It’s really all he has left. The youth vote hasn’t materialized, his ideas have been rejected even by a majority of Democrats, the media smells blood in the water, and even the Bernie Bros are losing hope.
So the socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, will go into Sunday’s debate in Washington, D.C., hoping that Joe Biden will perform like, well, Joe Biden, and say something so outrageously stupid that Democratic voters are panicked into voting for him instead of Sleepy Joe.
It’s a thin hope, to be sure. Biden’s handlers have been keeping the doddering candidate under wraps as much as possible, limiting his appearances, trying to script his days as much as possible. Covid-19 was a godsend for Biden, giving him an excuse to shut himself away and give the occasional press conference.
But Sunday night, it will be just he and Bernie on stage for two hours. Perhaps Bernie can engage Biden in an exchange where he can confuse the old man. Perhaps he can get him angry. Whatever he does, he better do it quickly. Biden is set to run away with Tuesday’s primaries and take the nomination with him.
“In the best-case scenario, Bernie dominates the debate and the arguments. He has one or two good one-liners,” said Mark Longabaugh, a former senior adviser to Sanders’ 2016 campaign. “And obviously the flip side would be Biden has a lackluster debate and maybe makes a mistake. All that coming together maybe causes some pause and hesitation on the part of voters.”
It’s a tall order: Biden has won 14 of the 20 states that have voted this month, and he’s polling about 20 to 40 percentage points ahead of Sanders in the states that cast ballots on Tuesday.
Biden would have to faint on stage for Bernie to win Florida. But if he can keep Biden’s margin of victory in Florida down to 10 points or less, and perhaps win Arizona, he’ll grab enough delegates to stay within striking distance.
But the real problem for Sanders is that he’s just about run out of opportunities. In addition to Florida, Illinois and Ohio are also holding primaries Tuesday. Two southern states, Louisiana and Georgia, have postponed their primaries — a break for Sanders who would have been badly beaten in both.
The Sanders people may be radical idealists, but they’re also working political operatives. They know the score and have no illusions about the probable outcome of the primaries on Tuesday.
In the Sanders campaign’s ideal world, aides said, he would win the debate, which would give him enough momentum to carry at least one of the four states voting on Tuesday. His aides see Arizona — partly because he has performed strongly among Latino voters — and Illinois as the best possibilities.
In their view, that could change the narrative about Sanders’ campaign being all but done, and allow them to potentially win states voting later this primary, such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New York.
To gain steam, “you have to do it by initially suggesting the storyline was wrong about Bernie” being finished, said Shakir. “Right now, I’m not sure that anyone — correct me if I’m wrong — is suggesting that we will win in any of those four states. Hopefully we can turn that around.”
He’s going to need a lot of help from Joe Biden to make that happen.