I have no objection to the possibility of Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic nomination. But a lot of people do. Since this is all hypothetical and we haven't even gotten to Iowa yet, it feels appropriate to do a thought exercise of how to stop Sanders *if* he starts winning *and* you are of the mindset that that is a bad thing.

Sanders won NH in 2016 and figures to win it again this time. Joe Biden is likely to walk away with SC, the third contest on the calendar. Sanders currently leads in Iowa but the poll data for Iowa has been all over the place; look around and you can find any of four different candidates in a narrow lead. South Carolina notwithstanding, there will definitely be a little bit of trepidation in Never Sanders camps if he were to win Iowa and NH.

The Democrats' options in that scenario would require something they're bad at – decisive, coordinated action as a party – to avoid falling into the same trap that the Republicans fell for in 2016 when someone from outside their party came in and took the nomination. Were I being paid to give my advice, which of course I am not, here's how I'd lay out the options:

1. Do nothing. It's possible, in a Sanders winning IA and NH scenario, to write it off as a fluke from two unrepresentative states.
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"So what, winning Iowa doesn't mean anything." Wait and hope the Sanders campaign runs out of whatever gas it has over the past few weeks, and hope one of the other more mainstream candidates heats up and starts running off wins. This would involve two risks. One, that Sanders might keep winning. Two, that the large pool of other candidates would not split the wins in other states and allow Sanders to finish as a plurality winner of delegates, not a majority.

2. Rally to one candidate. The fundamental problem the GOP had in 2016 was that while the majority of primary voters were not voting for Trump, they could not settle on one "not Trump" from a particularly bad set of choices including Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich. Had the party reacted to the first couple Trump plurality wins by immediately throwing everything behind one other candidate they would have stopped him.

The Democratic Party organization would have to take the two most viable campaigns – Biden and Warren – and make a hard but final choice of which one to run with. Big donors, party elites, media personalities, and voters alike would have to come to one consensus choice. Biden would make his "electability" argument and Warren would argue that a wider swath of the party supports her. Since there is no mechanism for a party to force candidates to withdraw, the Democratic Party would have to do a thing it really dislikes doing: politics. How do you convince one to drop out? I don't know. Use your imagination. Sit everyone down, lay out the stakes, and find a way to make one of the campaigns agree to fold in exchange for something they want. Easy? No. Realistic? Barely. Possible? Yes. "Dire times call for dire reactions." Have Obama and the Clintons involved internally. Do whatever is necessary to come to a consensus, however bitter.

The other, smaller campaigns – Klobuchar, etc. – have to be told in no uncertain terms that they are personae non grata in the party if they don't take the hint and fold up after a string of losses. Give a lot of "Be a good soldier" talks and hope it sticks.

3. Mount (or keep mounting) an anti-Sanders campaign among prominent Democrats – This seems to be the current strategy and I don't think there's any evidence it's a good strategy. With an outsider candidate who defines himself as "not of the Establishment," attacks from The Establishment will help him far more than they will hurt him. I am not kidding when I say that if the party insiders want to hurt Sanders, don't have Hillary Clinton slam him; have Rahm Emanuel and Steny Hoyer endorse him and praise him as someone who talks a fiery game but can be counted on to make compromises at crunch time. In the same way that Trump gets strength from traditional media outlets criticizing him, Sanders supporters are not people you win over by touting the endorsement of the New York Times. You're talking about a campaign, and a following, that legitimately thinks it's awesome that Barack Obama is (reportedly) uncomfortable with a Sanders candidacy.

In short, I'd recommend the second option which would be the most challenging but also the most likely to succeed in blocking a Sanders campaign that started racking up wins. The only good play is to quickly and decisively pick one alternative and unite everyone whose vote was divided among the majority "Not Sanders" enthusiasts supporting other candidates. It would take unprecedented politicking behind the scenes, and a party-first attitude from some of the candidates, to make this work. That said, grander and more challenging political bargains have been struck throughout American history, and if the Democratic mainstream really does perceive Sanders as an existential threat then insert cliches about desperate times here.

Lots of politics junkies claim to have a fondness for the old school horse-trading politics of the pre-1968 era. While primary voters will always be a wild card, the powers that be within the party have a chance to prevail upon the field of candidates that a crisis is at hand.
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Personally I doubt the people in present party leadership positions (official and unofficial) have the decisiveness and forcefulness necessary to pull this off. But it is what I'd advise them to do, and were it to work it would solve the problem with far more certainty than the other options.

33 thoughts on “LESSONS FROM 2016”

  • "Solve the problem" Ed?" What problem? The only problem is in the ossified minds of establishment power players who want to maintain the status quo and their own positions. Let them sweat and fumble. Screw em.

