In the midst of Joe Biden’s repeated gaffes, Elizabeth Warren’s surge, and Beto O’Rourke’s constant media presence, you may have forgotten that a certain Vermont independent named Bernie Sanders is still running, and in fact, running quite a good campaign.
Sanders is a formidable candidate for a number of reasons. While other candidates have risen and fallen within the span of a few weeks, Sanders’ numbers have never fallen below 14 percent of the Democratic electorate at his lowest point, according to RealClearPolitics.
Sanders also enjoys a large online following that will continue to donate to his campaign, giving him virtually endless resources to run as long as he wants to. The first two states to vote, Iowa and New Hampshire, also lean towards Sanders.
Nevertheless — his campaign is doomed. Here are the three big reasons why — and what that means going forward.
Sanders’ main problem is, of course, Elizabeth Warren. Were Warren not in the race at all, it’s possible that Sanders would be 10-15 points higher in the polls.
Warren and Sanders have so far attempted to keep their distance. During the second Democratic debate, they shared a stage and seemed to play tag-team while they both defended progressive plans on health care from attacks by centrist Democrats.
But with Warren in the race, the two are splitting the progressive vote, and indeed, some progressive voters may see Warren as more attractive than Sanders, with her detailed policy plans and Occupy Wall Street-era bona fides. (RELATED: Warren Surges Past Sanders In New Democratic Primary Poll)
Sanders clearly sees himself as the only truly anti-corporate candidate in the race, saying in June that the “corporate wing of the Democratic Party” is publicly “anybody but Bernie.” (RELATED: Socialist Thunderdome: Bernie Vs. Liz Warren — Who Comes Out On Top?)
Warren also checks the all important identity politics box, as many 2016 Clinton voters wish to see a woman become president. As New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg said, “May The Best Woman Win.”
Most importantly of all, despite earlier rhetoric against the Democratic National Convention (DNC), Warren is willing to play ball with the establishment, reportedly taking a very active role in reaching out to the establishment and making inroads with them.
For skittish establishment Democrats, Warren could be an attractive compromise candidate between progressives who want one of their own on the ticket, and an establishment that still has a grudge against Sanders.
Hostility From Mainstream Liberal Media
Another hurdle that the Sanders’ campaign faces is the consistent hostility from mainstream liberal outlets like MSNBC.
For Democratic primary candidates, getting positive coverage from MSNBC is an enviable position for any candidate to be in. Operating like the liberal version of Fox News Channel, MSNBC represents a nexus point for many trends in the Democratic Party: anti-Trump Resistance stories, obsessive coverage of the Russia (and now Ukraine) story, and frequent coverage of activist movements on the left like the Women’s March and March for Our Lives.
Many Sanders supporters accuse MSNBC of consistently airing favorable coverage of other candidates while discounting Sanders.
Jacobin Mag, a socialist and strongly pro-Bernie website, published a piece in August accusing the network of waging a “ridiculous war” on Sanders, alleging that the network presents misleading information about Sanders’ place in the race.
Two incidents in particular have particularly rankled Sanders’ campaign supporters. In August, MSNBC contributor Mimi Rocah said on air that the Vermont senator makes her “skin crawl.”
“I can’t even identify for you what exactly it is. But I see him as sort of a not pro-woman candidate,” she said, adding, “So, having the two of them there — like, I don’t understand young women who support him. And I’m hoping having him next to her will help highlight that.” (RELATED: MSNBC: It Will Be Bernie’s Fault If Hillary Loses To Trump [VIDEO])
This remark prompted a response ad from the campaign.
In another recent remark, one guest, Emily Tisch Sussman, said, “I actually overheard someone saying — that I thought was an interesting point — that basically at this point if you are still supporting Sanders as opposed to Warren, it’s kind of showing your sexism because she has more detailed plans and her plans have evolved.” (RELATED: Black Leaders Say Endorsing Elizabeth Warren Has Prompted Racist Attacks From Sanders Supporters)
Sanders’ national co-chair Nina Turner also responded to this, saying in a tweet, “I’m truly trying to wrap my mind around this foolishness.”
I’m truly trying to wrap my mind around this foolishness https://t.co/v493SsYILO
— Nina Turner (@ninaturner) September 28, 2019
2016 Hangover + Democratic Establishment Hostility
As The Daily Caller has documented, Sanders has no intention of being friendly with the Democratic establishment that supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, and the establishment has no intention of being friendly with him.
Neera Tanden, the leader of the center-left Center for American Progress (CAP), has repeatedly clashed with Sanders supporters.
Think Progress, a now-shuttered liberal news site run by CAP, put out a negative video earlier this year criticizing Sanders for his wealth and his rhetoric on millionaires in politics. Though the video didn’t make a huge wave at the time, such an early shot at Sanders in the race shows the fear and dislike of him that permeates the Democratic establishment.
One anecdotal example of the establishment’s hostility to Sanders can be found in the book “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” which profiles the 2016 Clinton campaign. At the end of the book, it is revealed that after the 2016 election, DNC chair Tom Perez traveled to Bill and Hillary Clinton’s home, during which Bill strongly told Perez that the Democratic Party could not become the party of Bernie. (RELATED: Hillary’s Latest Wrath Falls In Bernie’s Lap)
Though the Clintons’ influence on the party is waning, many young Democrats still feel defensive of Clinton’s legacy, and indeed, the 2020 campaign season is already filled with Clinton 2016 alumni. (RELATED: Hillary Alumni Swipe At Bernie As He Launches 2020 Presidential Campaign)
There is no doubt that this kind of dislike from rank-and-file Democrats will eventually poison Sanders’ chances.
What This Means — And Why It Spells Trouble For The Democratic Party In 2020
For a Democratic establishment weary of 2016 “Bernie or Bust” drama, they want to do anything to avoid a repeat of last campaign season. But avoiding that may not be so easy.
In what may be a nightmare scenario for the party establishment, it’s possible that Bernie may win Iowa or New Hampshire, or both, giving his supporters a jolt of confidence and enthusiasm, leading to his campaign surging in the polls and receiving heaps of cash in donations.
The map from there on out will be punishing to Sanders. South Carolina, California, and all of the Super Tuesday states heavily favor other candidates, specifically Joe Biden.
As the campaign goes on, and other candidates leapfrog Sanders in the delegate count, many of his fans may feel the same way they did in 2016: cheated by the establishment after an initial feeling of enthusiasm.
With Warren supporters wanting Bernie to drop out so she can absorb his followers, and a stubborn Sanders wanting to take it to the convention, the party could once again face a messy 2020 primary season that could fracture the party and help Donald Trump win all over again.