by Seth Moskowitz
Tuesday, 6
December 2022
Debate
18:00

Democrats’ new calendar is a coup for the Establishment

In the name of diversity, the party is kneecapping progressives
by Seth Moskowitz
Big win for Sleepy Joe. Credit: Getty

On Friday, The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws committee voted to shred the party’s presidential primary calendar. This may sound like a mere technicality, but it’s a move that could very well determine who the party’s next presidential nominee will be. 

Going all the way back to 1972, Iowa has held the coveted first-in-the-nation nominating contest. And since 2008, Iowa has been followed by New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Under the new system, which will be going to the full DNC for ratification early next year, the first state to vote will be South Carolina on 3rd February, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on 6th February, Georgia on 13th February, and Michigan on 27th February.


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Such a shuffling of the calendar became inevitable after 2020. That year, the Iowa caucuses were a complete disaster: an untested and glitchy smartphone app that the party was using to report results didn’t work as expected, and no results were announced on election night. That debacle, plus the fact that the populations of Iowa and New Hampshire are both over 80% white, led Democratic leaders and activists to question the wisdom of having those states vote first. For a party that bills itself as a multiracial coalition and is increasingly concerned with race and identity, this wouldn’t do. For that reason, the party is moving to put South Carolina, Georgia, and Michigan — states that have much larger black populations — first, third, and fifth. 

In addition to giving minority voters a louder voice, the new calendar will impact the party’s future nominating contest in two particularly important ways.

First, it will impede insurgent candidates and help those with national profiles or personal wealth. Historically, having two small states — Iowa and New Hampshire — at the start of the calendar has given underdog candidates the chance to make up for their lack of name recognition and fundraising with what’s known as retail politics — holding rallies, meeting voters, door-knocking, and get-out-the-vote operations. Candidates without national profiles could use Iowa as a springboard to earn national media attention and fundraising capacity. Without Iowa at the start of the calendar, it’s unlikely that Barack Obama or Jimmy Carter would ever have become the Democratic nominee.

But South Carolina, which is slated to replace Iowa, is much larger. As such, the potential that once existed for lesser-known candidates to win the first contest through retail politics is essentially gone. Now, the most important aspect of winning the first state will be name recognition and advertising capacity. This is great news for candidates like Vice-President Kamala Harris or billionaire Michael Bloomberg and bad for Democrats without a national profile or money to burn.

Second, the calendar will help moderate candidates and hurt progressives. Within the Democratic coalition, minority voters are much more pragmatic and establishment-friendly than white voters. (This can be confusing because, among all voters, white people lean Republican. But among Democrats, white voters are the most progressive.) This is why, in 2020, South Carolina, with its large black population, was the state that put a stop to Bernie Sanders’ campaign and boosted Joe Biden’s. And so the fact that Iowa has been replaced by South Carolina, and that Georgia and Michigan have been added to the early voting window, will benefit candidates who can appeal to more moderate black voters.

It seems likely that the full DNC will approve the calendar change in February. With little room for recourse, it will be a blow to progressive insurgents who lack personal wealth or a national profile. But — and if Joe Biden chooses not to run — 2024 could well shape up to be the year for the rich and famous.

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David Harris
David Harris
2 months ago

“among Democrats, white voters are the most progressive.”
Hmm… aka ‘most woke’.

Jon Frum
Jon Frum
2 months ago

For those who don’t know, two things: First, Iowa doesn’t hold a primary election – it’s a party caucus system in which party insiders get together across the state to choose their favorites. Thus, activists who will show up on a stormy night control the vote. As a result, New Hampshire was always considered the first true electoral primary. Second, Biden chose Kamala Harris as VP in a deal to get support from a black Congressman in South Carolina. This is Biden’s thank-you kiss for that support.

Vince B
Vince B
2 months ago

This is part and parcel of Democrats’ desire to undo the Electoral College and base national elections solely on the popular vote. It would give the urban centers sole power to elect the president, and virtually disenfranchise rural people.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 months ago

Can anyone here recommend a “US election process for dummies” type book. Every time I read about the US system is seems more and more convoluted, I’m sure it’s not for those in the know, but, even after reading this article, I’m still not sure why it’s necessary have a calendar or how it works. Sorry I seem dim, but to this outsider it’s all very confusing.

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago

As its candidate for the last presidential election was clearly senile, I would think that the Democrats have more pressing things to worry about than who is fiddling with the calendar. Problems like, how do you spend a potload of spondoolicks and still end up with Joe Biden?

Seldom
Seldom
2 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Not that senile if, at the end, he gets to impose a moderate name without leaving the progressives any room to complain (how will they conceivably defend that “more diversity” is a bad thing?).

Kat L
Kat L
2 months ago

But then again Biden is at least as woke as Bernie…

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
2 months ago

Interesting. Never knew the primaries where ordered that way (or any way, for that matters).