The coalescing moderate middle is no longer the only roadblock standing between Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. and the Democratic nomination.
Sanders also faces a crisis that his movement, best described as his revolution, neither anticipated nor can fully address.
In short, the Vermont senator can’t outsmart what we sense or out-think what we feel about our will to survive as we face a potential pandemic.
Welcome to the age of COVID-19, the coronavirus, where fear of a public health pandemic is creating a nightmare scenario for the one presidential candidate most determined to overturn the very system that is now needed to stop it.
Sander’s “Medicare-for-all” insurance-for-none plan already has Democrats worried about its proposed staggering cost and deprivation of individual choice. But “Medicare-for-all,” if it were fully implemented in the near future, could lead to potential pandemic chaos if all of America’s patients were forced to wait in line and wait their turn to seek a medical remedy. Would we be looking at help for some, helplessness for the rest?
Add this to the pile of Sanders’ proposals to do in the current government system as we know it – to fight businesses big and small, to interfere with jobs for us all, to add tens of trillions of dollars to our tax bills while subtracting funds for our military, and to belittle “peace through strength” by challenging our defense and diplomatic derring-do.
Sanders is leading the charge for change, big change, at a time when a worldwide health scare is psychologically pulling us in exactly the opposite direction.
When things are going well, it stands to reason that we become more expansive, more willing to test the boundaries of our imagination without fearing the consequence of failure. Maybe certain proposals will work, maybe they won’t but either way, it won’t dramatically impact our quality of life.
This time it’s different. We are looking for calm in a gathering storm of uncertainty, for reassurance that tomorrow won’t be as bad as yesterday, that there’s an end in sight.
This is one of the reasons why Joe Biden’s Super Tuesday surge reflected more than a move to the middle – it was a rush away from Sanders.
Amid the swelling turbulence of fear emanating from coronavirus-hit California and Washington state, a potential President Sanders suddenly felt unsafe, with the candidate dangling health policies that felt unsettling and untested.
Yet, let’s not forget, Sanders isn’t the only politician being assessed here.
This is President Trump’s most important leadership test to date. The president’s number one job right now is to reassure a nervous public that America can beat this crisis with vigilance and verve.
Trump’s many achievements to date – from a historically robust economy and desperately needed trade deals, to criminal justice and regulatory reform – have made him harder to beat this November.
Yet, if this potential health pandemic becomes an economic crisis, too, hobbling supply chains and wobbling markets, the president will be measured in November by the power and persistence of his response to the coronavirus.
Poll after poll confirms the gravity of his task. The latest NBC/WSJ survey shows that while most Americans are concerned about COVID-19, only 49 percent believe America is fully prepared to handle it.
The public wants to know that the president and his team are “on it,” 24/7, and that wherever the virus travels they will take it on, with everything they’ve got.
This moment calls for crisis communications at its best, the kind that constantly informs and updates, assures and assuages, so that the message of the day is run by those in charge instead of spun by those who aren’t.
A few weeks ago, the 2020 race for president was measured in primaries and polls.
Today, both are giving way to a potential pandemic that may fundamentally change the odds. A failing candidate becomes a front-runner, a leading contender becomes a threat, and here comes the president, who needs to use the bully pulpit to reassure, remedy and renew.
The election may be months away, but the voters are already tuned in … and listening.