Who isn’t familiar with the old saying “well-behaved women seldom make history”? These words appear on the bumpers of so many cars that the woman who first penned them, celebrated historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, actually wrote a book about the strange popularity of the adage. There’s a similar piece of wisdom, though, from the mind of this author – with a nod to Ulrich: Boring politicians seldom win presidential elections. That, in a nutshell, is the principal reason for the success of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
He is best known for being a grumpy, old socialist, but Sanders has a following unlike any other of his party’s lackluster candidates. It might be his endless promises of free stuff – for which there is, literally, not enough money in the world – or it might be his calls to revolution, to smash the system and bring down “the man,” which young people and aging hippies find so exciting, but there simply is no denying that Bernie incites enthusiasm. That isn’t a word that could possibly be associated with any of his Democrat competitors.
Caucus and Effect
What, though, explains Sanders’ runaway victory in the Nevada caucuses? Although a vocal and abusive contingent of Bernie’s supporters – the “Bernie Bros” – are nothing more than a rabble of loudmouths, venting their anger at the world for whatever reasons they consider important, there are many other followers who really do appear to feel as though they have a personal stake in what the senator is preaching. One may argue that they are misguided or even delusional but they are engaged and fired up. They are also exactly the kind of people who caucus.
Had Sanders placed third or fourth in Nevada, then, his campaign would have been in trouble. Nothing less than a second-place finish would have kept his adoring fans feeling the Bern. As he left the rest of the field – including a distant, second-placed Joe Biden – to eat his dust, though, the aging lefty branded the 2020 nomination race his for the taking, unless the rest of the party bands together to take it from him.
A Long Way to Go
Of course, Super Tuesday is yet to come. Sanders has the most pledged delegates but a total of just 101 have been claimed, thus far, with another 3,878 up for grabs. 1,991 are needed to secure the nomination outright. The fat lady isn’t singing, yet. In fact, she’s still in her dressing room, putting on that blond wig and the horned helmet.
South Carolina is up next and it could be considered Bernie’s first real test: South Carolinians do not caucus – they vote in a primary and, unlike New Hampshire, this isn’t Bernie’s back yard. Perhaps more importantly, the South Carolina primary is the first in which the much-coveted black vote will significantly affect the result.
Though Biden’s campaign has, thus far, been a giggle wrapped in a misery inside an enema, the former veep is probably still going to win the Palmetto State, even if only by the skin of his teeth. Look for tedious billionaire Tom Impeach Trump Steyer to have at least a respectable showing, too. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) should be throwing in the towel, about now, but she can still expect to scoop up a decent haul of delegates in California if she doesn’t run out of money in the meantime, so that will keep her dream on life support. Nevada was, for her, another dismal failure. Even Pete Buttigieg, of whom Nevadans had never heard, just a couple of months ago, beat Warren to third place.
So, love Sanders’ message or hate it, at least he has one. He also has the loyalty of his supporters. Nobody truly believes in Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttigieg. For sure, nobody believes in Michael Bloomberg and it is not certain that even Joe Biden believes in Joe Biden. A lot of Democrats believe in Bernie Sanders, though. He is going to have a hard time pulling in enough moderate Democrats to seal the deal and, more importantly, he is going to have to convince the party faithful that he is actually capable of vanquishing Trump in November.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, then: President Sanders is not likely to be something one ever hears on the TV news – unless spoken in jest – but, compared to his comatose counterparts with their vacuous, repetitive, and insincere talking-points, Sanders must seem, to jaded and impatient Democrats, like a breath of fresh air. He is still a socialist, though, and the question is: do enough of the party’s voters honestly believe his ideology can survive a collision with the Trump train?
Read more from Graham J. Noble.