News and Commentary

Is Bernie Over? Sanders Campaign Might Be Nearing Its End
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) embrace after the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 30, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the one-time supserstar progressive, is having a tough time keeping his campaign afloat and may be staring down the end of his presidential hopes.

According to Politico, the Sanders campaign is in real trouble. With declining numbers, especially in early primary states like Iowa, and the looming threat of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), it’s clear Sanders is no longer considered the chosen progressive, and it may be time for him to beat a quick route to the exit before he sinks even lower.

The problems are evident: The campaign is reportedly suffering from an internal staff struggle and is having difficulty defining their core strategy, even though there are only four months left until New Hampshire and Iowa — two primaries that the Sanders campaign was competitive in just four years ago.

“Bernie has no idea how to right the ship and neither does anybody around him,” one “Democratic activist” told Politico. “They don’t know where they’re going. They know things aren’t going well and they’re grasping at ideas.”

That includes floating the twin excuses of a biased primary race and a “superdelegate”-dominated convention that favors “establishment candidates.” Sanders still says he wants to win, particularly when asked about his campaign’s plans on the trail, but his optimism is looking less rational as time goes on — even for a regularly less-than-rational candidate.

“We’re in this race to win it,” Sanders told a worried supporter at one rally. “The most important thing is person-to-person contact, all right? It is everybody here reaching out to five other people and explaining to them the importance of the election and why you think I should win this election. And right now … we have here in Iowa incredible grassroots support.”

But the problem is, that grassroots support is shifting, in large numbers, to Warren, whose message is much clearer than Sanders’, and whose campaign looks professional and stable. In contrast, Sanders’ campaign, Politico notes, has been a rash of “fits and starts,” sometimes focusing on pie-in-the-sky progressive priorities like “Medicare for All,” only to turn more moderate on phone calls with high-level Democrats and members of the media.

Warren, by contrast, seems streamlined (though just about anyone might seem streamlined compared to Sanders), and appealing, in the sense that she seems to be a formidable challenger for President Donald Trump. Progressives, despite their reputation, are still focused on electability, and with Trump facing down an impeachment inquiry, may be starting to believe they have a real chance at the party’s nomination if they’re willing to back a candidate with a polished public image.

That also gets to the heart of Sanders’ problem: Four years ago, Democratic socialism was a radical idea. Now, Sanders is considered the grandfather of a movement that’s taken deep roots inside the party. He’s not an outsider. And he’s not the only candidate preaching progressivism. There are choices — and choices better than Sanders if the Democratic Party hopes to prevail at the ballot box.

If the prevailing narrative is that Warren is more electable than Sanders, it’s making an impact in Iowa, where Warren now leads Sanders 22-20. Sanders was only narrowly edged out by Hillary Clinton in Iowa in 2016. In New Hampshire, Warren is also looking competitive; Sanders, who won the state in 2016, replaced his campaign’s New Hampshire infrastructure with fresh blood and appears to have paid the price in support.

Sanders doesn’t have to exit the campaign any time soon, though. He still has plenty of money and an impressive grassroots operation, even if he doesn’t have the numbers to show for it. He may simply want to exit the race before the situation becomes embarrassing and his advantages — the cash and people — are still a chip he can use to bargain for inclusion with a leading candidate.

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