  • Is there really a constituency which is both "Bernie Sanders is an existential threat to our party" and "Elizabeth Warren seems like she'll be fine with a back-room deal", though?

  • The only person I know who is enthusiastically supporting Sanders is a complete nether aperture, but I don't hold that against Sanders.
    I have as much enthusiasm for Biden as I do for a glass of room temperature tap water when I'm not particularly thirsty.
    At this point, as a second generation Yellow Dog, I'd campaign harder for Sanders if he's the nominee.

  • Spiffy McBang says:

    I would love a situation where the honchos say, "Joe, Liz, if both of you keep running, Bernie's gonna win the nomination," because Warren's going to be fine with that. I'm sure she'd rather win, but not in a thousand elections will she cede the platform to Biden in an attempt to thwart Sanders. Finding out she leveraged them into a situation where they had to decide between supporting her 100% or giving Sanders the upper hand? That would be beautiful.

  • Davis X. Machina says:

    "Solve the problem" Ed?" What problem?

    In the traditional three-function model of the US Presidency — head of state, head of government, head of party — Sanders is all set to do a good job on half of one of them.

  • I don't want Sanders to be the nominee. I think he is a demagogue who says things I often agree with, but a demagogue nonetheless because he doesn't back his rhetoric up with anything. He has a nearly non-existent legislative record and he couldn't compromise on what sandwich to order for lunch. I am a Democrat, and I wonder how the party I support and have always been a member of has allowed a charlatan outsider who won't even deign to become a member of the party whose nomination he seeks enter the race. I will vote for him if he is the nominee, but I think the Democrats will go down in flames – he will lose to Trump and he will have negative coattails down-ballot.

  • Just for anyone who might not have been treated to a shovelfull of his horseshit, previously.

    He's a lying sack of shit regressive reaKKKtionary dickhead.

    Hey, Inky:

    Remember this:

    You don't NEED to be here?

    I'm pretty sure that's a lie.

    What is true is that WE don't need you to be here and if Ed wasn't already being pretty much a mensch by letting foulkeyboardin'mofoz like me here, you woulda been shitcanned a long time ago.

    Not only are your comments disingenuous and disruptive (their primary intent) but they make it obvious that you're either dumber than a box of developmentally disabled, blunt force, nail driving tools OR just an incredibly obtuse KKKonservaturd.

    I'm going with both.

    Hey, where's the documentation to back up your accusation about Ed being soft on Islamoterrarizm? It's been about a month since you made that comment and, golly gosh, STILL no evidence to back up your baseless and dishonest assertion on that subject.

    I'm pretty sure that you will decide to not be a decent human bei–wtf am I thinking–you can't decide to be a decent human being, you have no experience in that area.

    Fuck off, troll. (source: http://www.ginandtacos.com/2019/09/16/in-plain-sight/#comments)


    We're still waiting for you to back up your vile calumny, moron. Nobody is holding their breath.

  • 4. Help the media (who will be happy to do it) promote discord between Sanders and Warren supporters.

    Both can't win, and neither can win without support from those whose first choice would be the other. It won't take all that much bad faith between the two camps to sink the hopes of those of us who would prefer that the Democratic party represent something more than "We're not as bad as those guys!"

    This option has the "advantage" that party regulars will be perfectly comfortable with it.

  • Are Warren and Sanders not competing for largely the same pool of voters?

    I’m backing Warren, but I imagine she’ll wind up being Biden’s VP pick. That’s probably the backroom compromise the powers-that-be will settle on, and honestly if Clinton has picked Warren I think she would have won.

  • Sanders […] couldn't compromise on what sandwich to order for lunch.

    I could be wrong, and I'm open to evidence that I am… but this is not the impression I get at all.

    I get the impression that he understands that when entering a blatantly adversarial struggle, you don't start by proposing a compromise that you think will work for everyone. Warren's academic approach appeals to me personally, but I think we have enough evidence already that it won't work in Washington.

    Sanders does border on being a demagogue, and I worry that if he is elected he might have trouble convincing his supporters that he's not betraying them when he chooses practical gains at the expense of idealistic failures (assuming he does). Yet, I think he has the right idea. For now, it's necessary to inspire people, to offer a vision and a goal, even knowing that we won't get there soon (if ever).

    "I have a dream" vs "I have a plan."

    That said, at first I preferred Warren to Sanders and I still see the differences between them as far less important than the differences between them and everybody else. I'll be happier than I've been with any presidential election in my lifetime if either of them wins.

  • I'm still trying to process the concept of back-room negotiations forcing Warren out to give Biden the nomination—the accusations of the party "stealing" the nomination from Sanders would be even louder than in 2016 (and a lot truer this time); they would lose lose lose the left flank to an extent they'd never make up in the middle. I've been arguing for months now that Biden is the *one* of the serious Dem candidates that would probably lose the general (by dissing and then losing the left flank), but that would rise to an absolute certainty if his nomination arose by forcing everyone else out.

