When Joe Biden was declared the big winner in South Carolina, you could hear Democratic donors from Manhattan to Malibu crying for joy. Buoyed by glowing, round-the-clock media coverage of his weekend blowout, Mr. Biden made an impressive showing on Super Tuesday. With the former vice president resurgent, the Democratic establishment now has an unexpected final chance to crush Bernie Sanders’s socialist revolution.
Mr. Sanders achieved early front-runner status by making the wealthy into boogeymen. Pushed to the wall by a rising tide of antiwealth sentiment, these elite Democratic donors feared losing control of their party to a socialist who didn’t need them and, worse, would make them his permanent scapegoat. The patronage system they had built over generations, which assured them of power and fortune, was at risk of forced liquidation.
The Democratic donor class had thrown money at a succession of candidates they judged better bets.
- Kamala Harris,
- Cory Booker,
- Beto O’Rourke and
- Pete Buttigieg
were each trumpeted, proclaimed by the establishment’s media organs as the next Barack Obama. Then, to the horror of their backers, most failed to connect with voters and exited early. Donors were dispirited.
Michael Bloomberg’s entrance was a potential safe harbor—and an attractive one, given the prospect that donors could have influence without having to open their wallets. But that notion was dispelled the moment Elizabeth Warren eviscerated him on the debate stage.
With no viable options left, donors were becoming quietly resigned to a Sanders loss to President Trump in November. They could thrive economically in a second Trump term, but they couldn’t survive politically if a socialist took over their party apparatus. Backing Mr. Biden became the last option to consolidate their resources and recover their slipping grip on political power.
Mr. Clyburn immediately used his political capital to make clear that Mr. Biden needed a campaign “overhaul.” The candidate agreed. With this go-ahead, the money men kicked their efforts into high gear trying to put his Humpty Dumpty operation back together again.
The choreography of the establishment consolidating its resources quickly became visible. Mr. Biden hauled in $5 million in the 24 hours after South Carolina. Then came withdrawal announcements from Mr. Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. By the time Mr. Buttigieg offered his endorsement, Mr. Biden’s finance team had recruited dozens of Mayor Pete’s “bundlers.” Top Obama confidantes made it known that “the signal” had been sent to back the former vice president.
Alongside these on-the-ground moves, some media analysts estimated that Mr. Biden enjoyed as much as $72 million in earned media “air cover.” The press’s goodwill filled the void while the Biden campaign rushed to fill its coffers for the contests beyond Super Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Mr. Biden received another political blessing. Mr. Bloomberg exited the race after his $570 million campaign netted an embarrassingly low haul of delegates. He then immediately endorsed Mr. Biden, who will undoubtedly be the beneficiary of the former New York mayor’s deep pockets.
With no billionaire primary candidates left to kick around, Mr. Sanders has turned his ire against Mr. Biden’s contributors. Taking the stage in Minnesota Monday night, Mr. Sanders reprimanded his audience when they booed Mr. Biden’s name. The former vice president was a longtime friend and “decent guy whose just wrong on the issues,” Mr. Sanders said. Then he went after Mr. Biden’s donors: “Does anybody think that we’re going to bring about the change we need in America when you are indebted to 60 billionaires?”
This is the moment my Democratic donor friends have dreamed of since Hillary Clinton lost. The battle for the soul of their party will be fought on the terms that both they and Mr. Sanders want: big-money power brokers versus a small-dollar socialist mob. Since 2015, Bernie Sanders has been a threat to the political relevance of the Democratic donor class. Now, they’re out for revenge and hoping to bankrupt the socialist revolution once and for all.
Former Vice President Joe Biden will initially rely on a decades-old network of big donors if he enters the Democratic presidential primary contest as expected, in contrast to the small-donor base that many of his 2020 rivals are racing to build.
Mr. Biden’s campaigns in the 2008 and 1988 primaries netted a combined $18.5 million and were financed by big donors and public funds—which candidates in recent years have stopped using because of spending limits they trigger. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, fueled his insurgent 2016 presidential bid almost entirely with contributions of $200 or less, amassing $238 million in a little over a year... There is little evidence that Mr. Biden, 76 years old, has worked to foster a base of small donors in the two years since he left office. He has expressed concern to Democratic fundraisers that he won’t be able to make a splash with early online donations the way Mr. Sanders and other candidates have.The political action committee that Mr. Biden started in May 2017 to help Democrats spent more than $550,000 in digital consultants, but that investment barely paid off, Federal Election Commission records show. The group, American Possibilities PAC, received $923,000 from donors giving $200 or less, out of the $2.6 million it raised.
.. The PAC had been paying Blue State Digital, a firm founded by Joe Rospars, the chief digital strategist for former President Obama’s two presidential campaigns and now an adviser to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign.
Mr. Biden, who has spent much of the past few years giving paid speeches and promoting his book, said he wants to fund his presidential bid on his own terms—and has ruled out well-funded help from outside his potential campaign. Representatives for Mr. Biden didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“I will not be part of a super PAC,” Mr. Biden said in a February appearance at the University of Delaware. “An awful lot of people have offered to help—and the people who are usually the biggest donors in the Democratic Party, and I might add some major Republican folks.”
Mr. Biden’s allies have been reaching out to their contacts in preparation for a campaign announcement, which could happen as early as Wednesday. Donors can give a maximum $2,800 per election.
Some of Mr. Biden’s longtime supporters are planning fundraisers for him soon after his likely campaign launch. Several donors said David L. Cohen, a Comcast Corp. senior executive vice president, is organizing a fundraiser that is expected to include former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and several top donors from the Obama and Clinton campaigns, planned in Philadelphia, where Mr. Biden has deep ties.
“The vast majority [of Obama donors] who I’ve talked to are with Biden—and have been waiting for him,” said Alan Kessler, a Philadelphia attorney and Democratic fundraiser who has committed to Mr. Biden.
Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina state senator and longtime Democratic fundraiser, said he plans to contribute the maximum to Mr. Biden “the second he announces.”
“He has a natural advantage with fundraising, but not a natural advantage in the digital universe,” said Mr. Harpootlian, adding Mr. Biden can use large checks like the one he will write to invest in a small-dollar online fundraising program.
The Obama donor network includes about 250 people who each raised $500,000 or more for his re-election bid. But those so-called bundlers, who aggregate donations and write lump-sum checks, aren’t acting in unison—some are writing checks to multiple candidates or have committed to other Democratic presidential contenders ahead of Mr. Biden’s announcement.