The Trump-Sanders parallel

Jim Geraghty compares the 2020 Democratic nomination battle to the one Republicans waged in 2016. In 2016, he recalls, Trump profited from the fact that a crowded field of Trump rivals focused their fire on one another.

Geraghty writes:

[T]he other candidates were all convinced they could be the last man standing against Trump, and then beat him in a one-on-one matchup. Perhaps one of those non-Trump candidates could have beaten the Manhattan mogul in a two-man race; Trump finished with 14 million votes and the other candidates combined finished with 17 million votes. But that one-on-one race never happened. . . .

The other Republicans spent far too much time and too many resources trying to beat each other; while they were focused on winning “lanes,” Trump went out and won the nomination. The Republican primary was a classic “tragedy of the commons.” The best outcome for those other 16 (generally) conservative candidates was to unite behind one alternative to Trump. But nobody wanted to give up his or her dreams of being president to help the party as a whole. By the time those candidates faced reality, it was too late.

The parallel with 2020 is clear. In New Hampshire, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg are attacking each other, while Bernie Sanders, the outsider whom the party establishment fears, has become the frontrunner. He was the co-winner in Iowa and has a very good chance of prevailing in New Hampshire.

Geraghty writes:

The Democrats could stop Sanders if they quickly united around one rival. But that requires candidates to recognize the long odds, accept reality, and give up their presidential ambitions to protect and advance the causes the claim to support. Funny how all of these people who insist they’re “public servants” and proclaim “this campaign isn’t about me” find that so hard to do.

It’s certainly hard to do at this early stage of the voting. In 2016, John Kasich stayed in the race long after voters had rejected him in state after state. This year, voters have yet to reject Buttigieg, and the others have been rejected only in one caucus state. We’ll see what happens after the upcoming pre-Super Tuesday contests.

There was always a chance that Sanders could emerge from the crowded field as the likely nominee. After all, he made a strong run at the nomination in 2016 in what was essentially a two-person field.

However, I thought the presence of Elizabeth Warren would block Sanders. Whereas Trump competed in his own lane in 2016, Warren and Sanders seemed to be competing in the same left lane. Thus, Sanders did not appear to have a structural advantage over Joe Biden and whichever other candidate emerged in the less radical lane.

But Warren isn’t holding up her end of the bargain. She’s just not very popular, it seems.

In addition, I failed to recognize the extent to which Sanders and Warren are competing for a different set of voters — Warren for well educated white women, Sanders for working class voters.

The latest New Hampshire polls show Sanders with around 28 percent support. Warren comes in with less than half of that. Distribute their combined vote more evenly and Sanders would be roughly tied with Buttigieg in the polls.

As I said, there is time for a reshuffle after New Hampshire, with some once-major candidates dropping out and the composition of the relevant electorate changing.

But, as Geraghty says, “the clock is ticking” for establishment Democrats and for others who want to see Sanders fail.

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