With former Vice President Joe Biden earning a sweeping victory in the South Carolina primary on Saturday, the presidential bid of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is under threat in a way which did not seem possible only several weeks ago. FiveThirtyEight now predicts a 61% chance that no candidate reaches a majority of delegates. Not only has Biden demonstrated solid support among black and older voters, but former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg have all dropped out of the race, at last clearing the moderate lane and throwing their collective political weight behind Biden.
After a competitive Super Tuesday showing, Biden is set to contend again down the stretch. It’s now a two-man race. And the party is behind Biden.
If history is any indicator, Bernie Sanders is about to implode. Here’s how it happens:
Stage 1: Sanders enters the presidential race promising to thoroughly upset the political economic apple cart and radically redistribute its contents. He is met with enthusiasm by a Democratic electorate hungry for capital-C change.
Stage 2: As Sanders gains momentum in the primaries, voters learn more about him and concerns about his electability surface.
Stage 3: The DNC conspires in some fashion or another to prevent Sanders from infiltrating its party, stealing its nomination and losing its general election.
Stage 4: The party hands the nomination to the moderate alternative, and the Sanders camp accuses the DNC of rigging the primaries.
Stage 5: Sanders supporters do not show up to vote for the nominee, who wildly underperforms in a losing effort.
In May 2015, Sanders’ formal entrance into the race was greeted with a flurry of donations, fiercely loyal fringe enthusiasm for his bold, progressive agenda and anti-establishment demeanor, and the perception that he was an honest and trustworthy candidate.
In the 2016 Iowa caucus, Sanders split delegates with Hillary Clinton and proceeded to build upon his unexpectedly strong showing with a decisive win in the New Hampshire primary. He then denied Clinton any delegates in Vermont and collected major victories in Washington, Alaska and Hawaii before pulling off a massive upset in Michigan. Amid an uncomfortably tight race, concerns began to surface about Sanders’ electability as the moderate wing of the party questioned how his pie-in-the-sky policy proposals would play in a general — and if it was worth the risk to find out. The media began asking questions which Sanders couldn’t answer. The party got cold feet.
Two weeks after the AP declared Clinton the presumptive nominee in mid-July, leaked Democratic National Committee emails suggested that DNC operatives had been conspiring to undermine Sanders from the outset, disparaging his campaign and altering primary rules to favor Clinton.
Despite a reluctant endorsement from Sanders, Clinton was defeated in the general election, having received the smallest percentage of the popular vote of any Democratic presidential nominee this century.
This ought to sound familiar.
Sanders’ entrance in 2020 was met with $6 million in individual donations in the first 24 hours, more than any Democratic primary competitor. His was the fastest campaign in history to reach one million individual donors. He split delegates in Iowa before winning New Hampshire and Nevada. As the prohibitive frontrunner by early February, the media started asking questions — about his pathological associating with authoritarian communist regimes, his support for nationalizing major industry and his inability to explain how to fund his programs — and the left wasn’t reassured by the answers or lack thereof.
Discouraged that Sanders performs terribly with black and elderly voters relative to Biden; concerned about Sanders’ reliance upon the perpetually unreliable youth vote; and unwilling to risk losing a general for the promotion of radical policy which they don’t see as being more important than simply beating Trump, Democrats have realigned with Biden, setting the party on a collision course strongly resembling that of four years ago (particularly considering the DNC again tinkered with the rules to accommodate Bloomberg, who was intended to be the moderate stand-in for Biden).
This could all be avoided if Democrats would just stand up to the radicals in their ranks from the outset instead of surrendering the party, stringing the radical progressives along and then trying to wrest control back from them at the last minute. But the fear of provoking progressive ire is too debilitating. Unfortunately, political expediency is only expedient until it isn’t.
So onward advances Joe Biden, resuscitated and shuffling toward a contested convention, leaving in his wake a fractured and piqued party which, with any luck, will again punish itself when it matters most.
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Thumbnail photo courtesy of Charles Krupa / AP Photo.
Kevin Catapano is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.