On the bloody morning after Democrats’ Super Tuesday primaries in 14 states including the nation’s two largest, California and Texas, there were a slew of political winners and losers — and one newly minted true-blue American hero: Hervis Rogers.
You might have heard about Rogers or seen his name on social media: He’s the guy down in Houston who works two jobs yet raced to his local polling place at Texas Southern University, a historically black college, and got on a massive line there to vote just before the 7 p.m. cutoff. Time passed. Someone passed out free cookies at one point. The clock chimed midnight and yet the exhausted Rogers still refused to surrender his right to vote.
“It is insane, but it’s worth it,” Rogers told reporters as he waited in line before casting a ballot around 1:30 a.m., in the darkness of a Super Wednesday. “I mean, I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t vote. I feel like it’s — I voice my opinion, but it don’t feel right if I don’t vote. So I said, ‘I’m going to take a stand and vote. It might make a difference.'”
There’s a lot to say about both the tenacity of Rogers and what he had to go through. For one thing, his plight really drove home the moral crime of how hard we make it in America — supposedly the world’s foundational democracy — for everyday people to exercise their right to vote. It’s also worth noting who Rogers waited so long to cast his ballot for: former vice president Joe Biden, whose string of victories on Super Tuesday will likely go down as an epic night in American political lore, although the reasons for his win were … complicated.
But the biggest victors this week were not the candidates but the voters, who in many cases went to great lengths to ensure their voices were heard. The roar of democracy was loud in Rogers’ Texas, where voters did not allow the fact that predominantly GOP election officials have closed 750 polling places, many in black and brown neighborhoods, to deter them from casting ballots. And in California, where students at places like the UCLA campus endured more-than-2-hour lines (showing that Democrats aren’t that much better at running elections). In Nashville, raked on Monday night by tornadoes that killed at least 25 people, officials were stunned at a voter turnout that forced them to keep many polling places open until 10 p.m.
The stats are almost as impressive as the stories. Most states showed an increase in Democratic primary turnout from 2016, averaging an impressive 33 percent gain, and a few even did better than 2008, considered the high watermark year because of the groundbreaking candidacy of Barack Obama. The results in Virginia — once a reliably Republican state as recently as the George W. Bush era — were astounding. The 1.3 million who cast Democratic ballots in the Cavalier State was up 69 percent from four years ago, and markedly higher than Obama’s 2008.
The biggest turnout increases came in the upscale suburbs of northern Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C. Once considered a political battleground, these affluent bedroom communities clearly cannot abide the presidency of Donald Trump. The region became a hotbed of the so-called resistance in 2017 and a point break for the blue wave that took back the House for Democrats in 2018. The Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, appearing Wednesday night on MSNBC, called Super Tuesday in Virginia “a revolution of the bourgeoisie.”
Most of the media coverage has focused on Tuesday’s biggest winner — and not surprisingly, since Biden had seemed dead in the water just a few short days ago — but very little attention has been given to the even more important story on the aftermath of the primary-palooza. That would be the one overwhelming loser.
Almost everything that happened on Tuesday — the spike in turnout, the willingness of people to stay in line for hours, and the shocking surge of votes and high-profile endorsements for Biden — including among people who liked other candidates better, but bought into the conventional wisdom that the moderate former veep is the best chance of ousting Trump in November — was driven by the same things. The fear that millions share that the American Experiment will never recover from four more years of a vainglorious authoritarian in the White House. That, and a determination to show that rest of the world that America is better than Trump.
It’s hard to believe that it was less than a month ago that Trump was acquitted at an impeachment trial in which Republican senators refused to hear the overwhelming evidence that an American president abused the powers of the presidency in an effort to dig up dirt on a political opponent (who just happened to be Joe Biden). Since then, the ADD-addled media has focused less on how Trump continues to debase his office and more on two stories: The coronavirus outbreak and the Democratic presidential race.
Yet both those stories have been deeply infused with Trump’s gross unfitness to sit in the Oval Office. The nation’s response to the potential public-health disaster has been underwhelming and even alarming in part because Trump cares so little for the working functions of government — he abolished a pandemic response unit that had been set up by the predecessor he despises, Obama — and in part because the president demands flattery and avoiding bad news.
In the presidential race, the vast pool of Democratic voters had appeared paralyzed for months — looking for some kind of sign from heaven on the one sure path to getting Trump out of office. That seemed pretty silly, until that sign actually came — at least, according to some earthly interpretations — in the form of the Biden endorsement by revered South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, and a subsequent South Carolina landslide powered by older African-Americans like Clyburn.
The South Carolina result triggered 72 cataclysmic hours of a kind most political junkies have never seen before — the rapid-fire dropouts and Biden endorsements from Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke, coupled with the instant immolation of Mike Bloomberg (whose only rationale for running had been a weak Joe Biden) and a worsening fear factor around the anti-Trump viability of Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“[Warren] would have been my preferred choice, but I was also thinking about who would ultimately be the one who would represent us well in the Democratic Party and I don’t think she had enough to get us there,” 31-year-old Elo Ratliff told The Root’s Terrell Jermaine Starr as he interviewed black and brown voters in Oakland in Tuesday. Ratliff was just one of a tsunami of Warren-or-Bloomberg-to-Biden voters, playing political calculus with an endgame of getting Trump out.
As I was two-thirds of the way through writing this column, Warren — whom I’ve hailed in this space for running a remarkable issues- and value-driven campaign — abruptly abandoned the race, leaving the field to Biden and his leftist bête noire, Sen. Bernie Sanders. The rejection of Warren — and the 2-ton weight that hovered over her campaign the entire time, the moral panic that America still isn’t ready to elect a woman president and may never be — is utterly heartbreaking.
The erasure and then elimination of the brightest beacon in the 2020 race, fueled by voters who’ve forgotten that they’re voters and think they’re auditioning for a pundit gig on MSNBC, is one of just of number of deep concerns I have over the suddenness of the stampede to Biden, even as the ex-Delaware senator sits a March 17 Florida landslide away from all but clinching the nomination in Milwaukee this summer.
I’m also worried that the Democratic Party establishment is doing what it always does best — shooting itself in the foot — in its rapid embrace of Biden that was driven by the possibility that Sanders, a democratic socialist, had briefly been on a clear path to the nomination. The voters who have stuck by the Vermont senator and his progressive ideals — nearly every Democrat under age 30, and the rapidly growing Latinx bloc — are the best hope for future not just of the party but of America. Why the glee in pushing these voters away?
But my biggest worry about the Biden surge is … Joe Biden. He’s a horrible candidate, and his big wins in South Carolina were all about the love from party stalwarts like Clyburn and the unlikely base combo of African-Americans and white boomer suburbanites, and nothing that Biden did to make his inept campaign any better. The 77-year-old’s bouts of incoherence on the trail pose a major threat to his chances against Trump in November. And his muddled and sometimes Republican-sounding past on everything from race and gender equality to the Iraq War and bankruptcy law will be exploited by both Brad Parscale and Vladimir Putin in a massive social-media campaign to get young and black and brown voters to defect or stay home.