The Corner

Elections

What If the Establishment Democrats Played Hardball?

(Carlos Barria/Reuters)

After Nevada, Bernie Sanders appears likely become the Democratic nominee, and that those who see him as an extraordinarily risky nominee will not be able to unite behind an alternative. The Establishment Democrats appear set to suffer a defeat on par with the GOP Establishment’s inability to derail Donald Trump in the 2016 primary.

But it doesn’t have to turn out this way.

Imagine if, tomorrow, Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Al Gore announced they were endorsing Joe Biden (or any non-Bernie candidate).

Or imagine if Senator Chuck Schumer got the Senate Democratic leadership together and they all, as one, went out and endorsed that alternative candidate. Only 10 of the 47 Democratic senators have endorsed a candidate in this cycle, and that counts the home-state camaraderie of New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez’s endorsing Senator Cory Booker and Montana Senator Jon Tester’s endorsing governor Steve Bullock. Imagine a dozen of Bernie Sanders’ colleagues in the Senate coming forward and saying, “We know Sanders well and respect him, but we have the most faith in Biden/Buttigieg/Bloomberg/Klobuchar as the nominee against Trump.”

Or imagine if a similar group of well-known House Democrats came out and endorsed one candidate that isn’t named Bernie Sanders: Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Adam Schiff, Jerrold Nadler. Sixteen House and Senate women freshmen haven’t endorsed yet. Imagine if they united behind, say, Klobuchar, and said she was the nominee who gave Democrats the best chance to keep or expand their House majority.

Or imagine if a bunch of Democratic governors came out and all endorsed one candidate at once: Gavin Newsom of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Kate Brown in Oregon, Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico, Andy Beshear of Kentucky, Ralph Northam of Virginia — okay, maybe some candidates wouldn’t want his endorsement.

Imagine if Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, and Tony Evers of Wisconsin all endorsed one candidate and said, “This is the choice who has the best chance of carrying our state in November. We have serious doubts that Bernie Sanders can carry our state in a general election.”

Hell, even the old-timers have mostly stayed on the sideline this cycle, with no endorsements from Harry Reid, Dick Gephardt, Howard Dean, Terry McAuliffe, or Joe Lieberman. Endorsements may not matter, but cumulative endorsements can generate good news cycles and reassure voters (or stir doubts in others). Ask Barack Obama how much the endorsement of Ted Kennedy meant to his campaign.

Is anyone telling Mike Bloomberg and his campaign, publicly or privately, if you don’t nuke Sanders with negative ads now, the Trump campaign will do it once he’s the nominee? The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee have more than $200 million in cash on hand. The Democratic National Committee has $10 million in cash on hand, and the Sanders campaign has $16 million in cash on hand. There’s almost no way they can catch up. Either Sanders gets hammered with negative ads now, or later.

Democrats do not have a good chance of stopping Sanders from getting the largest plurality of the 3,979 pledged delegates in 2020; but they probably can prevent him from getting 1,991 delegates on the first ballot. The super delegates can step in on the second ballot. A unity ticket of the second and third place finishers, while presenting its own challenges, would represent the will of more Democratic primary voters better than one headed by Sanders.

(So far, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar have received 219,175 votes, or 38.7 percent of the votes so far. Bernie Sanders has 160,981, or 28.45 percent. Now they just have to get past their mutual loathing.)

In other words, the Democratic establishment can win this fight, if it wants to win badly enough.

But from all the evidence before us, the Democratic establishment is going to lose this fight because it isn’t willing to fight this fight.

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