The “revolution” that finger-hectoring late-septuagenarian Bernie Sanders is promoting might turn out to be one he’s not overtly proposing. It could be the consequence, however, if the increasing odds of his being nominated for president results in the tsunami of electoral losses up-and-down the ballot for Democrats that many party activists and regulars now widely fear.
Sanders might not much care, not actually being a Democrat, but the socialist in both persona and policy could prompt an eventual massive realignment among voters toward multiple political parties with even fewer adherents. If nominated, and regardless of whether he wins or loses, destruction of the long-dominant two-party system could prove to be his legacy.
He would have to share responsibility, though, with norm-violating mid-septuagenarian President Trump. While the mirror-image populist takeover of the Republican Party by Trump, himself a former Democrat, is more original screen script to Bernie’s derivative movie remake, they share a similar storyline. Although Sanders is unlikely to generate the same ballot-box-office success, both internal insurgencies would prove Oscar-worthy for creating legions of formerly red-or-blue affiliated voters feeling abandoned by parties and alienated on principles.
It’s difficult to overstate the panic taking grip of Democratic leaders, elected officeholders, and party loyalists caused by the suddenly ascendant possibility that Sanders could garner enough convention delegates to claim he should become the presidential nominee without having won either a majority of them or much more than a third of primary votes cast. Because the leadership of a deeply divided party desperately hopes to avoid igniting the venom of Bernie-backers, the cacophony of trepidation about Sanders as standard-bearer has so far been strategically muted.
In contrast, the party’s cadre of nearly three-dozen moderates from swing districts elected in 2016 that allowed Democrats to claw back control of the U.S. House are starting to separate themselves from Sanders by speaking out against his proposals. Knowing they will have to fight for both political survival and House control if he wins the nomination, they’ve been less shy about sounding alarms.
It may already be too late for the majority of Democrats to stop Sanders. The March 3 Super Tuesday primaries will determine national convention pledged delegate allocations in 14 states, comprising more than a third of the total. A lingering litany of competitors splitting the somebody-but-Sanders vote produces the probability he’ll shoot far ahead in the delegate tally and arrive in Milwaukee with a large plurality. The far-left argues Sanders should be chosen even with insufficient delegates and only the support of a minority.
That scenario creates a dilemma for Democrats only Sanders could manage to cause: If he is bestowed the nomination, the party likely loses the election; if his supporters deem him to have been “denied” the nomination and revolt against supporting an alternate nominee, the party likely loses the election.
Even as the nominee, though, Sanders poses a threat to the party, win or lose in the general election.
Should Sanders be nominated and lose, perhaps by a large margin while also diminishing Democratic strength from statehouses to the Hill, the aftermath of dismay and despair borne by a defeat once believed a certain victory could split the party into irreconcilable factions. Likewise, should Sanders win the election but face recalcitrant elected party members unwilling or unable to adopt his proposals, the dashed dreams of his devotees would cause disillusionment and disengagement.
With only about a quarter of the voting-age population expressing allegiance to each major national political party, self-identified independents have consistently been a huge plurality for years and a voting-age majority of those under 35.
Weak party affiliation, feeble political parties, and political estrangement among dissatisfied partisans both Republican and Democratic is a formula for the gradual but eventual demise of the current two-party system.