A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by Liz Marlantes.

Is Bernie cruising to the nomination? And is it too late for anyone to stop him?

Why We Wrote This

Unless something happens to change the current trajectory, the senator from Vermont looks on track to become the Democratic nominee. He benefits from a divided opposition that shies away from attacking him.

Rick Wilking/Reuters
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders is accompanied by his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, and other relatives as he speaks at his New Hampshire primary night rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, Feb. 11, 2020.

Dear reader:

Is the presidential primary contest closer to over than many Democrats realize?

Yesterday, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver projected that after Super Tuesday – essentially two weeks from today – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will have accumulated 41% of delegates. To which former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe responded: “If this happens, Sanders would have a pledged delegate lead he’ll never relinquish.”

In other words, while party stalwarts are increasingly panicking over the prospect of nominating a 78-year old self-proclaimed democratic socialist as their standard bearer – and we keep hearing about a “Stop Sanders” movement in the offing – it may already be too late.

Many analysts have been comparing the situation to the Republican primary in 2016, in which Donald Trump’s opponents mostly refrained from attacking him for fear it would backfire on them, and the “anti-Trump” movement was never able to unite behind a single alternative.

To worried Democrats, the answer seems obvious: if the party’s moderate voters would just line up behind one candidate – Mayor Pete, or Amy, or Bloomberg – they’d anoint a new frontrunner. The problem is, none of those candidates has any incentive to drop out right now.

Nor is it entirely clear that clearing the field would make a difference. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that when Democratic primary voters are asked to choose between only Mr. Sanders and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, they pick Mr. Sanders by a margin of 20 points; if asked to choose between Mr. Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Mr. Sanders wins by 16 points.

To drive home the Democrats’ bind, that same poll also finds that 67% of all registered voters are either “very uncomfortable” or have “reservations” about a candidate who is a socialist – making it easily the most unpopular quality for a presidential contender. Indeed, Senate Republicans are already gleefully running attack ads tying their Democratic opponents to the senator from Vermont.

Party leaders, for all the hand-wringing, have mostly been staying on the sidelines. In the run-up to this Saturday’s Nevada caucuses – where polls suggest Senator Sanders is likely to win – former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pointedly told Bloomberg Businessweek’s Joshua Green that if other Democrats don’t like Sanders’s ideology, “they’re going to have to start saying they don’t like it.”

“Don’t hope that someone else is going to do it,” he warned.

But as for Senator Reid himself? He voted early – and marked his ballot “uncommitted.”

Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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