Assume, for a moment, that the Democratic primary comes down to a choice between Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg. (Some might argue that it already has; yesterday the Bloomberg News organization reported an exclusive that the Bloomberg presidential campaign organization believed that the race already came down to Sanders and the Bloomberg presidential candidate. That strikes me as premature, as well as far too many “Bloomberg” monikers in one sentence.)
That said, former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe contends that right now Sanders is on pace to lock up a pledged delegate lead he will not relinquish by Super Tuesday, March 3. The Vermont senator wouldn’t clinch the nomination that day. But he would be so far ahead that he would be virtually guaranteed to go into Milwaukee with an insurmountable lead in delegates. At that point, the party couldn’t afford not to nominate him. He would finish about 20 percentage points ahead of anyone else.
For Democrats, the decision in the coming weeks may come down to a particularly challenging conundrum. If you nominate Sanders, how many anti-Sanders Democrats and independents drift away in the general election? And if you nominate Bloomberg, how many anti-Bloomberg Democrats and independents drift away in the general election?
The Trump campaign and fans of the president shouldn’t fool themselves; the vast majority of people supporting either Sanders or Bloomberg are going to vote for the eventual Democratic nominee. But “vast majority” might mean about 80 to 90 percent, and that might not be enough where it counts when all the votes are tallied on Election Day.
Did Sanders voters cost Hillary Clinton the presidency? Many political scientists have gone through the exit polls and come up with different estimates of just how many Sanders primary voters ended up voting for Trump in the general elections. The low end of estimates is 6 percent, the high end is 12 percent. Political scientist Brian Schaffner put it at 12 percent nationally, and offered a state-level estimate: In Wisconsin, 9 percent of Sanders voters cast ballots for Trump, in Michigan, 8 percent of Sanders voters cast ballots for Trump, and in Pennsylvania, 16 percent of Sanders voters cast ballots for Trump. That comes out to about 51,000 voters in Wisconsin, where Trump’s margin of victory was 22,000. That comes out to about 47,000 voters in Michigan, where Trump’s margin of victory was 10,000. That comes out to about 116,000 voters in Wisconsin, where Trump’s margin of victory was 44,000. Notice that even if you cut the Sanders-to-Trump estimates in half . . . you still end up with a sum larger than the Trump margin.
In other words . . . yeah, Bernie Sanders voters ended up making Donald Trump president in 2016.
The good news for Democrats is that nominating Sanders brings back at least a chunk of those voters. A “socialist grandpa” candidate doesn’t give off a vibe of urban elitist condescension. The bad news for Democrats is that nominating Sanders probably loses a chunk of Hillary Clinton voters.
Down-ticket Democrats aren’t mincing words: Nominating Sanders puts a lot of them in danger of defeat in November.
“They’re terrified,” Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., the first House Democrat to endorse Buttigieg, told ABC News of his colleagues’ response to Sanders’ rise. “Very few people see Bernie as electable.”
“It could be challenging in parts of the country that we have to win in order to win the presidency and win a majority in the Senate,” Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., a centrist who dropped his own White House bid after the New Hampshire primary, said Thursday of a Sanders’ nomination.
Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a New York Democrat fighting for reelection in a district carried by Trump in 2016, wouldn’t commit to supporting Sanders if he becomes the party’s nominee for president.
“He won’t be the party’s nominee,” he said Thursday when repeatedly asked if he’d support Sanders in the general election. “I’ve made it clear that I think we should nominate a more moderate candidate who has the ability to reach across the aisle and get things done.”
A House Democrat in a swing district who did not want to be identified told the New York Times that if the Democrats nominated Sanders, “there is a growing concern among especially those of us on the front lines that we will not only lose the White House but the House of Representatives.” Texas Democrats believe Sanders would torpedo their hopes of big gains in the state legislature.
Socialism — explicit socialism, wearing the label proudly — has only niche appeal in this country. The Democratic Socialists of America endorsed 42 candidates in 20 states in 2018. None of their senatorial candidates won, neither of their gubernatorial candidates won, and three of their twelve House candidates won: incumbent Danny Davis in Illinois, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib. As you may have noticed, those are heavily Democratic districts.
Wait, there’s one other wrinkle, and I’m not making an age joke. Sanders said yesterday he had changed his mind and will not release any more of his medical records. This is a 78-year-old man who had a heart attack in October. At the time, the senator’s campaign said he had been hospitalized with “chest pains,” and three days later announced he had a heart attack and that doctors had inserted two stents.