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If the party chooses not to decide, it still has made a choice

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Yglesias has a good post about the fact that — fevered conspiracy theories notwithstanding — Democratic elites are so desperate to stop Bernie Sanders they would do anything except…pretty much anything:

Bradley wasn’t a profound ideological challenge to the party establishment as Sanders is today, but nonetheless, there was a distinct closing of the ranks around Gore. By the time Clinton endorsed him, the Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate had already backed him. Major donors marshaled their resources behind him.

Nothing like it is happening in the 2020 cycle. Instead, mainstream Democrats openly wring their hands about the prospect of a Bernie Sanders nomination. Though Sanders supporters are borderline paranoid about anti-Sanders sentiment, there’s virtually no actual anti-Sanders organizing.

Meanwhile, the rival campaigns still number in the double digits. Several of them have many passionate followers, and one of them might beat Sanders. But their sheer multiplicity — and key leaders’ refusal to decide among them — is a sign that anti-Sanders zeal, though real, is also quite limited.

Definitively stopping Sanders would require a clear choice, yet party leaders have clearly decided they can’t be bothered.

Bernie is obviously in excellent shape if he (as expected) wins tonight and in pretty solid shape if he doesn’t. There’s a combination of factors that has conspired to come closer to clearing the field for him than stopping him:

  • Moderates who are (wrongly, I think, at least relative to all the other potential choices) worried to panicking about Sanders’s electability have tended to place much of the responsibility for this on Biden’s decision to run. On the one hand, his name recognition and association with Obama starved other potential moderate candidates of oxygen. On the other hand, as Ygelsias says party elites never really rallied around him, which given his very obvious weaknesses as a candidate was completely rational.
  • Party donors, although not elected officials, rallied around the 39-year-old mayor of a mid-sized Rust Belt city, who proceeded to deliver a crushing blow to Biden in Iowa but is pretty much drawing dead as far as the party nomination is concerned barring a remarkable, out-of-nowhere surge in support from votes of color.
  • Two billionaires decided to fund their own vanity campaigns and further split the moderate vote rather than backing another moderate candidate.
  • Amy Klobuchar almost certainly can’t win the nominaton either, but may do just well enough to deliver a crushing blow to Biden and New Hampshire, as well as devastating Warren’s already very-longshot candidacy (which is obviously of less concern to the moderate panickers.)

There are other factors at play — for example, Kamala Harris, who briefly showed signs of traction, ran an ineffective campaign in which she tried to compete with Sanders and Warren for the left faction of the party, although the former has the most unshakable base of support. But at any rate there’s not a viable challenger, and no the fiscally-conservative-socially-liberal-when-he’s-not-scolding former mayor who spent a ton of money in 2016 to keep the Senate in Republican hands doesn’t count either.

But as Yglesias says, while part of this is simply party elites not really having a good alternative option, some of it is that the opposition to Bernie isn’t really all that strong, the need of some of his stronger supporters to make this an existential battle for the future of the party notwithstanding. It’s not like party moderates will somehow lose influence in a Sanders (or, much less likely, Warren) administration; their votes are needed to accomplish any legislative goals. And I hope the more recalcitrant ones get used to the idea quickly, because what it now probably the most likely scenario after Bernie winning a majority of delegates would be a contested convention, which would be worse than any of the major candidates winning among party voters.

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