So it looks like Bernie Sanders is going to win Iowa. Polls are still pretty close, but he’s been rising late and looks poised. If there’s a surprise, I would guess it’d be because of this whole second-choice thing they do. That is, you caucus for Cory Booker, he doesn’t get 15 percent, and then you move to your second choice. Sanders probably isn’t many Democrats’ second choice. If Joe Biden or one of the others pulls this out, that will probably be how.
Then, if he’s won Iowa, Sanders will win New Hampshire. Then comes Nevada, which people don’t mention a lot but which may be decisive. Biden leads there now, but it’s close and the state is known as hard to poll. Plus, it’s another caucus, and Sanders did very well in those contests in 2016 (though Clinton edged him out in Nevada).
The contest there is all about the Las Vegas culinary union. Harry Reid has a lot of pull with that union. It’s also heavily Latino. Both of these factors suggest the union, which has not officially endorsed, will lean toward Biden, but all that may change after two Sanders wins. And if Sanders win Nevada, well, that’s a lot of momentum. He could win the nomination.
The party establishment will be in mortal panic if Sanders goes 3-0, and many eyes will turn to Mike Bloomberg. They already are—that is, many people already assume that Biden just isn’t up to the job and that Bloomberg will be the only way to stop Sanders. We’ll see. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. But it’s likely to be ugly. Worse than 2016. Much worse.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s eventual win (for the nomination) was never in any serious mathematical doubt, especially after March 15. So whatever happened, you always knew she was going to be the nominee in the end. This time, the result will be in doubt. It will be an angry movement versus a panic-stricken establishment. You thought it was a little far out that Rashida Tlaib booed Hillary Clinton over the weekend? Things are going to happen over the next four months to make that look like a love tap.
And by the way: Clinton should not have used the language she did about Sanders in that documentary. It’s no secret that a lot of Sanders’ supporters are obnoxious and hyperbolic. But responding in kind, and in a contest she’s not running in, is not what someone of Clinton’s stature should be doing, and it probably helps Trump, who will use her sound bites endlessly if Sanders is the nominee.
Anyway, the point, as the voting gets underway, is that this shows every sign of being the most divisive Democratic primary contest in decades. Or more likely, ever. The logical precedent is 1972 and the McGovern campaign. Lots of Democrats opposed McGovern’s candidacy and thought he was way too left to beat Richard Nixon (indeed, he lost 49 states). Hubert Humphrey was the top alternative (fun fact: Though McGovern won the lion’s share of the primaries, Humphrey actually received more votes than McGovern—something that could conceivably happen again this time.)
But Twitter didn’t exist then, or cable news. A Sanders-Biden showdown that runs the course of March and April and drags into May, or a Sanders-Bloomberg one, will just be torture every day. And the storyline will be awful for the party and whoever it is playing the Biden-Bloomberg role. It will be that party establishment corporatist hacks are moving heaven and earth to thwart the pure insurgent, the man of the people. The Sanders army will push it, and so will Trump and Fox News and the Republican Party, because they want Sanders as their opponent (“They’re rigging the election against him again,” Trump told Sean Hannity in his Super Bowl interview). Fox is going to run more “poor Bernie” stories than Jacobin.
Then we’ll get to the convention, which in all likelihood will line up to give the nomination to Biden-Bloomberg-whomever unless Sanders is clearly, unequivocally ahead and simply can’t be denied it. Then what? Civil war. If I were a cleverer person than I am, I’d have lined up a book deal last year about the 1852 election and the Whigs. Spoiler alert: It did not end well.
No one has the power to stop this. Barack Obama? Please. To the Sanders army he’s just another corporatist hack. When he was president, he could have done more to change that perception. If he’d been more aggressive on some economic matters, taken a more populist tack toward the banks, fought for a public option in Obamacare, a few other things, maybe all that frustration on the left that Sanders tapped into and let loose wouldn’t have built up. Of course, if Obama had tried these things, most of it would have failed in the Senate, a lesson Bernie’s Army may learn one day the hard way. But at least he would have been seen by some as trying.
Even that, though, wouldn’t have been enough. I’ve been watching all this very closely for a very long time. The left has played on the fringes of Democratic politics for decades, never fully participating. It’s different than the right. Right-wing people have tended to join the Republican Party and bore from within, as the old Marxist line has it. Left-wing people have not. They have contempt for Democrats and liberals and often hate them more than they hate conservatives. This explains why someone like Randy Credico, whom I used to know, would make common cause with Roger Stone against Hillary Clinton.
Mainstream liberal Democrats used to be able to ignore the left because it was so small. Well, they can’t anymore. Three decades of obscene wealth concentration has made the left more appealing to millions of young people—and understandably so, I must say, even though I’m not a leftist myself.
Are they enough people to elect a president? That’s a topic for another day, though in general, I doubt it. But it’s definitely enough people to matter in a primary process and help a party collapse. Which may indeed play a role in helping to elect a president, just not the one they had in mind.