    It would maybe be a bit better if Warren were the beneficiary, in that they might successfully spin her as the compromise between Sanders and Biden, but that's a tough spin and I think it would still, on balance, hurt her standing with the left flank.

  • Actually your analogy of demented donnies success in the thuglican primary's of 2016 is much more applicable to surrender monkey and ex senator from mastercard biden.
    Once again he will give all thuglican crooks, war criminals and traitors a free pass as he claims to want to move forward instead of looking to the past.
    How that work out from 2008?
    Bankers gorged on the bones of the middle class, war criminals continued to profit off of endless war, demented donnie enlisted putin to cheat on election and the d' lost because they looked feckless and incompetent in the face of thuglican obstructionism.
    Oh yeah but bernie is the risky one.

  • The DNC has completely lost control of the process. If some kind of backroom deal was going to take place it would have happened by now. TWENTY candidates wouldn't have sought the nomination. I support Sanders, as I did last time, and I don't see any way the PARTY can deny him the nomination. Sure, I guess Warren and Pete could drop out after IA and NH making it effectively a two person race (Biden and Sanders) and Biden could legitimately gain more votes and delegates (presumably in the south, which won't vote D in the general anyway) and win it fair and square. But I don't see that happening. Biden has always flamed out before and I don't see him ultimately doing any better this time than he did in 1988 or 2008. The good news is we'll have a pretty good idea how it's going to shake out by Super Tuesday (3/3) a mere FIVE WEEKS from today!

  • Here's the lesson from 2016.

    Support whoever turns your crank in the primaries.

    Vote "D" in November–regardless the eventual candidate.

    Not difficult to understand.

  • Aloysius Snuffleupagus says:

    Ultimately, the party establishment should rank-order "winning the presidency by the (D) candidate" higher than "having a candidate conforms with whatever orthodoxy the party elite wants to see in the nominee." I mean, the party's leadership is adept at shooting themselves in the foot but fercryinoutloud, learn from your mistakes. So I appreciate this though-exercise as a Warren voter (and the equal time!) but I gotta say… option 1, do nothing, might be the wisest strategic voice. My own hot-take.

    Having Hillary come out and say what she did was ham-handed (seems like someone asked her to do that, showing bad judgement on the part of at least two people) and, wow, such a lack of class to say nasty things about the guy who campaigned for her in states she could have won had she even deigned to come campaign in (Michigan, Wisconsin, states Bernie won the primary in.)

    The real problem with triangulating and reading tea leaves at this point is that things change. Head-to-head polls vs Trump don't really give an obvious strategy choice to rally behind (maybe Biden is most likely according to the latest polls? But he's definitely got his personal baggage aside from the 'inspiring as much enthusiasm as a glass of lukewarm water when I'm not even thirsty.')

    So yeah. Vote whomever. Keeps hands off. Trying to steer too much is liable to backfire. Bernie won't get everything he wants anyway. No president does.

  • Emerson Dameron says:


    Nancy Pelosi regularly demonstrates contempt for the left, seemingly believing that the future of the party belongs to suburban Blue Dogs.

    Warren might take the Biden VP spot for the Cheney-like influence that Good Ol' Joe's leutinenant would no doubt have. That would explain why she's gone after Sanders for misogyny while Biden is standing right next to him.


  • @ demmo

    Yeah, pretty much man. It’s just more fun to strategerize endlessly. Gotta get my thoughts in order for the day when the DNC calls to ask my opinions.

    @ emerson

    Yeah, I’ve kinda noticed the edge between Pelosi and AOC. Granted AOC is still something of a blank slate, but I don’t think that Pelosi and Co. are capable of grasping that people like me prefer AOC over them.

  • "Gotta get my thoughts in order for the day when the DNC calls to ask my opinions."

    Let me know when they do so. It will give me a heads-up that they'll be calling me sometime after the sun stops burning hydrogen,

  • TBH if they're still more worried about Sanders as an "existential threat", I'd encourage them to deny him their vote by eating a bullet. At least then the world will have exactly one less fascist coward in it.

    Chickenshit "liberals" who are more scared of commies than the right are how the Germans got their guy in the 30s.

  • I have to do this. I hope everybody will have the patience to indulge me.

    The sad part of this post, and the subsequent commentary, is that if Senator Sanders manages to win the nomination, the Democratic Party establishment and its donor base will abandon him the way they did to George McGovern in 1972.

    It brings to mind what is possibly the most significant piece of political commentary I've ever read:

    "… This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it – that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.

