The Bulwark Presents
The Triad by JVL

Democrats Can Stop Bernie. But Only If They Want To.

There's no fate but what we make.
February 24, 2020
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1. Culling the Herd

Bernie Sanders had a tremendously good Nevada showing. We’ll get to that in a minute. But first we should talk about the rest of the Democratic field.

Joe Biden is alive! Not all the way alive, but it turns out that he did need a state that wasn’t roughly 99 percent white and when he got to one, his poll numbers spiked.

I don’t want to overstate this: Biden got lapped by Sanders. More than doubled up. Beat bad. Beat . . . what’s the expression? . . . like a drum.

And yet: Biden outperformed his poll numbers. Going into the caucus, Biden was at 17 percent in the RCP Nevada average. As I’m writing this, with some results still outstanding, Biden is at 21 percent.

Why is this important? Because it shows that Biden has stopped his free-fall and reversed direction. It was not obvious that he would be able to do this. He now moves into South Carolina where he has a chance to beat Sanders. If he does that, then the Democrats will have some choices to make.

We’ll get to those in a minute, too.

But first, I’d like to talk about Amy Klobuchar.

I’ve been saying for weeks that she’s the John Kasich of the field. Which is to say: A spoiler who has no path to the nomination.

Please note that I did not say no plausible path. Just: No path.

Which is to say this:

There is no state that Klobo could win even if you reduced the race to a one-on-one contest. With the possible—possible—exception of Minnesota. And even there, I would only like her chances against The Mayors.

The only thing her presence in the race can accomplish is pulling between 3 and 6 points from Biden/Buttigieg/Bloomberg in each of the remaining contests.

2. Who Wants to Stop Bernie?

Let’s be clear: If Bernie Sanders was a normal Democrat, this race would be all but over. The rest of the field would back off, the party would consolidate around him, and he’d begin moving inexorably toward the convention and pivoting to the general election.

The only reason that none of this is happening—literally not one of those four things—is that Sanders is not a normal Democrat any more than Donald Trump was a normal Republican. He is an outsider trying to stage a hostile takeover of the party. And he’s succeeding.

But his success is not inevitable.

Here is what we can safely speculate on:

  • If someone is going to win an outright delegate majority, it will almost certainly be Sanders.
  • Sanders is more likely to win a delegate plurality than anyone else, though it is conceivable that Biden, Bloomberg, or Buttigieg could wind up with a plurality if the dynamics of the race shifted dramatically.

People are working under the assumption that if Sanders has a plurality, then he has to be given the nomination on subsequent balloting at the convention. I think that’s probably correct. But not certainly.

And that’s because it is conceivable that Bernie’s high-water mark will be Super Tuesday and after that, the race could shift against him. If Bloomberg’s money begins to tell and Bernie gets fully vetted on the air across the remaining states, it’s possible that the momentum swings against him down the stretch. It is not hard to imagine a world in which Bernie arrives at the convention with the most delegates, but being the guy finishing second in a lot of late states.

If that were to happen, you could make a very good case that the least-bad scenario would be for the Dems to vote the nomination to someone else.

Which brings us back to the “normal” Democrat stuff. Why would Democrats feel compelled to rally around a guy who:

  • Started fading once people fully examined his past and his plans for the future.
  • Limps into the convention with a lead that shrinks with each primary.
  • Isn’t actually a Democrat.

I mean, maybe they just zombie-walk into a Sanders nomination at that point anyway. But maybe not.

In order to find out, though, Mike Bloomberg needs to turn his Death Star against Sanders now and either he, or Biden, or Mayor Pete have to emerge with an alternate vision for the party’s future. In other words, the party has to want to stop Bernie.

And even that seems like a long-shot at this point.