Dems Can't Wait Until the Convention to Stop Sanders

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With the revelation that superdelegates and party officials may stop Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Democratic convention this July should he only have a plurality of delegates, candidates trailing in the primary race are more incentivized to continue their campaigns, which helps Bernie even more as he plows ahead to cement an insurmountable delegate lead over a divided field. 

Everyone is afraid of Sanders and unwilling to try to block him, despite the fact that he isn’t a Democrat, a socialist can’t win a general election, and he is fraudulently selling his voters an agenda he knows will not, and cannot, become reality. In an election in which Democrats not only believe a second term for President Trump is an existential threat to democracy but also that defeat is likely to exile their party to the wilderness for generations in presidential elections, many are still so paralyzed they appear prepared to accept annihilation. Winning, salvaging what is left of the Democratic Party -- all of their goals now seem more like options, and something to be sacrificed at the altar of “the will of the voters” – that is, Bernie fans, who remain a small part of their coalition. 

The blunt words of Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House and serves in a Trump district, best described the crisis. “Bernie seems to have declared war on the Democratic Party -- and it’s caused panic in the House ranks,” Gottheimer told the New York Times. That is the truth, no matter what the Democratic National Committee happy talk is. The party doesn’t support a ban on fracking and the elimination of private health insurance, steps that would put most of Pennsylvania out of work, they actually want to win back Pennsylvania in the election this fall. The party doesn’t support allowing prisoners to vote in jail, or free college or the rest of Sanders’ more than $60 trillion in fantasy programs either. And all of the Problem Solvers and swing district Democrats in the House, and candidates on the Democratic ballot in Senate races, would have to tell voters they don’t support any of the Sanders agenda in order to avoid having him cost them their jobs as well. Sanders leading the ticket would be a declaration of war on the party. 

But you can hear the wincing from the establishment about controlling the process, even as a majority of superdelegates told the New York Times that Sanders likely can only win the nomination with a majority of delegates, not a plurality, the way he insists he should. Ah, yes, he had a different opinion in 2016 and forced rule changes he now doesn’t want to follow. But don’t feign shock -- the revolutionary is not the authentic, principled fighter of his brand, just a Beltway insider whose situational ethics are as shameless as Trump’s. 

“The power is with the people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday when asked about any likely intervention in the nominating process. Inside a closed meeting with Democrats, according to the Washington Post, she said: “We cannot show any division. This has to be about unity, unity, unity.” Rep. Don Beyer, who has endorsed Pete Buttigieg, was also blunt that both former President Obama and Pelosi would have the most influence in a debate about electability, but he told the Post: “There’s no indication either one of them wants to play that role right now.”

Maybe a unified front is safe for now, but behind closed doors party stalwarts should work hard to enable the best outcome for victory instead of defeat: online campaigns, outside PACs, whatever it takes to limit Sanders to a plurality instead of a majority. 

Bernie, despite having the broadest coalition in the primary race, has not transformed the primary electorate whatsoever. His movement, he says, will awaken a new group of non-voters who will carry him to victory over Trump without the need to persuade the center or win back Obama voters the party lost to Trump in 2016. Turnout in the first three contests was up just barely -- only by 1% in precincts Sanders won in Iowa, and he won less than half the number of new voters that Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar did in New Hampshire (where he left the state behind Buttigieg in the delegate count). Sanders won a blowout in Nevada but did not show an ability to find new voters there either. 

Indeed, thus far Bernie’s electability thesis is a fever dream of the Justice Democrats and MoveOn and the Squad. They seem not to notice how hard Republicans and President Trump and the Russians are trying to make a Bernie nomination happen. 

By the way, why did Sanders not come clean more than a month ago when he learned from U.S. intelligence officials the Russians wanted him to win the primary?  And his refusal to release consequential information about his heart disease, after suffering a heart attack in October, should be unacceptable to a party that has hammered President Trump since 2016 for the same defiance. It also should have been unacceptable to the party that he never released any details on the cost of “Medicare for All,” which cost Sen. Elizabeth Warren front-runner status when she showed her scary numbers. Maybe with Bernie the rules are for fools, as Trump believes. 

If nominated, Sanders is openly refusing to accept help from Mike Bloomberg, despite the billionaire businessman pledging to spend millions for the nominee in swing states and to hand over the offices he’s opened across the country for use by the nominee’s campaign. Folks, as Joe Biden would say, this is straight-up bonkers. 

Obama has joined with his former attorney general Eric Holder to address the damage from the party’s record state-level losses during Obama’s two terms, aiming to win enough seats to block the GOP from controlling the redistricting process that Democrats enjoyed in 2010, but a Sanders down-ballot slaughter would sting for far longer than the next decade. 

The impotence of the Democratic Party has reached near fatal levels -- it’s indefensible that party operatives couldn’t see this coming, couldn’t imagine the possibility that Sanders, having come close in 2016 and successful in getting the party to change the superdelegate rules, wouldn’t master the system, out-organize everyone, clean up in caucuses, and nail down the nomination in a nightmare scenario.

The DNC’s denial is pitiful. Though Democrats knew nearly three years ago they would face a well-moneyed incumbent president, they somehow have arrived at 2020 without adequate funds to fight back against the power and finances of the Trump campaign, the Trump-aligned super PACs and the Republican National Committee’s permanent, data-driven ground game. The latter is working its magic in all the right battlegrounds in numbers the Democrats cannot dream of catching up to post-convention. 

The only hand the DNC has had in the process was a debacle: It designed the hated debates. Debate criteria fueled candidates with higher name ID or who could attract left-wing energy and dollars online. The Woke Twitterati may be a majority of Bernie’s bros but they are a minority of the total Democratic primary electorate. 

It’s true the Democrats aren’t alone; the GOP also lost its ability to choose candidates, or raise significant resources. An insurgent railroaded the Republican nomination in 2016 just the way Sanders almost succeeded in doing the same that year. But crashing the clown car with Bernie this year is a choice, not a necessity. 

Dems worried that those young people who love Bernie will turn against the party, take their toys and go home should consider their options: staving off disaster by nominating a candidate who can win Republicans and independents or giving in to the destruction of the party and a second term of Trump. 

All of this may sound like far-fetched lunacy, but this is either the emergency Democrats say it is, or it’s not. The outcome is no mystery if Sanders is nominated -- the GOP easily holds the Senate, takes back control of the House and Trump is reelected.

Leadership is about making the hard choices, not the easy ones, telling difficult truths instead of pleasing everyone. Of all the candidates, Bernie is the least worthy of a suicide pact. A party that let Sanders get this far and won’t try to block him doesn’t deserve to lead. 

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. 

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