    The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes and all his imprecise talk of "new politics" and "honesty in government," is one of the few men who've run for President of the United States in this century who really understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon.

    McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for.

    Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to become President?"

    – Hunter S. Thompson.

  • Remember whenever you hear about how evil progressives are with their "litmus tests" that like thuglican tripe it is nothing but projection from the so called moderates.
    They applied it to McGovern and any progressive who had the temerity to propose sane and rational solutions versus counting on some unknown "magic" to save us from the consequences of their choices they wish to impose on the country.
    With the children of rahm who purposely kneecapped progressives with D party in opposition during primary and starving them of assistance when they won the primary.
    Look at cegelis campaign in Ill. where when it looked like a progressive might actually beat a thuglican (hyde?) rahm parachuted in a nice pliable carpetbagger to ensure that the progressive wouldn't win even if that meant giving seat to thuglicans.
    Same thing in Conn. in the Liarman/Lamont senate race where all to many d's (including obama) endorsed loser lierman over the D primary winner LaMont.
    Cory booker playing footsie with christie on election dates to help torpedo D candidate and allow christie to run up the numbers.
    Oh and don't forget DWS's reign of surrender monkeys a head of the DNC.
    Now the dnc's 'blackballing" anyone who dares to work for a challenger to the likes of lipinski, cuellar and others of this centuries version of dixiecrats. Where environment, wealth gap, corporate welfare and Women's rights have replaced the conspicuous racism of the last Century. Racism is still part of the foundation of their beliefs just not so conspicuous.
    So no to the "moderates" who really are thuglicans just not the "radical" thuglicans of the party.
    Remember the only litmus tests being applied are from those thuglican lites in charge of the D party structure.
    Oh yeah and perez's naming of thuglicrats as committee chairs at convention to ensure continue control of the moneyed interests at all costs.

  • "Lessons from 2016?" Yeah, they are doing the same lessons they studied in 2016. Maybe they forgot they failed in 2016?

    Establishment corporatists (either party) never learn that what they do is a bad thing–not for them, of course–for the nation.

  • Real DNC Acolyte says:

    I was so excited when Biden entered the race! Biden is a man of the people! Now, we have Mike Bloomberg allowed into the debate!! The DNC is brilliant!!!

    We will win!!!

    May those wishing to receive medical care and dental care via a state sponsored program (as those programs within the majority of civilised countries) go die!! GO DIE NOW! (and for decorum) PLEASE!!!

    Long Live The Administrative Class!!!

  • And just since Ed’s post, The Squad have led boos against Hillary Clinton, who continues to smear Sanders, while the DNC has changed its debate rules once again, this time to accomodate Mike Bloomberg. Democrats are imploding. Deja vu all over again.

  • Inkydinkydoo:

    I'm sure that somewhere (on top of the dryer or maybe behind the clothes hamper) you've got that file of evidence supporting your assertion of several months back that Ed is a supporter of Islamist terrorists. We RILLLLLLLLLLLLY want to believe that you're not a lying fuckbag who would rather shit on someone who they've never met (Ed) rather than honestly debate.

    I will stop posting things like this as soon as you quit being the lying fuckbag that you seem to be, by default.

    Fuck off, troll.

  • @chuck, not gonna look up the exact quote right now, but the thing that sticks with me about F&L… '72 is the John Mitchell (right?) remark that "this country is going to move so far to the right in the next fifty years that you won't recognize it". Pretty fucking on the nose imo.

  • @geoff –

    The country itself hasn't necessarily moved so far to the right. The Republican party did, and out of fear of and fealty to the donor class, the Democrats followed suit. There's a huge reason vast swaths of eligible voters don't vote. Elections are tainted (I won't use "rigged") in so many ways, from the Electoral College to Citizens United to partisan districting to voter suppression (especially among people of color).

  • OK, so did the CIA-adjacent McKinsey minion Pete Buttigieg just try to game the fucking IA caucuses last night with a fucking smart phone app? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!!

  • It was former Clinton campaign hatchet man Robby Mook who reportedly designed the defective app. Too funny! And this unmitigated fiasco after the final Iowa poll showing Bernie out in front was suppressed? The Democratic establishment might as well go with Russia to blame. Maybe Ukraine. Either way, it will not satisfy the Sanders supporters, who smell corruption once again.

  • Correction–

    Mookie only signed off on the app as reliable after being tasked with that assessment. At this point in the wider internecine implosion, a distinction without a difference….

  • I'm not nearly as concerned about the Iowa returns as when Inky's gonna pony up the proof of Ed's being cozy with Islamoterrorists.

    I mean, y'know, you accuse someone of being a traitor to the U.S. and then refuse to provide a little evidence for the accusation.

    Do you have a picture of Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn doin' each other that you like to look at while you're pleasuring yourself?

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