The media and political establishment in Washington was openly celebrating what was portrayed as a near complete victory of Joe Biden over the hoards of Sanders supporters marching toward gates of the Beltway. The establishment united this week behind Biden with candidates like Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and others rallying forces to defeat Bernie Sanders at all costs. Not since the victory over Attila the Hun at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains has the ancien regime experienced such a thrilling moment. However, the history is not good for those celebrating behind the walls of Rome. (This blog has been updated)
I recently wrote how there remains a visceral distaste for the media and political establishment for many voters as they watched the concerted effort to defeat outsider candidates. That was also the case in 2016 with the effort to elect Hillary Clinton. The utter joy expressed this morning will only fuel that feeling of disenfranchisement. What we can expect is the continued strategic endorsements of establishment figures in the coming weeks and exhaustive coverage on the weakening Sanders and the surging Biden.
MSNBC was particularly aggressive in framing the election night and attacking the very premise of the Sanders’ movement. MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace bizarrely claimed that there was no effort by the establishment to prop up Biden. Wallace declared “Bernie Sanders… he has turned this idea of the establishment – he’s weaponized it against Biden,” she said. “The Democratic establishment did nothing for Joe Biden.” Really? Various establishment figures lined up behind Biden in the last week while CNN and MSNBC continued a relentless series of attacks on Sanders and his supporters.
Nevertheless, host Rachel Maddow agreed that sought to downplay the concerted effort in DC to push Biden: “every headline in all political coverage all around the country is like, ‘The establishment is coalescing the establishment.” She then suggested that this is all a lie that was used against that other seemingly wrongly candidate, Hillary Clinton: “It’s what he did against Hillary Clinton in 2016 as well.”
Maddow simply dismisses the admissions of how the DNC rigged elements of the 2016 primary for Clinton or how Clinton took over the debt of the DNC to exercise such control. She also dismisses how polls showed that Clinton was widely viewed as unauthentic and the ultimate establishment figure when the public clearly wanted a change in Washington. Instead, Maddow and Wallace portray the entire movement by Sanders to be a lie.
Not to be subtle, Wallace not only calls this all a lie but portrays Biden’s victory (with a long line of establishment endorsement) as a victory over the establishment: “But it’s a lie, I mean, it’s a lie. Listen, and I say this as a dispassionate former Republican who watched my party sort of implode around fake truths and false grievances, the establishment had nothing to do with Joe Biden’s victory. He’s flat broke, he has not a single ad on the air. He’s not advertising in any Super Tuesday states!”
MSNBC also asked James Carville for analysis of Sanders’ options . . . yes, the same Carville who has been denouncing Sanders as a “Communist” for weeks. Carville expressed concern for Sanders that he might risk a “backlash” if he did not immediately withdraw from the race. Thus, Sanders is almost even with Biden in delegates but Carville is deeply concerned that he may be staying too long in the race.
Over at Fox, Donna Brazile, the former DNC head who was found to have given Clinton debate questions in advance in 2016 (and admitted the questionable ties of Clinton over the DNC), declared the Biden victory to be “the most impressive 72 hours I’ve ever seen in U.S. politics.” The fact that the previous frontrunner was able to pull roughly even with Sanders is now viewed as more impressive than the victory of Trump in 2016 that shocked the world. She also told the GOP spokesperson to “go to hell” when she suggested that the Democratic establishment was again working to force through a nominee.
This all seems both forced and premature. While the coverage claims an “upset” by Biden, this ignores that he was viewed previously as the leading, if not chosen, candidate. With all of the other candidates lining up for Biden with most of the power brokers in Washington, this seems less than surprising. More importantly, it was not a rout. Rather, Sanders and Biden are roughly even in delegates. Sanders prevailed in California and came close in Texas.
Of course, such moments can be deceiving. When Roman General Flavius Aetius defeated Attila the Hun, he did so with his own “barbarian” units led by Visigoth King Theodoric I. It did not last long. Rome would be sacked by barbarians repeatedly. Indeed, Attila later returned and laid waste to much of Italy.
The point is not that Sanders’ victory is inevitable. Indeed, media and political forces seemed entirely aligned and committed to securing the nomination for Biden. Rather, the coverage by the mainstream media continues to be overtly hostile and distortive. At the same time, after Tulsi Gabbard qualified for the next debate, the DNC has yet again announced that it will raise the threshold requirements — a change that seems designed to block Gabbard who has also been attacked relentlessly in the media.
Many of my students, who support Sanders, have complained about it and the coverage this morning only reaffirms those objections. For them, it always seems like the answer of the establishment to all our problems every four years is the most establishment candidate in the field. There is a sense of relief in the media that “our children are safe tonight” in the Beltway. For those who support Sanders or oppose the establishment, it further deepens the political divide and distrust. This week saw the full weight of the establishment brought against Sanders with clear success. However, the open expressions of relief by cable hosts or analysts leaves one with the eerie feeling of celebratory toasts from the gates of Rome.