Is it happening again for Bernie? With just days to go before the Iowa caucuses, the establishment wing of the Democratic Party, made up of figures like former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, are getting nervous over the possibility of Sen. Bernie Sanders posing a real threat for the 2020 Democratic nomination. After reports surfaced yesterday with details about a new Hillary Clinton documentary where she disparaged Sanders, there are also rumblings that President Obama is well-aware of Bernie’s chances and would “try to stop Sanders” if he were close to the nomination.
How much of this is rumor compared to reality is anyone’s guess, but looking through the lens of 2016, it sure seems like the Democratic Party enjoys the enthusiasm created by Bernie, but shutters are the thought of him becoming the party standard-bearer.
As the Washington Post reported yesterday, the long knives are out for Bernie given the closeness of the Iowa caucuses:
On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton threw her first real punches of the 2020 primary.
The Hollywood Reporter revealed that in a soon-to-be-released documentary, Clinton trashes her rival in the 2016 Democratic primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders, saying, “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, and he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.” In an interview about the program, Clinton confirmed that she still feels this way and declined to say whether she would endorse Sanders were he to be the nominee.
Clinton isn’t the only high-profile Democrat to air concerns about Sanders — according to reports from Barack Obama’s inner circle, the former president said that he would try to stop Sanders if he were poised to clinch the nomination.
The last time this happened, the results didn’t wind up working out in the favor of Democratic unity or victory. With a sizable portion of Bernie voters angry in 2016 over the treatment of their preferred candidate, nobody can accurately quantify what that meant for close states around the country where Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump by handfuls of votes.
If Bernie receives the same treatment in 2020, Democrats risk causing similar strife and also risk upsetting liberal party figures like Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, an avowed Sanders backer, to mobilize her supporters against the eventual nominee. Would that really happen? Cortez says she’ll back the nominee, but she’s a wild card if there is the perception that Sanders isn’t getting a fair shake.
As the WaPo story continues, why are Democrats getting antsy now? Wait until the Iowa caucuses are over and give this some time to play out before risking a party civil ware:
The optimal move for Obama, Clinton and other Democrats might be to wait for results in Iowa and New Hampshire, assess whether Sanders has momentum and only endorse a rival if he looks like he’s taking off. If they endorse someone else earlier, it could backfire: Imagine the momentum Sanders would get if he beat Joe Biden or another establishment candidate after Democratic luminaries intervened in the race.
And if the party’s most important figures were to endorse a Sanders opponent too late, they might not be able to stop him. Say Sanders racks up some wins in the early states and takes a real lead in the delegate count following Super Tuesday. Party leaders might not have the strength to push anyone else into a position to compete with him in the delegate race. And even if they did, they’d be opposing a candidate with small-d democratic legitimacy and risking party unity heading into the general election.
This subject is touchy ever since 2016 where there was clear coordination between the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign to limit the number of debates and basically tilt the process in Hillary’s favor.
Meanwhile, as President Obama and Hillary are sounding an alarm, DNC Chairman Tom Perez is trying to push party unity, according to the Associated Press:
“My No. 1 goal is to win,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told The Associated Press. “The only way this is possible is if we’re united around our eventual nominee, and I have no doubt that every candidate in this race will do that, no matter who she or he is.”
“The stakes get higher on an almost daily basis,” he added, “making it all the more imperative we come together.”
The same AP story notes that Hillary later clarified her disparaging Sanders remarks, but the horse is already out of the barn:
Clarifying her earlier comments, Clinton added later Tuesday in a tweet that “the number one priority for our country and world is retiring Trump, and, as I always have, I will do whatever I can to support our nominee.”
Bernie shrugged off Hillary’s statements when asked about them.
Primaries are always messy on both sides every election cycle. Analysts get concerned over whether a party can unite after a bloody primary process. In the end, unity usually comes because voters want to rally with an objective to beat the opposing party. There is a difference, however, between losing fairly and losing because the party establishment lined up against your candidacy.
Watch this story closely and see if the polls shift over the next few days. The last time Hillary Clinton trashed a candidate it was Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and her poll numbers went up and she made the November debate stage. In some ways, Bernie may be enjoying these reports hoping it will motivate his base and turn them out heavily in Iowa and elsewhere.