Anybody But Bernie Syndrome: Why a Brokered Democratic Convention Is the Mainstream Party's Only Hope
As I type this, the South Carolina debate is barely 12 hours old, and even more anxiety has stirred among the Democratic Party establishment. They are worried. The resilience of the Bernie Sanders movement and his supporters is clear. And everyone outside the Sanders circle is growing more in its chorus crying for relief and commonsense to reign. The “Anybody But Bernie!” movement is in full swing. The challenge now rests on what to do about it within the confines of party rules.
Let’s step back for a moment and see how we got here. Long before Hillary Clinton sealed her nomination four years ago, the Sanders craze was palpable and pervasive. His populist appeal is emblematic of the same appeal in Republican ranks. Progressives are just as fed up as Republicans have been for decades. They’re tired of “waiting their turn.” Sanders is the Democratic version of Donald Trump. He embodies all that pent-up frustration, and nothing will hold back his supporters, certainly not the appeals of establishment Democrats who claim he is “too liberal” to get elected.
That’s the obvious. The often-forgotten facts simmer just beneath the political surface. Sanders is a fundraising machine. And he’s barely holding fundraisers. His money-generating machine runs on the sheer intensity of his base — all sending small-dollar donations by the millions. And nothing points to that support stopping any time soon. More importantly — as last night’s debate showed — no other candidate has shown they can siphon off that support.
Contrast this truism with the very real scare Sanders presents to the business and investment communities. They’ve made it no secret he is bad news for business. Just three weeks ago, Washington consultants were sharing presentations and PowerPoints on what an Elizabeth Warren White House will or will not do. Today, many of those same consultants are forced to repurpose those slides for a Sanders administration, and many are coming up blank.
This perfect political storm points to one course correction — a brokered convention. And with more than 47% of all delegates up for grabs by the end of Super Tuesday, the Party establishment has little time to study alternative scenarios. The good news is the nominating system is geared towards fragmentation. Without a winner-take-all structure, candidates can “lose” abysmally and still stack delegates. For example, as poorly as former Vice President Joe Biden is doing, he still has delegates and growing. The same is true for Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Only Tom Steyer seems to be a hopeless cause.
Another factor that favors the Democratic mainstream — Mike Bloomberg. Money moves voters. It always has. And as moderate primary voters go to the polls in early and mid-March, they, too, will start feeling the pressure and looming fear of a Sanders nominee. And the nearly $2 billion Bloomberg plans to spend could push them toward him as a viable alternative. Yet, with the debate performances he’s had in recent weeks, Bloomberg appears to be in a primary freefall.
My money is on Pete Buttigieg. He has staying power. His base is equally devoted to him, yet admittedly much smaller than Sanders’. But it can grow. In my opinion, Sanders’ has tapped into all the political Democratic outcasts that he can. I’m not convinced there are too many more supporters who would easily slide into his camp, especially if a compromise candidate such as Buttigieg is put forth.
Practically speaking, if Klobuchar were to exit the race, that would help Buttigieg immensely, and both know that. The same cannot be said of Warren and where her faithful would migrate. I feel they would split equally between Sanders and Buttigieg, which, for reasons stated above, ultimately favors Buttigeg.
Buttigieg can appeal across many sects of the Democratic Party. As a man married to another man, he is progressive in his lifestyle and in his policies. Yet he remains grounded in the reality that programs have price tags, and there are some still in Democratic voting blocs who care about deficits and debt. Buttigieg can appeal to them.
The boost in delegates would in turn boost fundraising among liberals on both Wall Street and Main Street. If they could see a path forward for a more moderate candidate (beyond today’s crowded field and the power of Sanders’ supporters), they could train their energy and dollars to Mayor Pete, perhaps the Democrats’ best bet.
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