The Corner

Elections

Eh, Maybe You Don’t Have to Get That Prepared for President Sanders

U.S. Sen Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally at Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 21, 2019. (Monica Almeida/Reuters)

Jason Riley’s column in the Wall Street Journal today is better than the headline, which warns, “Be Prepared for President Sanders.” Riley isn’t predicting a Sanders win, he’s just pointing out that considering how Sanders is raising more money than his rivals, he’s competitive in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada (in fact, he’s leading the first two in the RealClearPolitics average), he’s probably going to finish above the 15 percent threshold for delegates in a bunch of states, and he’s equipped to stay in the race until the end . . . Sanders has a shot, probably a better shot than most of the 2020 primary coverage suggests.

And in this highly divided political environment, the Democratic nominee probably has something in the neighborhood of a 50-50 shot at winning the general election, depending upon outside factors like the economy.

The Associated Press reports today that establishment-minded Democrats are “increasingly alarmed that Bernie Sanders could become their party’s presidential nominee.” That’s the good news for Sanders.

The bad news is that the Democratic party leadership as a whole is no more comfortable with the idea of nominating Sanders now than they were in 2019. The only senator who has endorsed Sanders is his Vermont colleague, Patrick Leahy. Sanders’ endorsements from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib generated quite a bit of buzz, but they are three of the mere five members of the House who have endorsed him. The old Hillary Clinton crowd still resents him over 2016, and the old Obama crowd doesn’t like Sanders’ implicit and sometimes overt criticism of the Obama record. There are a lot of powerful forces in the party’s infrastructure who have mostly remained on the sidelines but who could get active if they think a Sanders nomination is imminent.

To get the nomination, Sanders needs Joe Biden to really slide or collapse, and it’s hard to imagine what Biden could say or do that would shake his supporters that have stuck with him this long. Even then, some of the Biden supporters who just want to win wouldn’t be inclined to shift to Sanders. The Vermont senator’s support in this primary has indeed been stable, but it’s still under a quarter of the Democratic primary vote nationally.

And when push comes to shove, the top Democrat left standing against Sanders will have a target-rich environment. (What percentage of Democratic primary voters have heard about Sanders’ 1972 essay about rape fantasies?) Nobody’s really taken a hard shot at Sanders in the debates this year, because so far, no one has felt the need. Finally, while Sanders seems full of energy since his heart attack, at some point allies of his rival will ask voters if they feel confident with a nominee who will turn 79 in September. (The average lifespan of men in the U.S. is 76.1 years in 2017, according to the latest data available.)

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