It all seemed so simple.
As woke Democrats had come to believe, the current primary process is profoundly iniquitous. Since time immemorial — or 1920, which practically qualifies as antediluvian in the TikTok era — the state of New Hampshire has hosted the first presidential primary in the nation. Meanwhile, Iowa holds the first caucus; as NPR noted, because of the state’s convoluted method of picking candidates, the Democratic National Committee made the caucus the first contest in the nation in 1972, which is considered the first year of the modern primary selection process.
Since then, these two dates have remained stuck in the political firmament: Iowa first, then New Hampshire as the first primary. In fact, New Hampshire law mandates that its primary occur seven days before any other state’s.
The problem, at least as Democrats framed it, was that both Iowa and New Hampshire are too white to be representative of America. Thus, last December, the Democratic Party’s rules and bylaws commission handed the first primary to South Carolina, a state where the Democrat-voting base is heavily black.
There was also another reason, as The New York Times pointed out in a Wednesday article aptly titled “The D.N.C. Has a Primary Problem”: “Joe Biden performed terribly in each of those contests [Iowa and New Hampshire] in 2020, hitting his stride only in larger states with fewer white voters.”
Thus decreed the Biden administration: South Carolina was going first. What could go wrong, particularly with no serious challengers throwing their hats in the ring to challenge the 81-year-old president?
Pretty much everything, as the Times pointed out. Not only has Biden alienated voters in New Hampshire and Iowa — both technically swing states, the former more than the latter — both still plan to hold their candidate-picking affairs before South Carolina. And if Joe Biden refuses to put his name on the ballot there, there’s a certain vaccine skeptic with a family name that holds significant clout that’s polling in double-digits nationally and would love to notch victories in the first two races in the nation.
As the Times noted, “New Hampshire, the state that prides itself on its Live Free or Die motto, has declared that it will vote first anyway, setting up a clash with the D.N.C. that could widen to publicly embarrass Biden — who, assuming he coordinates with the D.N.C. on its new calendar, would not be on the New Hampshire ballot in this scenario — handing the incumbent president a shocking statewide defeat.
“Biden has the entire party establishment on his side. The D.N.C. has formally endorsed him, which means that the organization, in addition to rubber-stamping a primary calendar that is far more favorable to him, will not sponsor any debates … At the same time, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a son of the slain senator and attorney general and a nephew of the slain president, has polled at 20 percent nationally among Democratic voters and has begun a campaign blitz in New Hampshire, where voters and politicians alike are aggrieved over the D.N.C.’s revision of the primary calendar, with the secretary of state, David Scanlan, a Republican, calling the first-in-the-nation status a defining part of the state’s ‘culture.’”
The Times’ Ross Barkan noted that “Iowa’s reaction has been more muted because there are so few Democrats of note left in the state after successive Republican electoral waves. Still, Iowa Democrats may sync their caucuses with the Republicans anyway, defying the D.N.C.”
Thus, Biden is left with two options: defeat or defeat. He concedes that putting South Carolina first is a pipe dream, at least for 2024, or he gives two potential victories to RFK Jr. — a competent enough guy on the campaign trail when he’s not talking about how 5G and WiFi are carcinogenic radioactive time bombs or hawking debunked studies linking vaccines to autism.
“The reality is that New Hampshire is going to keep the first-in-the-nation primary,” said Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, adding “the question only is whether or not the president is going to put his name on the ballot.
“They’re trying to come after New Hampshire, but it’s not going to be successful. So why go through all that pain?”
Meanwhile, liberal New Hampshire radio talk show host D. Arnie Arnesen said that while she understands the arguments against holding the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire — “We’re too white, too rich, too privileged” — she also said the attempt to shift the first primary to South Carolina was a dumb move.
“They knew the Republicans were going to Iowa and New Hampshire anyway. Why change now?” she said. “There’s no upside. Not one iota of benefit for Joe Biden. Nothing. No benefit to Joe, no benefit to the Democrats. They shot themselves in the foot.”
But the “primary problem” isn’t just fixed by conceding defeat to reality. Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the party’s senatorial nominee in South Carolina in 2020, is equally adamant that his home state vote first.
“People thought early on, Oh, God, Jaime’s the chair of the D.N.C., so therefore he’s going to put his finger on the scale for South Carolina. And everybody will tell you, I was evenhanded in this. The only thing that I wanted was that South Carolina would remain, because I think it’s earned its spot as an early state,” he said.
“National Geographic said that 90 percent of African Americans can trace one of their ancestors to South Carolina. In our primary, 50 to 60 percent of the people who vote in the Democratic primary will be black folks. Think about how powerful this is, that the descendants of those enslaved people will be the very first people in this country to determine the most powerful person on the face of this planet. That’s transformative.”
Unfortunately, what would also be transformative is if Biden were to lose a primary or caucus as a sitting president and go on to be re-elected.
Only two other presidents have lost states during the primary process while in the Oval Office. Gerald Ford — who was never elected to either vice president or president when he took over for Richard Nixon, and therefore vulnerable to a challenge — lost 24 states in 1976 to challenger Ronald Reagan, then the former governor of California. He would go on to lose the general election to former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter.
In 1980, Carter — considered too conservative for his party and too incompetent for everyone else — faced a challenge from another descendant of Camelot, human alcohol sponge Sen. Edward Kennedy, who won 12 states. Carter, like Ford, went on to lose in the general election — this time in a rout by Reagan, who managed to take the GOP nomination with relative ease.
Even a strong challenger who doesn’t win a state is considered poisonous to a sitting president; George H.W. Bush never lost a state to populist challenger Pat Buchanan, but the former Nixon aide’s candidacy was considered one of the reasons Bill Clinton was able to win in 1992.
The situation is best summed up this way by The Times’ Barkan: “The persistent quandary, which no version of the primary calendar could resolve, is how to account for the various long-range challenges of the Democratic Party. A first-in-the-nation South Carolina primary lends black moderates, a pivotal Democratic constituency, the kind of clout that many believe they deserve. White rural voters — the sort who need to be courted in Iowa and New Hampshire — have not proved loyal to the Democratic brand. But there are only so many of them that Democrats can afford to lose in a general election. New Hampshire, which Biden carried by less than 10 points in 2020, is not guaranteed to be eternally blue.”
The question, in other words, isn’t whether or not you alienate part of the base — it’s what part of the base you alienate. If Biden chooses to forego Iowa and New Hampshire, it’d give RFK Jr. two wins and grounds to challenge the president to a debate — a forum which seldom makes the president look good, or even coherent.
It was, at one point, an avoidable disaster for the Democrats. They didn’t have to fiddle with anything when it came to the primary system. But they did, and now they’re paying the price.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.