For the Democratic presidential candidates who want to block Bernie Sanders’ path to the 2020 nomination, the field is too damn crowded. The best way to beat Sanders, at least so the theory goes, is to face him in a one-on-one matchup before he racks up an insurmountable delegate lead. (The inconvenient truth is that recent polling shows Sanders also leading head-to-head matchups.)
All of the non-Sanders candidates see a dynamic where the split of the non-Sanders vote among half a dozen alternatives gives Sanders a big advantage. But no one yet is willing to take one for the team and drop out. Why isn’t a great winnowing underway? Because no one has a clear case that he or she is the strongest candidate. And even some of the weakest candidates have clear incentives to tough it out through Super Tuesday.
Below we break out the rationales for why each non-Sanders candidate should consider a quick exit, and why they absolutely should not do that.
Should Drop Out: The former vice president — a politician with universal name recognition within the party, formerly part of a dynamic duo with Barack Obama — has lost the first three nominating contests. Despite being a white guy in overwhelmingly white states, Biden finished fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire. He rose to a second-place finish in Nevada, but came in more than 25 points behind Sanders. On his fourth bid for president since 1984, Biden has yet to win a single state primary.
Shouldn’t Drop Out: Victory is around the corner, man! Biden has banked his 2020 campaign on resonance with older voters, and particularly older black voters. Biden won the black vote in Nevada, and is counting on black voters to turn South Carolina into a launch pad for victories on Super Tuesday.
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Should Drop Out: Every few days, it seems, the billionaire former New York mayor is apologizing for past comments that are either racist, sexist, or wildly out of touch. Bloomberg has been caught on tape making explicitly racist arguments for the unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policing he supervised as mayor. In business, he allegedly told a newly pregnant employee to “kill it” and covered up alleged workplace improprieties with nondisclosure agreements. In a leaked audio recording from 2016, Bloomberg said the first plank of his presidential platform “would be to defend the banks.” Bloomberg also bombed his first presidential debate so badly that his approval rating sank 20 points.
Should Not Drop Out: With more than $60 billion in the bank, and a wide network of progressive supporters in the gun-reform and climate-change communities, Bloomberg has the resources to stay competitive in the primary, and as a former Republican and actual business wiz, he could position himself as the centrist technocrat to manage the chaotic mess left behind by Donald Trump.
Should Drop Out: Warren appears to have yielded the progressive lane to Sanders and is having difficulty pitching herself as the one candidate to unify the anti-Bernie Democrats. Warren had been so short of funds after New Hampshire that she abandoned her opposition to Super PACs, which had been a central plank of her anti-corruption platform. Her best shot on Super Tuesday is her home state of Massachusetts, and even that’s not a slam dunk with Sanders polling competitively.
Should Not Drop Out:v Warren’s evisceration of Bloomberg on the debate stage in Nevada was one of the strongest moments of a long campaign cycle. It has opened up a new gusher of cash for her campaign, and vaulted her back to second place in one national poll, and within striking distance in the delegate prize of Texas. Polls show Warren is the most broadly acceptable candidate to voters in the field, and if Milwaukee were to become a brokered convention, she might just become the nominee.
Should Drop Out: At 38, Buttigieg has a bright future ahead of him, but his 2020 prospects are fading. Mayor Pete overperformed in Iowa and had a decent showing in New Hampshire, but as the race has moved to more diverse states, he’s struggling as predicted. Nevada was a disappointment and South Carolina, where black voters have a central role, could be brutal for a candidate who has often polled at zero percent with African Americans. He’s short of cash and doesn’t have any obvious state to target for victory on Super Tuesday.
Should Not Drop Out: Buttigieg has the second-most delegates in the field through the first three contests. If the center lane were to thin out — if Biden drops and Bloomberg keeps cratering — he could gain viability. And if he can stick it out to the convention, the delegates he accumulates could make him a kingmaker in a contested convention.
Should Drop Out: The Klobucharge! has stalled out. The senator couldn’t parlay her third-place finish in New Hampshire into real momentum, coming in sixth in Nevada after famously being unable to name the president of Mexico in an interview. Her prospects in South Carolina are bleak.
Should Not Drop Out: Of everyone not named Bernie or Biden, she’s got the best chance of taking a Super Tuesday contest: her home state of Minnesota. There’s little reason to deprive herself of a victory lap that could replenish her coffers and keep her alive as other candidates run out of lifelines.
Should Drop Out: Steyer has spent more than $200 million on his campaign, but after Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada has secured zero convention delegates.
Should Not Drop Out: Like Biden, Steyer is making a final stand in South Carolina. Unlike Biden, Steyer does not look like he’s got a serious shot at victory. He’ll need more than millions, he’ll need a miracle.
Should Drop Out: Gabbard is far off the pace. She got fewer than 400 votes in Nevada, coming in behind “uncommitted” and Andrew Yang, who dropped out after New Hampshire.
Should Not Drop Out: Gabbard is a reservoir for anti-war, anti-establishment voters within the party, so it’s arguably better for her to corral that discontent within the Democratic Party, than let it leak out to third-party support. For Gabbard personally, she seems less interested in Democratic politics than in a potential Fox News gig. Continuing to elevate her national profile is likely to redound to her profit.