a simple referendum on Trump, the better chance our guy has.
One thing that I find confusing about that line of thinking is why Biden might represent the ideal non-Trump candidate.
Oh, he doesn’t. We don’t have an ideal non-Trump candidate, and people have finally come to that realization. Frankly, what has happened is that there were seven major candidates, and for those who were not attracted to Bernie, it’s not about stopping him, it’s just that he is his own unique person — maybe Warren is kind of close — but Bernie is Bernie, and those who love him do so because he’s Bernie. But for those who don’t get excited by him, they’ve always known they’ve got to find one candidate to settle on. I’m a perfect example of this — I’ve been for everybody, including Bernie.
I remember that week.
There’s an old saying that Democrats fall in love and that Republicans fall in line. A lot of Democrats have realized that this cycle, we don’t have anybody to fall in love with. Now, the people who love Bernie, that’s a perfect example of that rule. But if you’re not enamored of Bernie, then I, like other Democrats, have been casting around trying to find a candidate to settle on. South Carolina settled that for us. When [South Carolina Rep.] Jim Clyburn stepped up and made that impassioned endorsement of Biden, those who have paid attention and known Joe forever recognized the Joe Biden that he was talking about. We were reminded of the Joe who’s a basically decent person. You know what you’re getting. If we’ve gotta settle on somebody, it might as well be Joe.
As somebody who is significantly further to the left than the mainstream Democratic establishment (as represented in this conversation by you), I’m not necessarily worried about the future of the left — the most popular young politician is [New York Rep.] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist, and I very can see a world in which she steamrolls a centrist movement helmed by Pete Buttigieg and brings the party in the direction I hope it goes. What concerns me as a voter who also ultimately wants to see Trump defeated is that I can’t imagine Joe Biden beating Donald Trump in a debate, let alone in the general election. I have concerns that the things he says in public will alienate people, and I’m also concerned that regardless of what actually happened with his son in the Ukraine, the appearance of impropriety there plays directly into Trump’s hands in the context of a head-to-head matchup.
Yeah, yeah. I give you all of those. But [moderate Democrats] are out of time. The one thing that he has is that we know who we’re dealing with. He’s not the ideal candidate, and this whole process is, frankly, not very fair. As soon as Biden won South Carolina, I knew exactly what I had to do: I had to vote for Joe on Super Tuesday. Nobody called me, I didn’t get together and plot anything, I just knew in my gut I had to do that. Everybody I heard from in the next day or so said the exact same thing. I do believe that’s what happened in all those states. Because at some point we’ve gotta settle on somebody.
So if we’ve looked at some of the candidates who follow that model, there’s John Kerry, Al Gore, and Michael Dukakis.
I see where you’re going with that, and I understand it. It’s also a two-way race.
The nominee will be running against Trump, a guy who a lot of people love.
It didn’t work out for Dukakis because it wasn’t as stark a choice as it was now. John Kerry, same thing. Bush had screwed things up, but we hadn’t realized how badly yet. I think this is a totally different situation. Al Gore, he was a few hanging chads in Florida away from winning.
It seems that the Democratic establishment, and by that I mean you —
That irritates the crap out of me, I gotta be honest [Laughs]. The Democratic establishment doesn’t have as much power as we think it does.
I think that both people in the center and people on the left do this one thing. The center says, “Trump is uniquely bad,” until there’s something they don’t like on the left, and then they compare it to Trump. And then on the left, we always say that the Democratic party is completely in disarray, but then when something we don’t like happens, a lot of people proclaim that the Democratic mainstream is this machine that’s intent on stopping Bernie. So how well-organized is the Democratic party as an entity?
They’re fairly well-organized. I was just at a meeting for the [North Carolina] state committee of the Democratic party, there are like 700 of us. You sit through one of those meetings and you’ll want to tear your hair out. It very much looks like America, both in terms of [the committee-members’] identities and in their views. And as a result, we’re not all that great at pulling things together and saying, “Here’s how we’re going to make this happen.” There’s no Democratic machine that’s gonna say, “Joe is our person.” That’s one of the things that made Super Tuesday so remarkable to me — that millions of voters came together and voted for Biden because they came to their own independent conclusions.
Because so much of the support for Biden and Sanders is divided on generational lines, but do you think that speaks to a divide within the Democratic party that’s going to need to be reckoned with?
Yes, but one of the advantages of age that I have is that when you see a thing happen a second or third or fourth time, you start to recognize a pattern there. I had that generational divide with my own parents. I do worry that Bernie supporters will get discouraged and drop out of the process. That’s a scary and dangerous prospect, and we’re going to do what we can to include everybody. If Biden’s the nominee, I hope he’s going to recognize that. Having said that, and I mean it with every fiber of my being: your generation is going to save us all. If you check out now, we could lose everything, and it could never come.
Oh shit, Bloomberg just dropped out of the race as we were having this conversation.
Thank you, Jesus. That’s good.
He won American Samoa, though.
He’ll always have American Samoa.
I’ll probably end the interview with that.