More than six months after what many pundits predicted would be a flash in the pan, Joe Biden still sits atop Democratic primary polls. The reason for Biden’s preeminence is simple: He is the dominant moderate in a race filled with progressives. Even though moderates do not represent a majority of Democratic primary voters, the moderate niche is large enough to allow Biden to sit atop the cluster of progressives competing for votes among a divided group of leftists. The situation is very similar to how Donald Trump’s plurality allowed him to win the Republican nomination in 2016 amid thanks to Republican primary voters divided between Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich.
Now, after months of watching Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders vie for second place, another Democrat is contesting Biden for the moderate lane. Pete Buttigieg has exhibited a rise in the polls, doubling his share of voters since the beginning of October, per the Real Clear Politics average. Buttigieg now stands at 11 percent, which earns him an increasingly close fourth place. Aside from the Big Three, Mayor Pete is the only candidate to poll at more than 10 percent.
Whether Buttigieg is a moderate depends on how you define “moderate.” Jill Lawrence noted in USA Today that “his résumé includes service as a Navy intelligence officer in Afghanistan and three years at the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.” and adds, “He’s religious and married (and also, by the way, gay).” Lawrence also notes that his public option health plan “for all who want it” is less radical than the Medicare-for-all plans of many of his opponents.
On the subject of health, it is also relevant to note that Elizabeth Warren’s Icarus-like journey to tie Joe Biden at the top of the polls only to fall apart and begin a long, slow crash back to ignominy can be traced to her radical health care reform plan. When Warren released her much-vaunted Medicare-for-all plan, even Democrats blanched at her sweeping plan to remake America’s health care system as well as its associated price tag.
Elizabeth Warren wasn’t the only candidate whose campaign flamed out over an overly radical platform. Beto O’Rourke, who got off to a quick start by raising more than six million dollars (enough to build a bionic man in 1973), failed to energize his flagging campaign by promising to confiscate assault rifles and tax churches. Progressives failed to rally to Beto’s liberal Christmas list, perhaps recognizing that these positions were too far out of the mainstream to be accepted by a majority of voters.
A third Democrat who succumbed to progressive preferences was Kamala Harris. There is more than one reason for Harris’ failure to launch, but one factor was that she catered her campaign to “woke” Twitter. In so doing, she failed to attract enough mainstream Democrats to keep her campaign going.
But the fact that Buttigieg is appealing to moderate Democrats doesn’t mean that he is a moderate, especially in Republican terms. “Moderate” to Democrats means something different than it does to Republicans. Even a moderate Democrat is going to hold positions that most conservatives would consider to be deal-breakers. For conservatives, a voluntary public option is scarcely better than Medicaid-for-all and even though Buttigieg is a Christian, his religious views are far from harmonized with conservative evangelicals, especially when it comes to abortion. Mayor Pete may not be a true moderate but he does seem to appeal to moderate Democrats who aren’t sold on Joe Biden.
In fact, it’s difficult to say exactly what Buttigieg really is. As a city mayor, he doesn’t have much of a track record on national issues. As with other recent candidates such as Barack Obama and Donald Trump, his scant history makes Buttigieg a blank slate onto which supporters and opponents can project what they want to see.
Whether Buttigieg continues to surge or becomes another also-ran, it seems that Democratic voters are increasingly looking towards the moderates for their candidate. If Buttigieg falters, Andrew Yang and Amy Klobuchar seem likely to inherit the moderate-but-not-Biden niche.
However, in the end, Joe Biden is the heavy favorite to win the Democratic nomination. His victory will be in no small part due to the support of the largest moderate segment of the Democratic coalition, a demographic that is both staunchly Democrat and heavily Christian. It is a core group with which other Democrats, such as Buttigieg, have been able to make little headway against Biden.
Black voters will be the moderate kingmakers who propel Biden to the nomination.
Originally published on The Resurgent