The sudden turn against Senator Sanders on Super Tuesday has us thinking of the Howard Dean Howl. Remember that outburst, in 2004, from another Vermonter who seemed like such a friendly, affable sort — a veritable Fred Rogers — until he suddenly sounded like, in Dr. Dean’s case, a werewolf? It knocked the country doctor right out of the race.
We wonder whether, looking back in the 2020 Democratic primaries, something like that won’t be seen to have occurred at Charleston. It would be, in our estimate, the moment when, in the Democratic debate there, Major Garrett of CBS asked the Jewish question. It was ostensibly about whether Mr. Sanders would move our embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem.
Mr. Sanders started his answer by saying that it was “something we would take into consideration.” Fair enough. It put him crosswise with an almost unanimous United States Congress, but fair enough. He also claimed to be proud of being Jewish. Then, though, he wheeled on the Jews, declaring the elected prime minister of Israel a “reactionary racist.”
It was an appalling error.* Even if Mr. Sanders believes the libel, which we doubt, the remark was weirdly out of place — not only erroneous but off the point. What Mr. Garrett was giving Mr. Sanders was a chance to show some adroitness in an emotion-packed policy debate. Instead, while claiming to be proudly Jewish, he kicked his co-religionists to the curb.
We’re not suggesting that moment, in and of itself, precipitated Mr. Sanders’ crushing defeat in the Palmetto state — or the broad losses he suffered yesterday from Texas to Tennessee. In Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, Mr. Sanders, after all, had been unable to fetch half the vote in a crowded field. That alone would have foretold what happened yesterday.
What we are suggesting is that if the nomination slips from Mr. Sanders’ grasp, Charleston will be remembered as one of the moments — maybe the moment — when the mask of benignity slipped from this socialist schmegeggy. It’s a moment to mark as Vice President Biden moves to the fore in a race in which he’s boasting he can restore a more affable America.
We’re not buying that line from Mr. Biden, either, but in the cold light of dawn on the Wednesday after Super Tuesday, it certainly looks like the race has shifted. Heretofore, supporters of Mr. Sanders had been suggesting that the man — or woman — who arrives in Milwaukee with a plurality will, presto chango, deserve the nomination.
Suddenly it looks as if Mr. Biden might well arrive in Milwaukee with the plurality. That’s not certain, but today’s early count of total delegates puts Mr. Biden more than 10% ahead of Mr. Sanders. It’s 397 to 356, according to RealClear’s chart — before delegates pledged to Senators Warren and Klobuchar and Mayors Buttigieg and Bloomberg are parcelled out.
Which brings us back to the Howard Dean Howl. We’ve never been big fans of the primary system by which our modern parties choose their presidential candidates. Most of our greatest presidents were discovered by a different process. Then again, too, primaries have given us illuminating moments, and South Carolina and Super Tuesday certainly combined to give us one of them.
* Feature the warmth of the reception when Mr. Netanyahu entered a Joint Meeting of the United States Congress in 2015.