Bernie is Doomed

Bernie Sanders is likely to run for the Democratic nomination, but it won't be like 2016.

Doug Mataconis notes that Bernie Sander appears poised for a second attempt at the Democratic nomination. This is no surprise and and is all well and good, but this time won’t be like 2016.

  1. As Doug noted:  the field is going to be crowded.  Last time the race quickly became Clinton v. Sanders. Anti-Hillary Democrats had nowhere to go but to Bernie.  This will not be true in 2020.
  2. He will have to deal with the charges of sexism in his previous campaign.
  3. This quote is going to kill him:  “Many of my opponents do not hold that view, and they think that all that we need is people who are candidates who are black or white, who are black or Latino or woman or gay, regardless of what they stand for, that the end result is diversity.”  Yes, he was saying that issues should trump the gender, race, or ethnicity of the candidate.  Ultimately, this is true.  But for a candidate who had trouble with a key Democratic constituency in 2016, i.e., African-Americans, trying to run against a very diverse set of competitors, this attitude will not be helpful.

Indeed, in a field full of female candidates and candidates of color, with a nominating voter base that is heavily female and of color, how does he possibility overcome being the old white man from New England?

Yes, he has a constituency within the party’s nominating electorate:  he occupies the far (in relative terms) left flank of the party.  But not only does he have Elizabeth Warren challenging for some of those vote, the far left flank is not enough to win the nomination.

I would note, yet again, that he is not currently a Democrat.  He is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and it is only our (the US’) very porous party structure that allows him to compete for the party’s nomination.  But this fact means that he will be unlikely to get the kind of institutional support the others in the filed will get–and that part will be the same as in 2016.

I know I was wrong about Trump getting the nomination in 2016, and perhaps I will eat Bernie crow in 2020–but I really see him having a hard time being anywhere near as successful as he was in 2016, let alone win the nomination this time around.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    My daughter, a millennial, was a Bernie enthusiast last cycle. She said to me just yesterday that she wasn’t the slightest bit interested in him this time around. It’s anecdata, I know. But I share the opinion that he’s toast. I look at this field and I have no idea who will be favored, to be sure. But Democrat primary voters are hungry for someone a bit younger and with less baggage.

    I think that leaves out Elizabeth Warren, too.

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  2. douglast says:

    Bernie is still an Independent. I don’ know why the Democrats and GOP let outsiders and/or johnny-come- latelies like Bernie or Trump run in their primaries and take over the party.

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  3. al Ameda says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    My daughter, a millennial, was a Bernie enthusiast last cycle. She said to me just yesterday that she wasn’t the slightest bit interested in him this time

    I have millennial daughters, both are very liberal and one of whom was very interested in Bernie in 2012 for 2 reasons; (1) he was further left than Hillary and (2) he was not Hillary. Talking to her now she is definitely interested to see if Harris is viable, maybe Elizabeth Warren, and she’s not the least bit interested in Bernie as she feels that his time has passed.

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  4. @douglast: The bottom line is that the nomination system is practically one of self-nomination (at least in terms of who competes to be the candidate).

    The GOP establishment surely wishes that it could have had more control in 2016, for example.

  5. Teve says:

    in a few months a half-dozen candidates will have good name recognition, and Bernie will be stuck in single digits and poor fundraising until he drops out.

  6. charon says:

    @douglast:

    Bernie is still an Independent. I don’ know why the Democrats and GOP let outsiders and/or johnny-come- latelies like Bernie or Trump run in their primaries and take over the party.

    The Democrats make concessions to Bernie and coddle him out of the fear he takes his BernieBros and runs independent, splintering off a few votes. It’s the implicit extortion.

  7. charon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The GOP establishment surely wishes that it could have had more control in 2016, for example.

    The Democrats decided to award delegates proportional to vote share. The RNC encouraged winner-take-all primaries or disproportionate delegates to the leader because they wanted a quick decision, early selection. That ploy bit them in the butt when Trump won the nomination with a minority of the votes cast.

