Though it hasn’t yet succeeded, the Democratic establishment’s effort to stop Sanders has already invited numerous favorable comparisons to the GOP establishment’s failure to stop Donald Trump from becoming the party’s nominee in 2016. The implication of such comparisons is that Democratic bigwigs have managed to clear the race’s moderate lane and revive Biden’s flagging fortunes all by themselves.
But that’s far from true: While a handful of key endorsements undoubtedly helped Biden’s remarkable turnaround, the voters of South Carolina deserve the lion’s share of the credit.
Biden defeated Bernie Sanders by 29 points in the Palmetto State, with neither Buttigieg nor Klobuchar breaking into the double digits. Buttigieg did not drop out and endorse Biden merely because he got a phone call from Obama or because he put the interests of the Democratic Party ahead of his own. The fact that Buttigieg was polling below the 15 percent threshold necessary to win delegates in California, Texas, Minnesota, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, and the rest of the South was surely far more persuasive; when he said that he saw no path forward in the race, it was believable, because he really didn’t have a path forward. (The same goes double for Klobuchar, whose standing in the polls was even worse.)
In 2016, if Marco Rubio or some other Republican had won South Carolina by 29 points, there would have been a similar cascade of establishment support for him. But Trump beat Rubio in South Carolina by ten points after having won New Hampshire by 20 points and Nevada by 22 points.