Election 2020

Bernie Sanders Plots His Comeback

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 25, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

For a while, Bernie Sanders appeared invincible. He had conquered Nevada and New Hampshire and was setting his sights on a decisive Super Tuesday blowout of Joe Biden.

Except it was Joe who did the blowing. The dynamics of the race changed literally overnight, and now Sanders is the one whose campaign is in dire straits.

But if Biden did it…why not Sanders?

The Democratic establishment is rallying around Joe Biden not because they think he’d make a great president, but because all the other alternatives have fallen away or never took off. The most “diverse” candidate field in primary history has devolved into a couple of ancient white guys arguing over whose confiscatory policies would bring in more loot for the government.

Sanders’ success before Super Tuesday was due to a fanatically loyal and fanatically enthusiastic base of younger Democrats who see the democratic socialist as something new in politics. He speaks to their fears of the future, their worries of the present, and their puffed-up self-image of themselves as extremely tolerant, generous (with other people’s money), caring, compassionate, and caring more about the rest of the world than their own country.

With $17 million on hand per the last FEC report, Bernie Sanders won’t be going away anytime soon. But unless he’s able to turn it around and win somewhere significant, he’s going to end up being just another old white guy shouting into the wilderness.

And that’s why the Michigan primary next Tuesday is a make-or-break contest for him. Sanders was never expected to do well in Florida, but he shocked Hillary Clinton with a big win in Michigan in 2016 and was thought to have the advantage.

But the most recent polls show Biden up by 7 points. And Bernie doesn’t have a lot of time to turn it around.


The decades-long refusal to air negative TV ads is out. Spots highlighting former President Barack Obama’s praise of him are in.

After facing questions for weeks about whether Sanders would shift his message to broaden his base, Sanders’ campaign co-chair, Rep. Ro Khanna, said his candidate will work to appeal more to older voters and mainstream Democrats.

“We need to make the case that single-payer [health care] will provide long-term care, dental and vision for seniors, that our policies are pro-innovation and -economic growth,” he told POLITICO, “and that we are very proud of the accomplishments of the Democratic Party, starting from FDR, and are building an inclusive coalition to complete the New Deal.”

Sanders will rise or fall based on…free visits to the dentist for seniors? His advisors don’t see the problem. Offering more and more “free stuff” is not the answer. Nor is promising to grow the economy while the government sucks trillions of dollars more out of it.

More to the point, Sanders’s negative ads that feature Biden promising to cut Social Security might score some points.

At a news conference Wednesday, Sanders underscored his new attack ads against Biden, saying he needs to explain to Americans why he supported “disastrous” trade agreements, the Iraq War, and the “Wall Street bailout.” The spots — which are airing in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Washington, states that vote March 10 and 17 — criticize Biden’s record of entertaining Social Security cuts and supporting free trade deals.

Biden has since trimmed his sails and is now sailing full-bore to port. He downplays support for those positions and tries to talk like a populist — with mixed results.

Sanders is, indeed, a populist, but now he has to become something else; he must at least give lip service to coalition-building that doesn’t include radical leftists. Can he do it?

The question for Sanders now is whether his shift is too little, too late. After the Super Tuesday dust settles, more than a third of the primary’s delegates will have been awarded. And, with Mike Bloomberg’s withdrawal from the race and endorsement of Joe Biden Wednesday, the moderate wing of the Democratic Party is now firmly behind the former vice president.

It also remains to be seen whether Sanders’ campaign and the candidate himself will stick to this shift. Sanders’ refusal to change is simultaneously his greatest political asset and potentially fatal flaw.

Biden, being Biden, is no shoo-in. He’s always going to be one gaffe away from disaster. The next debate will be in Phoenix on March 15 ahead of the Arizona primary. Between now and then, Biden could easily ruin his chances. And with Sanders hitting back, there’s no telling where voters will come down.

You have to believe that even though Sanders has plenty of money, any realistic shot at the nomination will be decided over the next couple of weeks. Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois will determine Sanders’ fate and, quite likely, the fate of the Democratic Party.