In 2016 Bernie Sanders was a force in Democratic politics, challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in a bitter and hard-fought contest. Sanders is running again for the Democratic nomination and finds himself mired in second place and sinking. Today he sees Joe Biden in front of him in first place and looks over his shoulder at Elizabeth Warren who is gaining on him every day.
The same guy who beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 New Hampshire primary by 22 points is currently polling at 18 percent there, while Biden is in first place with double the support at 36 percent, in the latest Monmouth poll in early May.
So what changed? Everything and nothing.
The fact is Bernie Sanders is the same candidate as he was in 2016. And that’s the problem. He has all the same problems today that he had in the last race – problems that were either never exposed then or were overlooked.
Sanders’ problems with women, voters of color and Clinton supporters are all still there. They just happen to be on full display now, which in the current political environment means they’re even worse.
A number of positions Sanders advocated in the last race are shared by many of the candidates in this race. That means he doesn’t stand out in stark contrast anymore – he’s just one more candidate. Add to that the fact that after 30 years in Congress Sanders has passed only 1.8 percent of the legislation he’s introduced – that’s right, 1.8 percent – and the crusading campaign he led last time around looks like an inability to get anything done today.
The latest Fox News Poll lays bare Sanders’ woes. Among Democratic primary voters, Sanders has dropped six points since March, placing him in a distant second place at 17 percent, behind Biden who is at 35 percent, up four points since the previous poll in March. The same poll shows Warren up five points to 9 percent, doubling her support during the same period.
Trump wants to run against Sanders. His tweets encouraging Sanders and bemoaning the “rigged” Democratic primary of 2016 while he denigrates Biden and Warren, candidates he doesn’t want to run against, tells you everything.
The poll also reveals that the number one priority for Democratic primary voters is defeating Donald Trump. Overall, 73 percent of Democratic primary voters feel that it is “extremely” important to beat Trump. Among women, 77 percent say beating Trump is extremely important to defeat him, for Democratic women that climbs to 80 percent, and for voters of color it is 75 percent.
And that’s the problem for Sanders.
More specifically, women, voters of color and Clinton supporters are his problem. Only 15 percent of women support Sanders in the poll. Only 14 percent of minority voters support him. And only 16 percent of Clinton voters. More bad news: among the category of voters who are the most interested and the most invested in the 2020 election are … Clinton supporters, at 64 percent.
Sanders’ problems from 2016 have followed him to the 2020 campaign and it is too late to fix them. It is too late for him to win over women, minority and Clinton voters. Then add the fact that there are so many other choices in the Democratic primary that do have the support of those voters and they won’t have to settle for less in 2020. The gains by other candidates are coming at Sanders’ expense.
The very voters who do not support Sanders now were the most powerful force in the Democratic Party’s gains in 2018 – women, minorities and Clinton supporters – and they will be again in 2020. They remember Sanders’ claim that that 2016 primary was rigged – sounding more like Trump than Trump. And despite the fact that Clinton would have beaten Sanders in any delegate combination you could create, including no superdelegates, that didn’t stop him from playing the victim.
These voters also remember that Sanders fought Clinton all the way to the convention, during the convention, and after the convention. They remember it took a meeting with Barack Obama at the White House to get Sanders to drop out of the race long after it was over. They remember Sanders didn’t support Clinton in the general election against Trump. They remember Sanders paid women on his campaign less than their male counterparts and didn’t address their claims of mistreatment until it became public, and even then he did a poor job addressing it.
They remember Sanders isn’t a Democrat. They remember Sanders saying he doesn’t think voters should consider a candidate’s gender, race, sexual orientation or support for abortion when determining their support for them. Even though by every measure every one of these measurements is under attack by Trump, and that jeopardizes every woman, person of color, LGBTQ person and anyone who chooses to have an abortion.
Sanders’ ample war chest, his opening for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., at the Green New Deal Town Hall, a reorganized campaign with new staff and new consultants – none of that is going to fix his problems. It is too late.
Oh, and one more thing. Trump wants to run against Sanders. His tweets encouraging Sanders and bemoaning the “rigged” Democratic primary of 2016 while he denigrates Biden and Warren, candidates he doesn’t want to run against, tells you everything. That alone for Democrats should be game over.
Elections are always about the future not the past – and the past has caught up with Bernie Sanders.
That’s why Sanders won’t be the Democratic nominee in 2020.