Sunday, March 22, 2020

How It All Came Apart for Sanders

In the space of about a week, Bernie Sanders went from likely Democratic nominee to virtually dead in the water. How did it all go wrong? The New York Times has its entry up in what I'm sure will be a crowded pool.

It's an interesting article, in part because it doesn't have a clear through-line. At times, the piece seems to blame Sanders' reluctance to directly attack Joe Biden (whom he apparently is personally fond of), against the recommendation of more pugnacious advisers (but in line with others who urged him to take a more unifying line). Under this view, going after Biden (on things like the crime bill) would have been the only way to crack his solid support in the African-American community -- but Sanders wasn't willing to "go low" and it cost him.

That account would pose a direct challenge to the "Sanders was too mean" narrative that many folks have coalesced around. But at other points in the article, the authors suggest a different diagnosis -- focusing on Sanders' refusal to modulate his attacks on the "establishment" as a means of expanding his core progressive base and making inroads to the rest of the party. Sanders was extremely reluctant to do the basic political legwork of "assuring concerned stakeholders" or "reach out to secure endorsements", and instead alienated potential allies with undifferentiated broadsides that seemed to be fired against the Democratic Party as a whole. Advisers who defended his strategy here seemed to think that Sanders should only approach the Democratic Party from a position of strength (remember "bend the knee"?). Once Sanders were clearly in a dominant position, then they could reconcile -- but with it obvious who the alpha dog was.

This is a perhaps more "traditional" (if we can use that term yet) account of why the Sanders campaign ended up unraveling, one that puts the blame on his refusal to do the political work of winning an entire party. The same no-compromise qualities that endeared him to his core base severely hampered any instincts Sanders might have had to reach out.

Anyway, it is an interesting piece even (or perhaps because) the account it gives doesn't lend itself to a clear conclusion.

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