Opinion | Can Bernie Sanders Still Win?


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Bernie Sanders’s hopes of sweeping a divided electoral field on Super Tuesday, viewed as a distinct probability only days ago, were dashed as Democratic candidates and voters coalesced around Joe Biden in a stunning resuscitation of a candidacy that seemed to have breathed its last.

But as my colleague Astead Herndon observed, “The same way things changed in the last 10 days, they could change again.” Does Mr. Sanders still have a path to the nomination, and if so, what does it look like? Here’s what people are saying.

Mr. Sanders has run on the promise that he can remake the electorate by expanding it, as the Times columnist Michelle Goldberg has written. He has long claimed he would be able to turn out millions of young people who have never voted before, which would remove the need to win over more skeptical rank-and-file Democrats.

But the 2020 primaries have discredited Mr. Sanders’s strategy, Eric Levitz writes at New York magazine. He notes that while Mr. Sanders has made impressive gains with Hispanic voters, the promised surge in youth turnout has not materialized: In many states, including Mr. Sanders’s home state, Vermont, young voters’ share of the electorate fell from 2016. And while total Democratic turnout did increase significantly in most states, that increase tended to help Mr. Biden.

“The left isn’t going to maximize its ideological influence over Democratic voters, or its power within the party, by pretending that it commands an enormous army of nonvoters who are ready to storm the Democratic castle as soon as Sanders gives the signal,” Mr. Levitz writes. To get what it wants, “the left must first win with the electorate it has, not the one it wishes it did.”

[Related: “The Sanders Surge That Wasn’t”]

Mr. Biden’s delegate lead is small at the moment, but it could be hard to overcome, writes The Times’s Nate Cohn. Although Mr. Sanders needs to defeat Mr. Biden by only three points in the remaining primaries to overtake him, Mr. Sanders will not have the advantage he enjoyed on Super Tuesday of early votes cast before Mr. Biden’s South Carolina victory, a showing that prompted other candidates to drop out. The remaining states are also projected to be less favorable to Mr. Sanders than, say, California was. “A three-point deficit is not a daunting handicap, certainly not when Mr. Biden was polling 20 points lower just a few days ago. But the Super Tuesday results do not augur well for Mr. Sanders’s odds of pulling it off,” Mr. Cohn writes.

Many people believe that Mr. Sanders is losing because voters see Mr. Biden as more electable. While Mr. Sanders is well liked among Democrats and his platform popular, his candidacy demands a leap that many voters fear others are not willing to make, as the Times columnist Frank Bruni has noted.

Electability concerns were especially salient among older black voters in Southern states, which Mr. Biden won handily, according to Mara Gay, a member of the Times editorial board. “For those who lived through the trauma of racial terrorism and segregation, or grew up in its long shadow, this history haunts the campaign trail,” she writes. Many voters Ms. Gay talked to said they see in President Trump a revival of Jim Crow-era authoritarianism, against which they believe Mr. Biden is the safest bet. “Southern Democrats — particularly black Democrats — are hoping to keep the history that surrounds them in the past.”

In response to exit polling data showing Democratic support for single-payer health insurance, one of Mr. Sanders’s signature policy proposals, the activist Bree Newsome Bass tweeted:

Mr. Sanders can win if he modulates his message, according to Elizabeth Spiers, the founder of a political consulting firm. As Ezra Klein explains at Vox, Mr. Sanders’s portrayal of himself as an insurgent against the system is central to his appeal among his most loyal supporters, but it also may be preventing him from winning over the rest of the Democratic electorate. “The campaign needs to articulate a vision that allows people to get on board if they regard Sanders as a flawed candidate or not totally aligned policy-wise,” Ms. Spiers said on Twitter.

To beat Mr. Biden, Mr. Sanders must also convince voters that he’s not just the better choice, but the safer choice, writes Matt Karp, an associate professor of history at Princeton, in Jacobin magazine. In his view, it’s an easy case to make: “In a bare-knuckled battle with Trump, does real safety belong with this candidate, whose name is a synonym for the swamp around Capitol Hill, whose political career is an extended advertisement for Beltway malfeasance, and whose only real asset — a kind of musty aura of the Obama years — is considerably diminished by his inability to speak in complete sentences?”

Mr. Sanders could also make the case by comparing Mr. Biden’s candidacy to Hillary Clinton’s in 2016. The journalist Mehdi Hasan tweeted:

Mr. Biden’s weaknesses may become more apparent now that the race has narrowed. “He’s very obviously aged in a way that Bernie Sanders hasn’t really,” Ms. Goldberg said of Mr. Biden on “The Argument,” The Times’s opinion podcast. Mr. Sanders, despite his heart attack, “doesn’t seem that different than he seemed four years ago.”

If Mr. Biden wins the nomination, Miranda Devine writes in The New York Post, his apparent decline in “mental acuity” will make him an exceedingly risky candidate. “The Democratic-friendly media may nurse him through the campaign, but President Trump will be merciless to ‘Sleepy Joe,’” she writes. “The campaign can’t keep him in witness protection forever. At some point, he’ll be caught without the teleprompter, and an off-the-cuff Joe is a ticking time bomb.”

Focusing less on ideological abstractions and more on specific policies will help Mr. Sanders win the electability argument, writes Jeet Heer at The Nation. Mr. Biden, he says, is the weaker debater; when they face off again, Mr. Sanders should hit him hard on his record of calling for cuts to Social Security, as well as his support of the Iraq war. He should also highlight Biden’s support of NAFTA, which is unpopular with the working class of Michigan and Pennsylvania. Although Mr. Biden has his own electability case, “voters very much care about Social Security, about the endless wars in the Middle East, and about the free-trade agreements that ravaged the economy of the Midwest,” Mr. Heer writes.

Mr. Sanders should also emphasize his policies that would make life easier for families, Elizabeth Bruenig writes for The Times. His proposals to guarantee free child care and pre-K and six months of paid parental leave, for example, are common-sensical in many other countries, and foregrounding them could win over “anxious suburbanites” who lean toward Mr. Biden. In Ms. Bruenig’s words, the senator’s pitch could be: “Go to the voting booth for Mr. Sanders, because he wants all kids — your kids, my kids — to be safe and happy. He wants to give all parents time to nurse, cuddle and bond with their newborns without sinking into debt or poverty.”

[Related: “Bernie Had a Rough Night, but Make No Mistake: He Can Still Win This Thing”]

And perhaps most persuasively:


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