If Bernard Sanders and his brethren cruise to an easy delegate lead today and the nomination soon after, the events of last night in Dallas, when several of Joe Biden’s former rivals endorsed him at the last possible moment in an attempt to boost him into a front-runner status he has so far proved unable to claim for himself, it will be seen as the last grim fandango of an inept and out-of-touch party establishment that badly misjudged this year and never got its act together.
But if it works, and Biden slingshots to victory, it will have been the most important night of the 2020 primary. In Dallas! At Gilley’s, of all places, the sprawling honky-tonk-themed venue and event center on the edge of downtown that’s more used to hosting conservatives. Call it the music hall putsch.
Biden was endorsed in Dallas by Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, who, because they hate each other, did so at different times—Buttigieg at an event before, and Klobuchar on stage at Gilley’s. Beto O’Rourke took Biden, whom he had previously described as a dinosaur from “the past,” to Whataburger, which Reuters soon described in a tweet as “a Texas chicken joint.” Those three endorsements are what make headlines across the country.
But there’s something else worth flagging that will get less attention: Seemingly every Democratic elected official in Dallas was at Biden’s rally. The lineup before Biden arrived included remarks from U.S. representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson, Marc Veasey, and Colin Allred, and state lawmakers Rafael Anchia, Carol Alvarado, and Victoria Neave. Biden supporters include Dallas county judge Clay Jenkins and former Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings. The state party was hugging Biden just like the national party.
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Biden could always brag on a lot of Texas endorsements here, but the establishment, as Sanders would call them, closed ranks in the last week. Sanders has the support of progressive organizing groups, but very few current or former elected officials. As far as I can tell, the only elected officials in Texas who have endorsed him are two city council members: Greg Casar of Austin and Joca Marquez of San Marcos. The unmistakable message sent by the core of the party is that professional Texas Democrats worry about what a Sanders nomination would mean for their down-ballot races. Allred needs the support of a bunch of moderates to win reelection. Anchia wants Democrats to take back the Texas House.
They might be right that Biden is a safer bet for their own purposes, but a little skepticism is warranted. Hillary Clinton once looked like the safest, most electable candidate, but when the general election rolled around it turned out she was pretty easy to slime. Biden’s got a long record and not all of it looks great today, let alone whatever congressional Republicans are about to fish out of the water about Hunter Biden and all the rest of his personal baggage. Beyond that, he’s a consummate Washington insider, which has proved time and again to be a liability. Then again, Clinton worked fine for Texas Democrats, who made gains in 2016. Biden could lose the White House and help Texas Democrats gain the statehouse.
The other peculiar thing about last night’s coup is the timing. It came at virtually the last possible moment before polls opened on Tuesday, and after probably half of the ballots have already been cast in Texas. The best time to shiv Uncle Bernie would have been two weeks ago, if not two months ago, if not before that. They may find tonight that they got together too late to make any difference—and then all those Texas Democrats will have to reconcile with the Sanders campaign. Maybe Beto can take him skating.