Is Bernie Sanders unstoppable?
His opponents are divided, and his campaign - radically left by US standards - has united a broad coalition of voters
Aspiring Democratic president Bernie Sanders, the Senator for Vermont, cemented his place as the race’s clear frontrunner over the weekend, sweeping the Nevada caucus on Saturday night.
While the winning margin was indeed wide, it was the nature of his victory that felt just as significant, with the self-described democratic socialist attracting a broad social, multi-racial coalition of immigrants, college students, Hispanic and black voters, and even some moderates - a group that has traditionally balked at his radical policy proposals.
Sanders’ previous strong showings were in mostly white states, and so Nevada was seen a test of his appeal to a broader electorate, one he passed resoundingly.
It remains to be seen if his lead can be cut when, eventually, the more moderate vote is united behind a single candidate, but for now, with that vote split, Sanders looks like the runaway favourite to be the person to confront President Donald Trump in the election this November.
Of those centrist candidates, it seems likely that one of Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, or Mike Bloomberg - the billionaire media mogul who is a relatively recent entry to the race - will be the last person standing to face Sanders.
Amy Klobuchar, another moderate, seems to have fallen irrevocably behind after her poor showing in Nevada, while Elizabeth Warren, for all her qualities as a speaker and thinker, came in fourth place in Nevada with less than 10% of the vote, and seems to have fallen behind Sanders as the flagbearer of the party’s left.
With 88% of the vote counted, Sanders led with 47.1% of the vote. Coming in second, Joe Biden scored 21%, with Buttigieg on 13.7%, and Warren 9.6%. Sanders had done well in the previous states’ primaries, but “Nevada was different,” says The Washington Post. “It was a Sanders blowout.”
“When I look out at an audience like this and I see the diversity and beauty in this audience... I have absolute confidence we can create a government based on compassion, based on love and based on truth, not what we have now of greed, corruption and lies,” said the 78-year-old in his victory speech.
Sanders’ ascendancy has brought attacks from the centrist candidates, particularly from Mayor Pete Buttigieg:
“Senator Sanders’ revolution has the tenor of combat, division and polarisation, a vision where whoever wins the day, nothing will change the toxic tone of our politics,” Buttigieg said in a speech to supporters, urging the wider party to take a “sober look at the consequences” of a Sanders nomination.
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“The tight race between Mr Biden and Mr Buttigieg will frustrate those who had hoped the more so-called 'moderate' Democrats would coalesce around an alternative to Mr Sanders,” says The Financial Times.
Donald Trump seemed to revel in the division besetting his rivals:
Super Tuesday on 3 March, when fourteen states hold their votes to decide the Democratic candidate, is now a day of huge importance for the race.
Sanders’ “rivals are now running out of time and, with the exception of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, (who has) the resources required to blunt his momentum,” says CNN. “If Sanders continues to gain steam and support, he could - in as few as 10 days - amass a practically unbreakable delegate lead on Super Tuesday.”
While Sanders’ broad coalition in Nevada was unexpected, many commentators continue to predict his firebrand style and radical policy proposals will fail to resonate with the whole country in November, and are concerned that the party may be self-immolating ahead of its crucial bid to oust Trump.
“The Democratic Party… looks like a derelict ship awaiting capture by a band of pirates,” writes Ross Douthat in The New York Times. “The center-left establishment… seems old, exhausted, promising to mildly reform a status quo that an intense and motivated portion of its base regards as too decadent to be worth preserving. And the party actors who don’t want to see Sanders nominated are finding… that it’s awfully hard to stop a candidate if you can’t agree on the alternative.”
If the field of moderates can coalesce quickly, then Sanders’ path to victory my narrow, but for now, says Nate Silver, writing for FiveThirtyEight, he “is easily the most likely Democrat to win the nomination.”