No Bern

This from Jonathan Bernstein on Bernie is over a week old, but still worth including.  I very much agree with his pessimistic take on Bernie’s chances…

We’ll find out Wednesday whether any more candidates have qualified for the next round of Democratic debates. So far, 10 have made it in. If we’re going to rank them, one could do worse than what Richard Skinner said on Tuesday: “I feel like there’s Tier 1 (Joe, E-Dubs, Bernie, Harris), Tier 2 (Pete B, Booker, Beto, Castro, Amy K) and Tier 3 (most others, mostly hopeless). But then also`problematic’ tier (Yang, Steyer, Tulsi, Marianne).”

The big difference I’d have with Skinner’s analysis is that I can’t see Bernie Sanders in the top tier. In fact, I’d put him at the bottom of the second group, making him (more or less) the ninth-most-likely Democrat to win the nomination. It’s true that Sanders is still second in the RealClearPolitics polling average. Yet he’s sixth in the FiveThirtyEight index of high-profile endorsements, and Seth Masket’s interviews with early-state activists portray him as a factional candidate. Could I see a scenario in which Sanders wins? Just barely. Iowa and New Hampshire were unusually good for him in 2016 and appear to be this time as well; if he can manage to win in both, perhaps opposition within the party melts away after all.

Separating the rest of that top group – Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris – seems impossible to me. They each have advantages and disadvantages, but they’re all plausible nominees. Each has support from party actors, but none has a clear lead. Biden leads in overall endorsement points, but both Harris and Warren can claim to have landed more signs of party support recently.

I still think that makes everyone in the next group – Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro and Amy Klobuchar – a bit more likely than Sanders. They’re behind in the polls, to be sure. But each has signs of party support, while none looks like a factional candidate. What they each need is to separate their image from the crowd. It would be no surprise if they all fizzled, the way that Biden, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson all did during the 2008 campaign despite having solid credentials. But each appears able to capitalize if they do demonstrate solid gains.

And, no, you don’t win the primaries by winning over college students, but I think it is a useful metric of potential energy and support.  Four years ago my students couldn’t get enough of him.  Now, he’s literally old news in whom they have almost no interest.  After Trump, I would not be so bold as to claim a candidate simply will not win the primaries, but, let’s just say I’d happily buy No Bernie at $0.85 at  Okay, you know what, I just did before posting this :-).

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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