Election 2020

Sanders Makes the 'Electability' Argument Obsolete

Introducing POTUS number never. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Conventional wisdom said that Bernie Sanders could never win the Democratic nomination. He was too far left and his appeal to blacks and Hispanics was limited. He was too old, too white, and frightened suburban moms.

But conventional wisdom is nothing more than lazy thinking. He may be all those things but he is also the most virulent, hysterical anti-Trump candidate on the Democratic side. Apparently, that counts for a lot among Democrats.

The media has anointed Sanders as the Democratic nominee. And while the math is daunting for other candidates, it’s not impossible for Michael Bloomberg or even Joe Biden to make a race of it. In fact, unless Sanders starts to run away with the race, a brokered convention looms very large ahead.

But conventional wisdom says that the Democratic establishment will try to deny Sanders the nomination if he arrives in Milwaukee for the convention in July ahead of the pack. This is the last gasp of the “electability” conventional wisdom, which the establishment refuses to cede. Ryan Lizza at Politico points out that Sanders has been exploding conventional wisdom all along.

But the Sanders victory still exploded a lot of myths. He was said to have a ceiling of 30% or so. Remarkably, against a much larger field of candidates Sanders is poised to come close to the same level of support as he did in 2016 in a one-on-one race against Hillary Clinton, to whom he lost 47%-53%. (He was at 46% with a quarter of precincts reporting as of this writing.) He was said to be unable to attract anyone outside his core base. But he held his own with moderate voters (22%) and won across every issue area except voters who cared most about foreign policy, who went with Biden.

All of this makes the results of the Nevada caucuses, which in the past have not been treated with the same importance as the contests in the three other early states — Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina — matter more this year. They have helped settle lingering questions about Sanders’ appeal.

The questions about his appeal are hardly “settled.” The South has yet to speak and my guess is Sanders is going to have a very rough ride south of Mason-Dixon. And while California seems safely Democratic, other states in the Mountain West might also prefer another Democrat.

Biden’s surprise second place in Nevada sets him up for South Carolina and a possible comeback. The only storyline the press likes more than “the surprise” candidate is the “comeback kid” meme. But any Biden resurrection would almost certainly be ephemeral.

Biden’s possible resurrection in South Carolina also makes the case for Michael Bloomberg tenuous. Bloomberg got into the race by arguing he would be a Bernie slayer if Biden collapsed. But Biden’s stubborn refusal to collapse completely means that Bloomberg is now more likely to play the role of assisting Sanders’s march to the nomination — by keeping Biden wounded and the non-Sanders candidates further divided — rather than preventing it.

But the longer that three viable candidates are getting votes, holding Sanders below 50 percent, it becomes more and more likely that a good old fashioned “open” convention would result. In that case, throw conventional wisdom out the window. Electable or not, Sanders would be a heavy favorite in that scenario.