Do not get me wrong: Many NeverTrump voters (including this one) will vote for anyone with a "D" to defeat Trump, who is a threat to constitutional government, mentally unfit and unabashed now in his use of the instruments of power to punish enemies and protect his cronies. However, expecting independent voters in places such as Wisconsin and Michigan to line up behind Sanders seems wholly unrealistic at this point. The candidate who wants to ban fracking, outlaw private health care and spend trillions of dollars is going to be a tough sell, to put it mildly. Suburban moderates who helped lift Democrats to victory in 2018 might choose to stay home. (In the seemingly unlikely event of a Sanders victory, one need not fear that President Sanders would actually enact measures that most of his party opposes, not to mention all Republicans. But for those who dread more conflict and gridlock, a Sanders presidency would be a painful period.)
What, if anything, can Democrats do in the next week or so to change the trajectory of the race? There is very little chance that they will do what is necessary; that would require selflessness and self-reflection as well as party leadership, none of which is evident in today’s Democratic Party.
Nevertheless, there are steps Democrats could take to save the party and the country. First, former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg has offered a model for other candidates in making Sanders the top target. Buttigieg will hang on for now, relying on his results in Iowa and New Hampshire, and what looks like a barely adequate third-place finish in Nevada. In a speech Saturday night, Buttigieg laid out an effective case against Sanders:
Senator Sanders believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans.I believe we can defeat Trump and deliver for the American people by empowering the American people to make their own health care choices.Senator Sanders believes in taking away that choice — kicking people off their private plans and replacing it with a public plan, whether they want it or not.I believe that we can bring an end to corporate recklessness and bring balance to our economy by empowering workers, raising wages, and insisting that those who gain the most must contribute the most.Senator Sanders sees capitalism as the root of all evil. He’d go beyond reform and reorder the economy in ways most Democrats — let alone most Americans — don’t support.I believe we need to defeat Trump and turn the page on this era in our politics by establishing a tone of belonging, bringing an end to the viciousness and the bullying that is tearing apart the country.Senator Sanders’ revolution has the tenor of combat, division and polarization, a vision where whoever wins the day, nothing will change the toxic tone of our politics.I believe the only way to truly deliver any of the progressive changes we care about is to be a nominee who actually gives a damn about the effect you are having, from the top of the ticket, on those crucial, front-line House and Senate Democrats running to win, who we need to win, to make sure our agenda is more than just words on a page.Senator Sanders, on the other hand, is ignoring, dismissing, or even attacking the very Democrats we absolutely must send to Capitol Hill in order to keep Nancy Pelosi as speaker, in order to support judges who respect privacy and democracy, and in order to send Mitch McConnell into retirement. Let’s listen to what those voices are telling us!That is the choice before us. We can prioritize either ideological purity or inclusive victory. We can either call people names online or we can call them into our movement. We can either tighten a narrow and hardcore base or open the tent to a new, broad, bighearted American coalition.
That is how it is done, and Buttigieg must bring that firepower to the next debate.
Second, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) must step away. Coming in fifth and third in the first two races respectively, and expected to finish sixth in Nevada, Klobuchar — despite her feisty demeanor and practical agenda — has no path to the nomination. The 5 percent to 7 percent or so of the electorate that has supported her certainly could be used by a more viable candidate.
Third, Tom Steyer’s vanity run should end as well. The share of the nonwhite voters he draws is desperately needed by a viable candidate, which in South Carolina is former vice president Joe Biden. Steyer has zero delegates and has placed near the bottom of the pack in each contest. No amount of spending will lift him into contention.
Fourth, Steyer and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg should use their millions to go after Sanders, the candidate who threatens to sew up the race before Bloomberg gets started. They would do the party a favor, frankly, by getting all the opposition research out there now so that Trump does not spring it in the final days of the general election. (If Bloomberg’s next debate performance is anything like the last, he will need to bow out as well; there are not enough ads in the world to compensate for a candidate who cannot perform live.)
Fifth, both candidates and elected leaders in the party must demand that Sanders release all medical records, as he promised. This transparency is essential both to inform the public and to inoculate Sanders against Trump’s inevitable attacks, if Sanders becomes the nominee, that would portray him at death’s door. At the next debate, Sanders’s rivals should be united and resolute in their demands. Moreover, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) needs to turn all her considerable firepower on Sanders in the next debate, and would earn the gratitude of her party and a top Cabinet post if she blocked his ascent. She should present Sanders with a consent form authorizing release of all of his medical records.
Sixth, Biden, who kept himself in the running with a second-place finish in Nevada, needs to do something dramatic to shake things up and emerge as a Sanders alternative. In Nevada, Biden won a healthy share of nonwhite voters and delivered a muscular speech going after Sanders. "I ain’t a socialist,” he said. “I ain’t a plutocrat. I’m a Democrat. And proud of it! ... I was proud to have, and run with, Barack Obama. I promise you, I wasn’t talking about running a Democratic primary against him in 2012.” (A recent Atlantic magazine report documented how Sanders flirted with a primary challenge that year.) Biden needs to keep hitting at Sanders, but he should also consider announcing an exciting running mate, possibly a woman of color. Stacey Abrams or Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) would add pizzazz and offer the hope of a female African American president should Biden decide not to run in 2024. If he can deliver an impressive win in South Carolina, he will be the party’s best hope to block Sanders.
I don’t imagine much of this will come about. Nevertheless, the grown-ups in the party and the 2020 contenders who fail to act will be haunted by the possibility that they could have prevented a party crackup and a national disaster but chose not to act. That would be a terrible burden to shoulder and a black mark on their records of public service.