Joe Biden Won Tuesday's Primaries. It Felt Completely Beside The Point.
The presidential election feels halted as we wait for a coronavirus disaster.
Joe Biden is blowing out Bernie Sanders in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona on Tuesday night. Also, over 6,000 people in the country have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and it's difficult to think about anything else.
Even in a normally functioning world, this primary night would have lacked drama (Ohio's primary was ordered shuttered amid coronavirus fears). Biden, in the last two weeks, has built up a lead in delegates and polling support that looks basically impossible for Sanders to overcome. The Democratic presidential primary had already lost most of its suspense.
And this is not a normally functioning world.
When the federal government strongly recommends not being in a group of more than 10 people, voting and campaigning take on a very different mood. What’s the greater civic responsibility right now: voting in our democracy or slowing the spread of the coronavirus by avoiding the crowds many polling centers bring out? Outcomes of individual state primaries, where turnout is significantly different than what it would have been in a normal environment, feel unremarkable.
Do you remember anything that happened in the presidential debate Sunday night? Aside from the brief terror I felt when Biden coughed twice at its start, I do not. I get paid to remember these things.
The primary isn’t exactly over: Sanders is, for now, still in it. Tulsi Gabbard is still out there, presumably surfing. It just feels beside the point when most of us are sitting in our homes waiting for something catastrophic to happen. At this moment, we can’t even say for sure when the next primary votes will be.
This is not to pretend the differences in policy and approach between Sanders and Biden aren’t meaningful, that democracy should be disregarded in a crisis, or that the candidates don’t represent very different ideas for what the future of this country could look like. It’s just hard to think about January 2021 when there’s so much uncertainty about next Monday.
The whole of this primary campaign has been bizarre. Twenty-eight Democrats at one point or another declared their candidacies, including a scammy small-city Florida mayor and a surprisingly successful small-city Indiana mayor, two Johns, two Joes, a mass of men with last names beginning with the letter B, and Marianne Williamson. When the primaries were beginning, many candidates were unable to campaign because they were in the middle of trying to remove the current president from office. Now with the primaries winding down, the remaining candidates are unable to campaign because they’re in the middle of a pandemic.
It’s a particularly unsettling sensation for those of us who have been covering this election and for the people working within it. It’s a feeling of running in sleet as fast as you possibly can while your family is shouting at you for your attention, and then suddenly hitting a wall and everything going silent. The Iowa caucus disaster was six weeks ago. Biden’s collapse in New Hampshire, what I and many others thought could’ve been the end of his campaign, was five. Just about four weeks ago, Sanders came out of Nevada looking like the likely nominee. It’s barely been two weeks since Biden came back in South Carolina and rallied the establishment, two weeks since Super Tuesday when he swept up.
I was in Iowa for a little over a week leading up to the caucuses there, starting to read stories in the hotel lobby with other campaign reporters about the virus going around China. International businesses had started canceling travel. We were able to get an extra few days at our nice hotel in Des Moines before getting bumped to the not-so-nice hotel, and it seemed like a pretty good deal. I went to Las Vegas for the first time in my life in the days before the Nevada caucuses and got absolutely lost trying to figure out how to find the street from inside the sprawling neon. I spent about 15 minutes watching a dozen men play craps shoulder to shoulder, completely unable to figure out what the rules were. When I landed back at JFK in New York after, I first noticed how many people were wearing masks.
These moments now feel like artifacts of another world. Joe Biden is winning the primary, Joe Biden seems likely to keep winning the primary, and I have no idea when any of us will next be in a place like a casino.