When was the last time Chris Christie and Rahm Emanuel agreed on anything? On Sunday, they each told George Stephanopoulos that the Democratic Party establishment is in panic mode over Bernie Sanders‘ ascendance to front-runner status for the 2020 nomination. For those of us who were around in 2016, it’s déjà vu all over again.
Christie gleefully explained how all of his Republican colleagues, including Vladimir Putin, are licking their chops at the chance to run Trump against Sanders. Almost all: Trump feels hurt that BFF Putin has taken such a shine to the Vermont independent. Also, we have received scattered reports that, on learning of the Nevada returns, the corners of Mitch McConnell‘s mouth briefly turned upward.
Democrats worry about Sanders’ ability to bring the mainstream of the party along with him. What does it profit a man to gain the White House but lose Congress? The 2018 House majority was built on mostly middle-of-the-road candidates, like Mikie Sherrill and Abigail Spanberger, who are not particularly comfortable with the Sanders paradigm shift. The Senate, needing to pick up four seats, may have to do it without the benefit of the candidates’ coattails, a tough act. There is a growing contingent in the progressive wing as well.
While the establishment knives are out to stop Sanders, no other aspirant has shown the ability to galvanize a broad swath of voters or, more critically, to get out the vote, and none of them is ready to step aside for a single moderate to square off against him. The Sanders victory in Nevada, followed by a rousing reception in Texas, is striking for the breadth of support. In Nevada, the Latinx community backed him. He also polled better with African-Americans than expected. He hasn’t found resonance with the OK Boomer crowd yet, but younger Americans must like his plans for their future.
Since the emergence of the Tea Party in 2010, the realignment of the major political parties has seemed inevitable. It looked like the Republicans were being ripped apart with its Freedom Caucus. That all changed with Trump taking over the national party. The brutal divide between Sanders and Clinton in 2016 foreshadowed a divided Democratic Party, and to some extent, that is what we see.
What makes the non-Democrat Sanders campaign so interesting is that he doesn’t dwell on party labels. After his triumph in Nevada was announced, Sanders made a point of saying that he would not be derailed by the establishment of either party. Similar to the way he came to power in Burlington, Vermont, Sanders has been going over, under and around party organizations to reach voters on a gut level.
More than anything, the withering of the Party has been Sanders’ central organizing principle of political success since his beginnings as the mayor of Burlington. For decades, we’ve asked why voters, especially working-class voters, align themselves with the Republican Party, which did almost nothing to promote their economic interests. Sanders confronts the question without attaching a party label to it. Assuming that Sanders continues to lead, the party elders will face the same choice imposed on Republicans in 2016: Follow or get out of the way.
Sanders is pulling from the disaffected left and Trump from the disaffected right. A head-to-head contest between two extremes. That is unless some spoiler decides to jump in and make it a three-way race.