  8. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I doubt his campaign folks and ardent supporters understand the extent to which he is currently viewed as one of the proximate causes for Trump winning the 2016 election by red state and purple state women, LGBT+ folks, racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, etc., who *need* a strong, functional Federal government to offset state-level shenanigans.

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  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    Let’s not forget that Bernie’s senior campaign advisor, Tad Devine, is one of Paul Manafort’s associates and that the campaign received help from the Russians during the 2016 election cycle.

    So the best case scenario is that Sanders was an unwitting Russian stooge.

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  10. MarkedMan says:

    Bernie’s fundamental problem is that he is in the wrong profession. He should have been a college professor where he could lecture his students about what is important. Or perhaps he should have pursued a career as a political commentator where he could pontificate about the things he is fixated on. Heck, if he did that I would probably be linking to his columns. But as a politician he has a tremendous flaw: he really doesn’t give a sh*t about what anyone else has to say. His very body language indicates that when someone else is talking they are just wasting pressure moments that would be better spent with Bernie telling you the right way to think about things. At its core politics is about supporting things you care less about in order to build a bigger coalition to advance the things you care most about. Bernie makes it clear that he considers this beneath him and anyone engaging in such things is little more than a whore. Which begs the question: why is he a politician in the first place?

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  11. douglast says:

    In many ways Sanders and Trump are two sides of the same coin. Both profess to be pro-tariff/anti-globalization, both attract those who believe that the system is rigged and is leaving them behind, and both are/would be inept leaders. Bernie is a sincere egghead, but Trump is a better marketer – like a cheap offshore crayon maker who puts “Non Lead” on the packaging because that’s what consumers want to hear.

  12. Bernie is Doomed

    From your lips to God’s ear. We don’t need reruns this go around from Bernie, Joe or Hillary.

  13. Kylopod says:

    @al Ameda:

    I have millennial daughters, both are very liberal and one of whom was very interested in Bernie in 2012 for 2 reasons; (1) he was further left than Hillary and (2) he was not Hillary.

    I have an old friend who is extremely right-wing, yet because he’s from Baltimore he’s registered as a Democrat so he can have a voice in local elections where the Democratic primary is effectively the election. He told me that he voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary. I asked him why, and without missing a beat he replied “He’s not Hillary Clinton.”

    This is not just anecdata. A study found that, somewhat counterintuitively, Bernie voters tended to hold more economically conservative views than Hillary voters. Among Bernie-to-Trump voters, half had supported Romney in 2012, and 35% described themselves as conservative, while only 17% identified as liberal.

    Of course Bernie-to-Trump voters were only a small slice of Bernie voters, but the point is that quite a few of the people who voted for Bernie were effectively Republicans to begin with, and even among his supporters overall, many were not remotely left-wing.

  14. Joe says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: @charon:

    I viewed the Democratic superdelagates as a protection against interlopers. I bet many Republicans wish they had them. And I was surprised after Trump/Sanders that the Democrats moved away from them.

  15. Kylopod says:

    @Joe:

    I viewed the Democratic superdelagates as a protection against interlopers.

    Agreed. They were first introduced in 1984 in reaction to the somewhat chaotic Democratic primaries of the 1970s which resulted in nominees like McGovern and Carter. And yet, to this day they’ve never done more than rubber-stamp the winner of pledged delegates acquired through primaries and caucuses. If they ever were to act otherwise, I think it would be a bloodbath. That’s why I think the Dems cut back on them.

    No doubt many Republicans in 2016 probably wished they’d had superdelegates, but it’s not clear if they did it would have stopped Trump–especially when you consider that there wasn’t any large-scale effort to stop him at the convention. They were scared of a revolt–and in particular a third-party or write-in campaign if Trump claimed the nomination had been stolen from him. That’s one of the potential prices of trying to stop “interlopers.”

