By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS — President Trump was tweeting presciently Sunday night: “Pete Buttigieg is OUT. All of his SuperTuesday votes will go to Sleepy Joe Biden. Great timing. This is the REAL beginning of the Dems taking Bernie out of play – NO NOMINATION, AGAIN!”

And then came the stunning, out-of-the-blue Super Tuesday results. Instead of trailing Democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders by 250 to 350 delegates as prognosticators had expected, Biden won 343 delegates to Sanders’ 296 (at this writing), while Biden leads Sanders, 566 to 501 delegates overall.

Michael Bloomberg, who spent close to a half billion dollars in Super Tuesday, won American Samoa.

A week ago the mass speculation was that Sanders was the runaway freight train. Today, Democrats appear to have stepped away from the ledge, on a path to nominating Biden who is more in the mold of the John McCain or Mitt Romney. His appeal to Republicans exhausted by President Trump’s antics and mass chaos places the Democratic presidential race and the showdown with the incumbent president on a vastly different trajectory.

It also could impact the May 5 Indiana presidential primary. Depending on what happens in next Tuesday’s Michigan primary, Hoosiers could find another two-candidate slugfest between Sanders and Biden. It could present a platform for Pete Buttigieg to crisscross his home state supporting the former vice president.

Buttigieg’s abrupt withdrawal from the race Sunday night, and his endorsement of Biden in Dallas on Monday, added to the former vice president’s epic momentum reversal that began on Feb. 26 when South Carolina U.S. Rep. James Clyburn endorsed. Clyburn not only spoke to his Palmetto State constituency, he spoke to African-Americans throughout the deep South, paving the way for Biden to rack up primary wins in Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and, most unexpectedly and conspicuously, Texas.

Sanders led the early vote in Texas 29-22% as the ballots cast prior to Biden’s resurgence were counted. Biden ended up with a 33 to 30% victory (as of this writing).

Following Buttigieg’s decision to be the first moderate-lane Democrat to coalesce around Biden were arch-rival Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke. Buttigieg’s embrace of Biden was special and signals a vivid role for the former South Bend mayor should the former vice president be nominated and defeat President Trump.

“There was a goal that was always much bigger than me being president,” Buttigieg said as Biden looked on in Dallas. “It is in the name of that very same goal that I am delighted to endorse Joe Biden for president. I do it with great pleasure in knowing what we need to do to win, not just win back the White House, but to win the House and Senate. And we’ve got to do it in a way that changes the toxic divisive nature of our politics. We can’t go on like this.

“We need a politics that is about decency,” Buttigieg continued. “That brings back dignity. That’s what we sought to practice in my campaign and that’s what Joe Biden has been practicing his whole life. What we see in that opportunity is not just to meet that imperative to getting a new and better president, but of doing with a leader that will bring people together with ideas big enough to unite the American people.”

A visibly moved Biden then invoked the memory of his son, the late Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. “I’ll tell you what, folks, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate Pete’s endorsement. This is also a bittersweet moment. There hasn’t been a harsh word between us. This is a man who is decent. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but he reminds me of my son Beau,” Biden said. “To me that’s the highest compliment I can pay. Like Beau, he has a backbone like a ramrod.”

Biden observed that both he and Buttigieg had been elected for the first time at age 29, Biden to the U.S. Senate and Buttigieg as mayor of South Bend. “Pete knows why he got engaged and why he’s there. I am absolutely confident he will stay engaged. I warned Pete that if I were to get the nomination, I would be asking him to join, to be involved in this process. There are a generation of leaders Pete’s age and my son Beau, who had unlimited potential.”

Biden added that if this happened in “another six years, I wouldn’t be standing here; Pete would be standing here and I would be endorsing Pete. Pete knows the role of the president is not just to fight, not just to win, but to heal.”

On Wednesday, Bloomberg pulled out. “Three months ago, I entered the race for President to defeat Donald Trump. Today, I am leaving the race for the same reason: to defeat Donald Trump – because it is clear to me that staying in would make achieving that goal more difficult,” Bloomberg said. “I’m a believer in using data to inform decisions. After yesterday’s results, the delegate math has become virtually impossible – and a viable path to the nomination no longer exists. But I remain clear-eyed about my overriding objective: victory in November. Not for me, but for our country. And so while I will not be the nominee, I will not walk away from the most important political fight of my life. I’ve always believed that defeating Donald Trump starts with uniting behind the candidate with the best shot to do it.” 

The former New York City mayor then endorsed Biden. “After yesterday’s vote, it is clear that candidate is my friend and a great American, Joe Biden. I’ve known Joe for a very long time. I know his decency, his honesty, and his commitment to the issues that are so important to our country – including gun safety, health care, climate change, and good jobs. I’ve had the chance to work with Joe on those issues over the years, and Joe has fought for working people his whole life. Today I am glad to endorse him – and I will work to make him the next President of the United States.”

