As it was in the Republican primaries in 2016, the game of political whack-a-mole is continuing to keep the Democratic Party staggering like a punch-drunk boxer. A number of promising candidates have gotten whacked entirely out of the race – such as California Senator Kamala Harris and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Other leading candidates have gotten whacked into the second division – such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden.
This has left room for second-tier candidates to move into the major league – including South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and the Madison Avenue Wonder former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. As the Nevada and South Carolina caucuses approach, polls suggest that Biden may again pop up while Buttigieg and Klobuchar get whacked.
So far, there has only been one candidate who has consistently performed at the top level – and arguably at the top of the top level. Of course, that is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. He has a very real chance at being the Democrat standard bearer in the 2020 General Election. In fact, many Democrats and pundits suggest – and even say outright – that Bloomberg is all that stands in Sanders’ path. The answer to that question will become clearer after Super Tuesday, when 15 states and territories hold primaries.
Establishment, moderate and rational Democrats see Sanders as a sure loser to President Trump in a 2020 match-up. They believe that when matched-up with Trump’s obnoxious personality, Sanders’ looney proposals will even drive a lot of nose-holding Democrats into the Trump camp.
But what happens if Sanders is not the nominee? That may be as great a peril for the Democratic Party than if he is. If Sanders is taken out by billionaire Bloomberg, you can safely bet that a very high percentage of the Vermont senator’s supporters will stay home on Election Day – that is if they are not still protesting in the streets.
While moderate Democrats might cross over to Trump when the only other choice is Sanders, the latter’s supporters have not committed to the political process – nor do they value voting as a civic duty. They are not party partisans and not all that interested in downline candidates. They are political revolutionaries – a cult of personality. They are more likely to stay home than those unhappy if Sanders was the nominee.
Anecdotally, I communicate – in person or via social media – with a wide range of potential voters. The majority of Sanders’ supporters with whom I chat tell me that they will not vote if he is not the candidate. They have the feeling that the powers-that-be will have rigged the process against Sanders for the second time – and they may be correct.
The fact that Sanders has become an early frontrunner deepens their emotional investment. Had the senator been running in fourth place in these early primaries, they would not have gotten their hopes up. Right now, they are sensing a victory that can only be denied by political skullduggery. Even Sanders, himself, will not be able to convince his followers to get behind the Democrat candidate.
The absolute worst outcome for the Democratic Party is to have Sanders go into the convention as the frontrunner, but without enough delegates to win on the first ballot – and then have those 750 super delegates (the party establishment) flip the nomination to Biden or Bloomberg when the Super Delegates are allowed to vote on subsequent ballots. The anger will be palpable and very likely felt in the streets.
Whether Sanders secures the nomination or not, he may very well be the albatross around the neck of the Democratic Party in November.
So, there ‘tis.