  16. Gustopher says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    But Democrat primary voters are hungry for someone a bit younger and with less baggage.

    I think that leaves out Elizabeth Warren, too.

    I don’t think Elizabeth Warren comes across nearly as old as Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, despite being roughly the same age.

    And every candidate has baggage, whether we know about it yet or not — I’m interested in someone who can carry their baggage well. I really want Elizabeth Warren to learn how to do that over the next year. I want to vote for her, but she’s going to have to show she has what it takes.

    I do hope she annoys Trump a few times over the next year, so she gets some practice deflecting attacks and moving the conversation back.

    As far as Bernie goes… he’s on my list right above Tulsi Gabbard. Yes, at least she is a democrat, but she’s awful.

  17. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: In terms of her positions and what she stands for, Warren is probably my favorite candidate so far. I have reservations about her abilities as a candidate, and while she isn’t quite as old as Bernie, Biden, or Bloomberg–in fact she’s younger than Trump–she’d enter office older than Trump was when he did, once again breaking that record. It’s not disqualifying in my mind, but it is a concern, not so much in terms of her faculties which seem fine to me, but in terms of how her age will be used against her just as it was against Hillary.

    All that said, I’m a lot more bullish about her chances than Jay L Gischer here. In fact, I’d say the top three contenders right now are Warren, Harris, and Beto (if he runs).

    Of course, at this point in the last cycle I fully expected the GOP nominee to be Jeb Bush, so take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt.

  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    According to the official Social Security actuarial tables, Warren is likely to live another 17 years. Trump is likely to have another 13. Biden another 10, Bernie a hair less. Calendar age is less relevant than the candidate’s chances of surviving one or two terms.

    Just to round it out: Kamala Harris has about 30 more years, Klobuchar 26, and Beto another 33.

  19. Gustopher says:

    @Kylopod:

    I’d say the top three contenders right now are Warren, Harris, and Beto (if he runs).

    A large field, with a whole lot of candidates that are a bit light on national exposure… I think we end up with a whole lot of them who get the media spotlight for a month and then fade a bit or completely flame out. Harris likely ends up getting the first chance at that spotlight and then gets to defend against each month’s new shiny object as the mainstream media “discovers” the other 41 candidates running.

    My gut tells me it will be Gillibrand. I don’t know why. Maybe, despite knowing better, I’ve absorbed the “she knifed Franken in the back” and think she’s a fighter. Maybe it’s that she represented a conservative house district, and shifted left for the Senate and I thin that’s just good political instincts.

    If we are onto making predictions with no info, here’s my guess as to the general narrative of the primaries:
    – Harris bubble
    – media ponders why Warren isn’t catching on, declares liberal populism dead
    – Klobacher bubble fails to eclipse Harris
    – Booker bubble, Harris stumbles Booker doesn’t last
    – media declares Democrats in disarray
    – Gillibrand bubble begins
    – media wonders ‘whatever happened to the white men?”
    – Beto boomlet
    – Hickenlooper boomlet
    – media starts running “why did the Democrats settle on Gillibrand?” postmortems
    – Bernie Bros still telling everyone that he’s the only real choice

  20. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher:

    My gut tells me it will be Gillibrand.

    Personally I think the killer for her wasn’t the Franken debacle but the fact that she argued Clinton should have resigned during the Lewinsky scandal. The Clintons and their allies are still important power-brokers in the party, and she probably can’t afford to alienate them–especially since where else can she turn? The Bernie wing isn’t going to embrace her.

  21. Gustopher says:

    @Gustopher: Also this cycle’s coveted demographic that is held up above all others will not be “soccer moms”, it will be “racist-adjacent middle-aged white women whose husband is voting for Trump, and who go to neighborhood book clubs to drink wine” — they will be named after some book. Think “50 Shades Voters”

  22. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “According to the official Social Security actuarial tables, Warren is likely to live another 17 years. Trump is likely to have another 13.”

