OPINION: A chaotic field is Sanders’ greatest boon

A Democratic symbol of a donkey adorned with 4 stars, in blue, white, and red stripes.
(Greta Long • The Student Life)

After an arduous campaign cycle comprised of innumerable speeches and combative debates, the Democratic primary is heading toward a critical juncture: Super Tuesday. In just five short days, states all across the nation from California to Texas to Virginia will cast their ballot for the Democratic nominee. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is currently riding on an impressive streak. After nearly a year of former Vice President Joe Biden leading, Sanders is comfortably in the lead, outpolling Biden by 11.5 percent nationally according to the RealClearPolitics polling average on Feb. 27. 

After winning Iowa’s popular vote and placing first in the New Hampshire primary, Sanders won Nevada in a dominating fashion, garnering 46.8 percent of county delegates followed by Biden’s distant second 20.2 percent. 

Sanders’ success is as much a reflection of his loyal base as it is the divided nature of the Democratic electorate. With six individuals still running, a single candidate has not been able to consolidate enough moderate support to oppose Sanders’ left-wing progressivism. If there isn’t any major shakeup soon, a Sanders victory is all but a foregone conclusion. 

But there’s still time, one might say. Well, sort of. With Super Tuesday so soon, wherein more than one-third of convention delegates are allocated, other candidates are running out of time. In fact, no candidate in U.S. political history has managed to lose contested races in Iowa and New Hampshire then go on to win the nomination.

I’m not saying it’s impossible for another candidate to thwart Sanders’ movement, but the clock is ticking. 

As Sanders is marching toward victory, others’ paths to the nomination are quickly fading into oblivion. There simply isn’t a compelling case for any other candidate to be viable enough to win a plurality of national delegates. 

Former mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg is not viable for the simple reason that he can’t attract minority support to save his life. The rise of Sanders, who is unequivocally the standard-bearer of left-wing politics, has effectively left Elizabeth Warren in the dust

Sure, if you add up the voting power between Biden, Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg and Buttigieg, you’ll beat Sanders. But none of these candidates have made any indication that they’ll be dropping out any time soon.

Moreover, Sanders is a fairly popular second-choice candidate in the field, which means that a moderate consolidator — even if possible at this point in the race — is not a sure bet to stop the front runner.

Acts of sheer desperation have begun to manifest in opposing candidates. Warren, who has long opposed super PACs, has reversed her longstanding position in hopes of making a remarkable comeback. Her poll numbers have declined precipitously in the past two months, contrasting sharply with her front runner status this past fall. 

Buttigieg has warned the Democratic electorate of an increasingly likely Sanders nomination, stating that “[Sen.] Sanders believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans.” 

Contrary to Buttigieg’s assertion, Sanders’ coalition is one of the most racially diverse bases in the democratic primary — much more than Buttigieg’s, who has consistently struggled with people of color. In fact, Sanders even beat Buttigieg among self-described moderate voters in Nevada. 

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Biden took a swing at Sanders and Bloomberg in one swipe: “You know, I’m a Democrat for a simple reason. I ain’t a socialist, I ain’t a plutocrat, I’m a Democrat. I’m a Democrat, okay. And I’m proud of it.”

In a sense, Biden’s actually right. He’s the quintessential establishment Democrat. Unfortunately for him, this isn’t necessarily relevant to the Democratic electorate. Voters aren’t excessively concerned with partisanship and the tribalist rhetoric that Washington insiders engage in too often. 

Ultimately, candidates that win offer a compelling vision of America that will inspire and galvanize their constituency. I wouldn’t exactly characterize Biden voters as particularly enthusiastic. 

Perhaps best exemplifying the frantic nature of the Democratic establishment is former New York mayor and billionaire Bloomberg, whose mission has been to halt Sanders’ ascendency as the Democratic front runner by consolidating moderate support. 

Unfortunately for Bloomberg, he has a fair amount of factors working against him: His late entry to the race would make a victory unprecedented. His Nevada debate performance was particularly awful, which effectively eliminated his preconceived “electability” facade in front of millions. 

Other candidates are not dropping out. Bloomberg’s controversial record on the infamous stop-and-frisk New York policing policy has and will continue to stain his image. And perhaps most importantly of all, another billionaire egomaniac is an ideal foil for Sanders anti-plutocratic rhetoric. 

This leaves two likely scenarios for the end of this nomination cycle: One, Sanders wins a majority of delegates, which wins him the nomination outright. Two, Sanders wins a plurality of delegates without capturing over 50 percent, which results in a contested convention. 

If scenario two were to play out, with Sanders as the clear leader in pledged delegates, then it would be the equivalent of a political self-destruction for the Democratic Party to endorse the lesser supported candidate. 

In the Nevada Democratic debate, NBC moderator Chuck Todd asked, “Should the person with the most delegates at the end of this primary season be the nominee even if they are short of a majority?”

Very tellingly, every candidate except Sanders replied no. It appears the other candidates have essentially conceded that Sanders will win the plurality of delegates. Therefore, the only path to the nomination might be by brokering a deal with superdelegates to take the nomination. 

Despite the frequent pillories of Sanders from establishment Democrats, such a move would be politically unprecedented in a way likely to fracture the Democratic Party irreparably. Unless a single candidate can actually compete with Sanders on a national scale — which for reasons stated I believe unlikely — this dream scenario is a pipe dream.

If the candidate with the most delegates is not elected, then it’s hard to see the point of the primary. Perhaps as Sanders said, the will of the people should prevail over asinine democratic norms that give superdelegates more say than the American electorate. 

Sanders can’t really ask for more. The story’s practically writing itself. Albeit a much different shade, much in the same way it did four years ago. 

Musa Tahir HM ’23 is from Portland, Oregon. He regards electoral politics as much a horse race as it is a central pillar of our democracy.

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