The Bernie Sanders Phenomenon
Author: Greg Valliere
December 18, 2019
GO FIGURE: He’s 78, had a heart attack recently, sounds angry most of the time and is a self-proclaimed Socialist. Yet Bernie Sanders may be peaking at just the right time in Iowa, as Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg level off.
WITH $33 MILLION IN CASH on hand, as more small contributors pitch in, money isn’t a problem. Sanders consistently draws large and enthusiastic crowds, as he blasts corporate greed and income inequality in fiery speeches that have won him the most loyal base in the party.
WE STILL THINK JOE BIDEN AND PERHAPS MIKE BLOOMBERG are more likely to win the nomination, but Sanders has a plausible path. He could win Iowa (where his numbers have improved) and New Hampshire (he won the primary there in 2016, capturing 60% of the vote). He has a chance to win the next primary, in Nevada, on Feb 22, and if he runs respectably against Biden in the Feb. 29 South Carolina primary, Sanders could head into Super Tuesday on March 3 with some momentum.
THIS HAS THE PARTY’S ESTABLISHMENT WORRIED: Sanders has never been popular among the Democrats’ leadership; he has refused to declare himself a Democrat, and his proposals — confiscatory taxation, huge new government programs, etc. — would make him the underdog to Donald Trump in the general election, according to establishment Democrats. Barack Obama has bluntly proclaimed that he would speak out forcefully if Sanders appeared to have a chance of winning the nomination.
BUT THERE’S AN “X” FACTOR with Sanders — he could go on offense against Trump in the debates, not backing down an inch. Debates aren’t Biden’s strong suit, as we’ll probably see again tomorrow night.
WE TALKED WITH A REPORTER FRIEND yesterday who has been in Iowa for the past couple of weeks. He thinks the ground is shifting a bit — Warren is leveling off but is still in the running; Buttigieg has raised transparency issues over fundraising; Biden has won admiration for his hard work at rallies day after day; Amy Klobuchar is rising a little; Andrew Yang has won points with young voters; and then there’s Bernie — not going away, an authentic and consistent provocateur with amazing energy.
TRUMP REPORTEDLY WOULD LOVE TO RUN AGAINST SANDERS, but our sense is that calling him “Crazy Bernie” would have no impact. It’s the issues that are intriguing — both Trump and Sanders are unabashedly populists on issues like trade, but voters in both parties support Sanders’ call for higher taxes on the wealthy. Young people have veered sharply leftward, and Democrats in general want red meat; they’re passionately opposed to Trump. Bernie brings the red meat.
COULD SANDERS WIN THE NOMINATION? Unlikely, but it’s not out of the question, especially if he consolidates the left by driving Warren out of the race by spring. Could he win the presidency? Also unlikely — but no one gave Trump much of a chance in 2016; he was viewed as a loud New Yorker with radical ideas and hard-core supporters. Just like Bernie Sanders.
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