Former Vice President Joe Biden's resuscitation on Super Tuesday has already entered the history books as one of the most astonishing since Harry Truman's election in 1948. Or, come to think of it, even since Lazarus.
How to explain it? His miraculous comeback defies any single theory. For my books, there were three keys:
1. The black community in South Carolina turned out in force to support their longtime friend and champion. It's hard to remember a time when black voters have risen up to save a white political leader. But it appears they did it Tuesday.
2. When Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont surged to the front of the pack, Democrats seemed to finally pay serious attention to what his nomination might mean. At minimum, Republicans could persuade undecideds that radical socialists had captured the Democratic Party. More to the point, Democratic strategists panicked that they might well lose the White House, Senate and House, giving President Donald Trump unfettered power over the next four years. They were right to panic.
3. One has to give credit to Biden himself. He came alive in the past week, starting with the debate Wednesday night. He was even more impressive in a town hall the next night, speaking movingly with Anderson Cooper about his life and dreams. (The town halls these past few weeks have been much more revealing about the candidates than the crowded and chaotic debates.) His sweep in South Carolina suddenly gave him the aura of a winner, not the loser he had started to seem to many. Biden showed he had the grit to reach deep inside himself and find his core strength -- an important asset for any political leader.
There were other factors, to be sure. Some argue that Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts did Biden a favor with her attacks on former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
But to me, the big factors were the huge support of the black community, pervasive fear of a Sanders nomination and Biden's resilience.
Of course, there is still a long road ahead to the nomination. Whether Biden can deliver knockout blows to Sanders without antagonizing Sanders voters will be crucial to pulling the party together. Many veterans of the Hillary Clinton campaign four years ago remember well how infuriating it was that Sanders and his followers went into a sulk after losing the nomination to her.
Biden needs to mobilize some heavyweight surrogates who can come up with innovative ways to build bridges. One imagines, for example, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg coming up with initiatives that would appeal to millennials and Gen Z'ers — a national service program, for example.
Biden must continue to reach deep inside, finding the strength and confidence to continue his upward journey. Trump will try to stomp on him, as is his wont. Little attention was given to a Trump rally speech in South Carolina, portraying Biden as feeble-minded and destined for a retirement home in the next four years. Trump delighted in Biden's recent verbal slips: calling Super Tuesday "Super Thursday," remarking that he was running for the Senate, and asserting that 150 million Americans have been killed by guns since 2007.
Biden no longer needs to feel defensive on stage. He has created one of the great comeback stories. Now he can allow himself to talk and act more like a president, showing the dignity and warmth that is so lacking in the Oval Office these days.