Whether this turns into a prolonged Biden/Sanders slugfest could hinge on Michigan next Tuesday. Sanders upset Hillary Clinton 49.8% to 48.3% in 2016, setting in motion a prolonged nomination fight that weakened the former First Lady and help set up the perfect storm that resulting on Donald Trump’s historic upset. By the time of the Indiana primary (where Trump clinched the GOP nomination), Sanders won 53-47% without a single endorsement from the Hoosier political establishment.

Hoosier Democrats can be expected to coalesce around Biden, with all but certain endorsements from former senators Joe Donnelly and Evan Bayh, whose son interned with the former vice president. If Biden hasn’t secured the nomination by May 5, it will provide Mayor Pete the platform to campaign in his home state, which was not seen as a lock for Buttigieg had he stayed in the race.

Clyburn’s endorsement lit the black voter fuse for Biden. As Politico’s Ryan Lizza observed on Tuesday, “It was Biden’s landslide victory in South Carolina that pushed party leaders around the country to back Biden in the 48 hours after the Saturday primary there. The Democratic establishment was divided and feckless before South Carolina. After African-Americans weighed in, party leaders rallied around Biden. It’s the opposite of what political scientists often argue happens in a primary, when party leaders coalesce around a candidate early and voters follow along.”

What Clyburn and Buttigieg ended up doing was resetting the Democrat Party’s resistance to President Trump. Had Democrats nominated the socialist Sanders, the party stood to gain “Bernie’s Army” of activists dedicated to him, but not down-ballot candidates. It would have lost moderate Republicans and independents turned off by President Trump but who in no way could have voted for an avowed socialist.

Biden won in states where he had no campaign infrastructure and didn’t advertise, such as Massachusetts, Minnesota and swing-state Virginia by a whopping 52-21% margin. Meanwhile Sanders is not expanding beyond his base. He won New Hampshire last month with 26%, had 20% in South Carolina, 25% in Massachusetts, 25% in Oklahoma, 24% in North Carolina, 23% in Virginia, 22% in Arkansas and 16% in Alabama. He won 36% in Colorado and 33% in California (so far) in states that had massive early voting and missed the Biden resurgence.

Exit polls from the 14 states revealed that by a 21% margin, Biden carried voters who preferred the candidate who can beat Donald Trump. Biden carried the black vote by 41%, moderate to conservatives by 28%, those who oppose a single payer health plan by 31%, women voters by 11%, 65 and olders by 29% and Democrats by 15%. Sanders won the 18- to 29-year-olds by 41%.

Or as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank noted on Wednesday: “On Super Tuesday, voters across 14 states collectively delivered an emphatic message on the single biggest day of the primary season. They don’t want a revolution. They just want to oust Donald Trump.”

Or as J. Miles Coleman of Sabato’s Crystal Ball tweeted, “Political science junkies are gonna be studying these last few days for years.”

Buttigieg’s career options

There was almost a comical reflex in some Indiana media quarters of Pete Buttigieg shoving Woody Myers aside to make a run for governor this year. Buttigieg announced he was dropping out of the Democratic presidential race Sunday night, but other than vowing to “do everything in my power to ensure that we have a new Democratic president come January,” he did not announce an endorsement of Joe Biden. Buttigieg has long disdained the notion of serving in Congress. He passed multiple times of challenging U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski and we would be shocked if he decided to challenge U.S. Sen. Todd Young in 2022. As far as taking the nomination from Myers to challenge Gov. Holcomb, that’s just a silly notion that backfired in 2016 when Evan Bayh shoved aside Baron Hill in the U.S. Senate race. Young easily defeated Bayh. Buttigieg passed on what would have been a natural progression of running statewide for governor in 2018, opting for the presidential race. He would have had to work hard at carrying Indiana in the May presidential primary, and this gay Democrat almost certainly won’t take on Holcomb with an $8 million money lead this year. The notion of retraining his sights on Holcomb after dropping out of the White House race is absurd. Buttigieg would seem to be a lock for a Democratic cabinet post for any nominee not named Bernie Sanders. He established enough cred to vividly be in the 2024 or 2028 presidential race conversation, depending on what happens this November. That’s why his supporters began chanting “2024!” at the Century Center. 

Democratic strategist David Axelrod said “the Pete Buttigieg story isn’t over” (AP). “He’s 38 years old,” the former Obama strategist said. “He’s vaulted himself into the national conversation. He obviously has work to do on some things that — some weaknesses we’ve seen in this election — but whenever there is a conversation again about Democratic candidates, he’ll be in that conversation. And that’s a remarkable achievement, given where he started a year ago.”

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody added, “Mayor Pete Buttigieg outpaced every expectation when he entered this race last year, and Hoosier Democrats expected nothing less from him. His contributions to our state, to South Bend and to our country have been trailblazing, and we know we haven’t seen the last of him in public service. To say we are proud doesn’t do the effort he and his team made justice. He has our everlasting gratitude for a race well run, and for the way he represented Hoosiers on the campaign trail.”