Could the 2020 Democratic primary come down to an establishment versus anti-establishment battle as it did in 2016? A few years ago it was Bernie Sanders as the outsider insurgent against Hillary Clinton, the party insider, and establishment figure. In 2020, however, the story could stay the same, but former vice president Joe Biden could be substituted for the role of Hillary. It would be the same battle, or at least very similar, played out around the country from state to state. There are areas where the establishment figure does well, like South Carolina, and places where the anti-DC figure plays better, such as the Midwest.
With the resiliency Sen. Bernie Sanders has shown over the past ten months, there are some Democratic Party insiders who believe the 2020 Democratic primary could look a lot like 2016:
For months, the Vermont senator was written off by Democratic Party insiders as a candidate with a committed but narrow base who was too far left to win the primary. Elizabeth Warren had skyrocketed in the polls and seemed to be leaving him behind in the race to be progressive voters’ standard-bearer in 2020.
“It may have been inevitable that eventually you would have two candidates representing each side of the ideological divide in the party. A lot of smart people I’ve talked to lately think there’s a very good chance those two end up being Biden and Sanders,” said David Brock, a longtime Hillary Clinton ally who founded a pro-Clinton super PAC in the 2016 campaign. “They’ve both proven to be very resilient.”
“I believe people should take him very seriously. He has a very good shot of winning Iowa, a very good shot of winning New Hampshire, and other than Joe Biden, the best shot of winning Nevada,” said Dan Pfeiffer, who served as an adviser to former President Barack Obama. “He could build a real head of steam heading into South Carolina and Super Tuesday.”
The durability of Sanders’ candidacy has come as a surprise even in some states where he performed strongly in 2016 and where he is attempting to improve his standing ahead of the 2020 election.
Bernie has been treated a lot like he was during the 2016 race. Sure, strategists will say, he’s got a loyal following, and he brings energy. In the end, however, he’s too far left and too old to be the nominee. Hillary barely — barely — beat Sanders in 2016, and much of that was thanks to Democratic Superdelegates who pushed her over the top in terms of the delegates needed to secure the 2016 Democratic nomination. Thanks to the way that the Democratic primaries and caucuses are divvied up, even a second-place spot earns delegates in a proportional vote share.
Bernie seems to be getting the attention right now because Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s position has been weakening. As candidates have surged, and then faded, Bernie has continued to stay remarkably steady for six or seven months.
They say history repeats itself, and it’s eerily similar how in 2020, much like 2016, the pundits and strategists are writing Bernie off early. He seems to fly by with little criticism and with even less attention in post-debate analysis and interviews. It’s as if the analysts have decided that Bernie has his built-in level of support, and he’s not going to build on it or lose it, so why bother mentioning him?
The strategists are talking now, after several months, perhaps hedging their bets in case they overlooked Bernie at their own peril. However, the polls have continued to be kind to the Vermont senator for months now, according to Newsweek:
According to Real Clear Politics, Sanders polled second in many Democratic presidential nominee polls. In most surveys, the Vermont senator is trailing just behind former Vice President Joe Biden. A recent CNN poll showed that more Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents have a favorable opinion of Sanders than any other candidate. And an Iowa State University poll showed Sanders slightly behind South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
All of this to say, in short summary, that Bernie shouldn’t be overlooked or underestimated in 2020. Out of all the candidates, he has a grassroots network that was established in 2016 and continues to go strong into this year’s primary as well. He’s got the ground game, and he has motivated supporters.
If you were hedging your bets, it’d be safe to say that Bernie wins at least one of the early primary or caucus states. Clearly he’s the biggest favorite in New Hampshire, but he could also place well in Iowa or Nevada, if not win two out of four, or three out of four. Joe Biden seems to be untouchable, so far, in South Carolina.