The Corner

Elections

What’s Happening with Bernie Happened with Trump

Senator Bernie Sanders during a campaign event in Manchester, N.H., February 4, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

A lot of the discussion around last night’s Democratic-primary results in New Hampshire has been focused on Bernie Sanders, and rightly so. He seems to have won the contest, though narrowly. We finally have results from last week’s Iowa caucuses, too, showing that Sanders came in a close second to Pete Buttigieg but received the most votes, so the talk of his rise is well-founded.

Jim’s Morning Jolt today runs through the remaining alternatives to Sanders in the Democratic field. Joe Biden, until very recently the presumed front runner and shoo-in for the nomination, looks weak and seems to be getting weaker. Former mayor Buttigieg is untested as a politician and has serious problems winning over African-American supporters, despite exerting a great deal of effort to do so. The wheels seem to be coming off Elizabeth Warren’s once-promising campaign. Amy Klobuchar has only just started to give signs of having any ability to rise into the top tier of candidates.

And yet none of them show any signs of preparing to drop out so that non-Sanders Democrats can coalesce around a single “moderate” (i.e. not outright socialist) alternative. The discussion of the Democratic field sorting into Sanders and non-Sanders candidates and voters reminds me a lot of the rhetoric from conservatives around this time in 2016.

Republicans fretted that Donald Trump seemed to be winning a plurality of support as the GOP primaries wore on, even though the majority of GOP voters didn’t want him to be the nominee. As is happening now with Sanders and his opponents, the non-Trump vote was split among a number of slightly distinct options. Ben Carson had his time atop the polls rivaling Trump for front-runner status, but it didn’t last long. As primary contests continued to pass, there was talk of Florida senator Marco Rubio dropping out and endorsing Texas senator Ted Cruz or vice versa so that one unified ticket could rival Trump more effectively. But that didn’t happen either.

If Sanders continues to pull in a plurality of support in early primaries and Democratic voters continue to divide themselves among his rivals, none of whom remove themselves from contention, he might be on the road to face Trump — and the Democratic Party and country will be worse off for it.

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