The Joe Biden Juggernaut

With his smashing Super Tuesday victories and Bloomberg's endorsement, the former vice president has suddenly become the chief 2020 challenger to Trump.

By Michael Hirsh, a senior correspondent and deputy news editor at Foreign Policy, and Robbie Gramer, a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
Joe Biden takes the stage at a campaign event in Los Angeles.
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, accompanied by his wife Jill Biden and sister Valerie Biden Owens, takes to the stage at a Super Tuesday event in Los Angeles, California on March 3. David McNew/Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden continued his remarkable comeback from political near-oblivion when he won the endorsement of his last remaining moderate rival, Michael Bloomberg, who dropped out of the Democratic race Wednesday after Biden clobbered him in a series of dramatic victories on Super Tuesday.

The sudden alignment of the multibillionaire former New York mayor—who had spent an unheard-of amount of money on his brief, failed campaign—with the formerly cash-strapped Biden only further disrupted a Democratic race that has seen stunning upheavals in just the last few days. 

Since his big turnaround victory in South Carolina on Saturday—after being all but counted out because of poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire—Biden has gained the endorsement of all his moderate rivals, swept to triumph in at least nine states on Super Tuesday and surged into the delegate lead over progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, his only serious challenger. And now, with Bloomberg’s backing, Biden won’t have to worry as much about money.

Bloomberg, who had bet and lost on a long-shot strategy of skipping the early states and pouring an unprecedented half-billion dollars into advertising, mainly in states that voted on Super Tuesday, indicated in a statement that for him the task was all about removing President Donald Trump from office after one term. 

“I’ve always believed that defeating Donald Trump starts with uniting behind the candidate with the best shot to do it. After yesterday’s vote, it is clear that candidate is my friend and a great American, Joe Biden,” he wrote in a press release. In an uncharacteristically antic bit of humor, Bloomberg later tweeted a video clip of Obi-Wan Kenobi battling Darth Vader in the movie Star Wars and wrote, “See you soon, Donald.”

The swift consolidation of the party mainstream around Biden suggests that the Democratic establishment—and many voters—were suddenly motivated by the prospect that they might be handing off the party to Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist (who is not even technically a Democrat), in much the same way that Trump, another outsider, seized control of the Republican Party in 2016. And that, as Biden, Bloomberg, and other leading Democratic moderates such as Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (both of whom also endorsed Biden a day before Super Tuesday) have warned, nominating a candidate with views as left-wing as Sanders’s would guarantee a loss in November.

But with much of the party base, especially younger people, still energized by Sanders, the outcome of the race is far from decided. The Vermont senator captured Tuesday’s biggest delegate prize in California, and also won Utah, Colorado, and his home state of Vermont. While final results aren’t in, Sanders’’s initial total delegate count was 382, while Biden pushed ahead with 453 after winning the other big prize of the night, Texas. Progressives such as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich expressed concern that, as happened in 2016 after Hillary Clinton won the nomination over Sanders, the party establishment might once again ignore the sentiments of the base. 

“The fact that Bloomberg has thrown his support to Biden should remove any lingering doubts about where the big money is going and what the Democratic establishment wants.

And what it doesn’t want — a wealth tax, Medicare for All, and a Green New Deal,” Reich tweeted.

The sudden movement to Biden also sent a message to the rest of the world. As with past elections, foreign policy wasn’t the top issue on voters’ minds, but Biden’s rise signals a shift in the battle over ideas playing out in the Democratic Party in Trump’s Washington. 

Sanders, fueled by a groundswell of grassroots support on the left, has challenged traditional foreign-policy orthodoxies that Democrats have held for decades, bashing U.S. Israel policy and even praising literacy programs under communist dictator Fidel Castro in Cuba as he condemned the authoritarian bent of his rule, leaving Democrats in the battleground state of Florida bristling. 

Biden’s ascension breathes life back into a foreign-policy establishment on the defensive since Trump came into office. “The blob is back,” Brett Bruen, a longtime former U.S. diplomat, told Foreign Policy. “The moderate, centrist foreign policy world is feeling, after years of being battered and bruised, both by Trump but also the progressive wing of the party … reenergized.” 

Michael Hirsh is a senior correspondent and deputy news editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @michaelphirsh

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer