It has begun: #NeverSanders is a thing. Opined David Brooks in the New York Times:
Liberalism celebrates certain values: reasonableness, conversation, compassion, tolerance, intellectual humility and optimism. Liberalism is horrified by cruelty. Sanders’s leadership style embodies the populist values, which are different: rage, bitter and relentless polarization, a demand for ideological purity among your friends and incessant hatred for your supposed foes.No, Not Sanders, Not Ever, The New York Times, February 27, 2020
I’m not one for nostalgia, but in July 2016, I thanked Donald Trump for destroying the Democrats. In four years, they have never recovered, and in fact still face the same issues I wrote about then.
The DNC convention in 2016 featured Sandernistas marching and chanting “Hell, no, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary,” in a sort of #NeverHillary moment. Of course, they were squashed, along with Sanders’ hopes. But Bernie never dismantled his campaign, or his organization. He just kept on going for four years, banking on the fact that Democrats will focus completely on Trump and not bother building their own party.
And here we are, in a replay of 2016, except it’s Bernie who has become the destroyer, and Trump’s win accomplished an amazing feat. Like picking up a 7-10 split in bowling, Trump took out both parties working from the fringe, in one shot.
It seems like Sanders has hold of a juggernaut. But there’s one more firewall before Super Tuesday, and Joe Biden has surged in South Carolina. The spike in the polling is real, with Biden up between 16 and 4 points in latest polls. Is it possible that Democrats might wake up from their fever dream and reject Sanders?
If Biden overperforms in South Carolina, and Sanders underperforms, let’s say there’s a 15+ point spread, could that influence Super Tuesday enough to keep Bernie’s delegate lead safely in “brokered” territory? Would it be enough to rip a few delegates out of California, where Sanders has an enormous lead in polls, and Biden is split with Elizabeth Warren?
We’re in familiar, if unpleasant, territory here. Remember 2016 when Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio battled it out while Donald Trump split them right down the middle? Except Republicans generally had winner-take-all primaries, which gave #NeverTrump folks hope right up until May.
Democrats have proportional primaries, mostly with qualifying floors, so even if Biden has a good run, Sanders can pick up delegates. On Super Tuesday, Sanders could indeed get all the delegates in some states if nobody else meets the qualifying floor.
For example, in Texas, Biden and Sanders are in a virtual tie, but Sanders could eke out a few more delegates than Biden. In order for #NeverSanders to have any effect, Sanders has to lose big somewhere.
Americans have a preference for winners. We like underdogs, but we like underdogs who win. Sanders, the 2016 underdog, the guy who fights like hell, who doesn’t knuckle under, has the advantage here. If another winner doesn’t emerge, the crowd will naturally, psychologically coalesce around Sanders. It will become about winning.
And then it will be too late, because all the facts in the world won’t stop the movement of a populist to consume the Democrats in the same way Trump overwhelmed the GOP and replaced conservative Republicans.
David Brooks wrote: “I’ve just watched populism destroy traditional conservatism in the G.O.P. I’m here to tell you that Bernie Sanders is not a liberal Democrat. He’s what replaces liberal Democrats.”
If liberal Democrats can’t make #NeverSanders stick, all I can say is welcome to the club.