    I don’t think those tables have taken into account what’s on Trump’s tables — his dining tables, that is.

  23. Gustopher says:

    @wr: But he also has great genes. People look at Trump and see an obese, balding, oddly colored, frail old man with terrible diet wh gets zero exercise and a weird mushroom appendage, and they forget about his great genes.

  24. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher:

    Harris likely ends up getting the first chance at that spotlight and then gets to defend against each month’s new shiny object as the mainstream media “discovers” the other 41 candidates running.

    That actually makes her sound like the Democratic equivalent of Romney 2012. And we know how that turned out.

    One thing I will say about modern nominees in general is that they tend to find some way to achieve broad acceptability among the party’s different factions, even if not everyone is satisfied. Some examples:

    * Bush in 2000 managed to unite the party’s business wing, the evangelicals, and the centrists. His “compassionate conservatism” sounded like he was going for a Republican equivalent to Clinton-style triangulation, though it was also a dogwhistle to evangelicals (the term was coined by evangelical Marvin Olasky). He repeatedly signaled that unlike his dad he held acceptable conservative positions on taxes and other economic issues, and McCain provided a suitable foil so that he wasn’t widely regarded as a RINO at the time.

    * Obama in 2008 drew upon the energy of the grassroots left through his anti-Iraq War advocacy, though on most issues he wasn’t substantively that different from Clinton, and the no-red-and-blue-America rhetoric that helped launch his career gave him an almost post-partisan image in the minds of some voters that appealed to centrists and independents.

    * Romney in 2012 had the “establishment” lane almost entirely to himself, especially after the implosion of Pawlenty and Perry and the lack of traction by Jon Huntsman. While the Tea Party wing hated him, he worked hard to make it clear that he would govern as a hardcore conservative, and he managed to attack rivals such as Perry, Gingrich, and Santorum from the right.

    * Trump in 2016 found a path to the nomination that totally upended the conventional wisdom of how that was supposed to happen–yet it still fit the pattern of appealing to different factions of the party. He was Tea Party on immigration but centrist on economics (at least in rhetoric). His white-identity shtick had a powerful appeal in the South but his Northeastern background and brash secularism helped him in that region as well.

    This theory of mine is among the reasons why I consider Warren, Harris, and (possibly) Beto to be the strongest contenders. Harris has so far done a skillful job of navigating the progressive vs. establishment wings. She checks the progressive “boxes” on most issues (despite the vulnerability on her record as Attorney General), yet she’s still thoroughly within the mainstream.

    Warren has tapped into some of the progressive populism that fueled the Bernie movement, but with a much better grasp of policy and without the harsh anti-establishment stance.

    Beto is somewhat harder to discern, and I get the sense even he isn’t sure whether he wants to run (though it should be noted Obama went through the same dithering in the 2008 cycle). His voting record is relatively conservative (his Trump score according to 538 is 30%, which is pretty high for a district that went to Clinton by 40 points), and already some of the lefties and Bernie-Bros are attacking him. Yet he has managed to avoid being pigeonholed as a moderate-centrist, and he did seem relatively progressive for someone running for statewide office in Texas. It’s quite possible he won’t live up to the hype, but so far he’s the only potential contender who has the kind of “rock-star” momentum that’s reminiscent of Obama early in the 2008 cycle.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher:

    “50 Shades Voters”

    Why am I hearing Nancy Pelosi’s fingernails on a chalkboard?

  26. Blue Galangal says:

    @Kylopod: I think what Beto, Harris, and Warren all have – although Harris has it to a lesser extent than the other two – is the ability to sound straightforward (AOC also has this ability). I’m not offering an opinion as to whether they are straightforward, but they sound like they are and it’s a good commodity in a political sense. It’s one of the reasons I think the Parkland students have resonated with a lot of people. Gillibrand has not manifested that ability to sound straightforward. She sounds like a politician.