BOSTON (CBS) – “Everybody said it couldn’t be done,” said Bernie Sanders at his Super Tuesday primary night rally, a defiant reflection on his political career and current campaign.
Sanders has come a long way, no doubt. A big win in California when those results finally come in will keep him in the race for now.
But after a semi-debacle of a night in which Sanders completed a 12-day slide from red-hot front runner to Larry David without the humor, it’s starting to look like “everybody” may have been right.
No doubt, Sanders has cultivated a base of fervent supporters, many of whom will likely take their ball and go home if he is deprived of the nomination. But the astonishing events of the past four days have exposed the apparently immutable limits of his appeal.
The early Sanders roll of 2016 – the near-victory in Iowa and the landslide triumph in New Hampshire – was stopped dead as soon as the race headed south. Sanders had four years to make friends within the black community, or at least get a grasp on the reasons why black voters weren’t warming up to him, and he failed to do so.
Bernie’s fans love his consistency, his uncompromising ideology and personality. But that appears to be a dog whistle most Democrats can’t hear. And if Sanders did anything since Nevada to throw them a bone – tell a self-deprecating joke, show a little humility, display some real warmth – it wasn’t shared with the public.
Combine that caustic persona with an insistence that everyone open their windows, stick their heads out and yell “I’m mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore” and you have a formula for squandered momentum. (Elizabeth Warren, a considerably more accessible personality, is also faltering with her call for “big, structural change.”)
The only structural change most Democratic primary voters seem to want is a change of White House occupant. Faced with the prospect of nominating Donald Trump’s dream opponent and, even in victory, being yelled at for another four years, the party opted for counter-revolution, the forcible eviction of the party’s left wing, even in one of its most vaunted strongholds, Massachusetts.
One thing the politics of this era tells us to never say never. A return to stumbling, won’t-some-please-take-his-car-keys-away debate performances by Biden, a Warren withdrawal; that consolidates the left behind Sanders, some other unforseen event could plunge this race into yet another twilight zone.
So let’s not say a Sanders return to primacy can’t be done. Let’s just say that for now, he’s blowing it in spectacular fashion. And all the trendy obituaries for the centrist establishment were just a bit premature.