The Ghost of Super Tuesday Past 

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden buys a pie at Buttercup Diner in Oakland, California on March 3, 2020. Fourteen states and American Samoa are holding presidential primary elections, with over 1400 delegat... Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden buys a pie at Buttercup Diner in Oakland, California on March 3, 2020. Fourteen states and American Samoa are holding presidential primary elections, with over 1400 delegates at stake. Americans vote Tuesday in primaries that play a major role in who will challenge Donald Trump for the presidency, a day after key endorsements dramatically boosted Joe Biden's hopes against surging leftist Bernie Sanders. The backing of Biden by three of his ex-rivals marked an unprecedented turn in a fractured, often bitter campaign. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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On March 3, 2020, a fluid and dynamic Democratic primary was calcified. 

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), having lost their early state momentum by South Carolina, dropped out just before Super Tuesday and threw their support to Joe Biden. Billionaire Tom Steyer did as well, after a disappointing third place finish in the Palmetto State. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) bowed out a few days later. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) hung on for another month. 

But that king of elections, momentum, had swung to Biden’s camp. His decisive victory in South Carolina, thanks to an assist from Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-GA), gave him an indomitable head of steam heading into the Super Tuesday fusillade. He won 10 of the 15 elections and the lion’s share of the delegates.

Other factors, too, blew hard the glue of Biden’s initially wobbly swipes at the nomination. With 2016 in the rearview and Donald Trump’s presidency unavoidably front of mind, Democrats, already an anxious breed, were terrified of being upset again. The party reflexively reached for the “safest” option, premising the primary on the value of “electability,” thinly-veiled code for who could be the whitest, malest, Christianest, least scary contender, to the extreme detriment of the campaigns of Warren, Klobuchar and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). Biden fit the bill. 

And on March 3, the global event that would unrecognizably alter much of American life for at least the next two years — and for many, forever — was quietly ripping through the country. The Centers for Disease Control that day announced 60 cases of COVID-19 across 12 states. States started imposing lockdown measures about a week later. The nomination was Biden’s. 

The country Biden would soon inherit was unusually riven with problems: the pandemic and subsequent vaccine distribution, the shocks to the economy and job market that accompanied it, mass protests over police brutality, Trump’s multi-pronged, ultimately violent attempts to overturn the 2020 election. 

As detailed in a recent New Yorker profile, Biden questioned a proposal to hang a profile of Franklin Roosevelt — a president he liked, but didn’t feel any particular tie to — over the fireplace during the typical Oval Office revamp upon his move-in. 

Presidential historian Jon Meacham reportedly responded: “Not since Roosevelt has anyone ever inherited a circumstance of more difficulty.”

Four years later, many of those problems have receded due to a combination of factors, including the policy choices of the Biden White House and Democratic Congress. Not only did the United States not fall into a recession, but its economy is significantly outpacing its peer nations. Inflation is on a steady decline. COVID-19 has faded into the background after the development of vaccines and subsequent booster shots. Trump’s authoritarian threat, of course, looms as large as ever, though his removal from the White House gives him substantially less immediate power. He’s also accumulated 91 criminal charges and four felony indictments, which, in a saner political environment, would have long ago ended his presidential prospects.

While things are better domestically on nearly all counts (and considerably worse for Trump) since last Super Tuesday, Biden’s position feels precarious. 

The intelligentsia is still formulating fantasy politics ideas about replacing him at the top of the ticket. Persistently dour polling — some with Trump leading, some showing Trump wield large advantages on issues including immigration and, bafflingly, the economy —  has sent Democrats into a panicked tailspin about Biden’s weakness. Trump’s narrative, helpfully amplified by right-wing and mainstream media alike, that Biden is too old for the job has successfully permeated the electoral landscape.

Despite the exceedingly rare instance of a head-to-head between two people with presidential records to examine and compare, both men’s have been largely erased due to some unholy combination of fly-like voter attention spans, media bias against consistently covering policy and old news and, perhaps, the strategies of the campaigns themselves. 

All of this places considerable pressure on Biden’s State of the Union address in two days, potentially his biggest audience of the election season. It’ll be his best chance to deliver the thesis statement of a potential second term, to remind voters of what he used his first four years to do, to educate them on the “dictatorship” Trump has in store and to prove conclusively that his brains are not oozing out of his ears. 

Last Super Tuesday, Biden had all but locked up the nomination, finally getting his long-desired stab at the presidency in a moment when he and many others believed the soul of the country was at stake. This Super Tuesday, the task ahead is much the same and the election currently a coin flip, despite a country that is, by nearly every measure, in a much better place. 

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