Election 2020

Bernie Sanders Wins the Nevada Caucus. He's on Track To Win the Democratic Presidential Nomination.

Are Democrats about to nominate a socialist for president?


Multiple news outlets are projecting that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) has won today's Nevada caucus, making him the clear frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

Sanders hasn't locked up the race yet, but he's now in a position to do so. Democrats look very much like they're about to nominate a self-described democratic socialist for president. 

There are some hurdles Sanders will have to overcome first—namely the way the large primary field interacts with the complexities of the party's nominating rules. A total of 3,979 "pledged" delegates are up for grabs in state primaries and caucuses; to win the nomination outright, a candidate must win a majority, or 1,991, of those delegates. But the unusually large field has made it difficult for any candidate to win an outright majority. 

Currently, election odds site FiveThirtyEight projects that Sanders will win 1,676 of those delegates, with the projected second-place finisher, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, winning 922 of those delegates. If that happens, Sanders will have the most votes—but not a majority. And then the party's superdelegates will suddenly be a factor. 

Superdelegates are part of state delegations to the Democratic nominating convention. But they're unpledged, meaning they aren't won by voting. Instead, they get included in the vote if no candidate wins a clear majority of pledged delegates, which the election model at FiveThirtyEight currently says is (just barely) the most likely outcome. 

Currently, most superdelegates remain uncommitted. And as party insiders, it's at least possible that they will not support an independent who failed to win a majority in the primary and caucus votes. An organized movement by the superdelegates to nominate a lower-placed finisher, combined with a consolidation of votes for other non-Sanders candidates, could keep Sanders from the top of the ticket. 

Still, it's hard to imagine that if Sanders won the most votes and the most pledged delegates in the primary/caucus process, the party's superdelegates would vote to give the nomination to another candidate. After the 2016 election, the Democratic party changed the rules surrounding superdelegate votes in order to weaken their power, partly in response to frustrations and concerns from Sanders supporters, who viewed superdelegates as a mechanism used by the party establishment to thwart outsider candidates. For the superdelegates to step in and give someone else the nomination would be controversial at minimum, and could well spark something resembling a party-breaking revolt. (In addition, it would raise some eyebrows for the party that has spent the last several years complaining about subversions of democracy to give the nomination to a candidate who did not win the most primary/caucus votes.) 

So even if Sanders isn't on track to win a majority of pledged delegates, he is nevertheless on track to win the Democratic Party's nomination. At a minimum, he has a clearer shot than any other candidate right now, since no rival appears poised to consolidate non-Sanders voters. 

Which means that as it faces off against Donald Trump in the 2020 election, the Democratic Party is probably going to be led by a cantankerous 78-year-old democratic socialist—not only someone who supports foolish and domestically unprecedented government programs such as single-payer health care and free tuition at public universities, but someone who honeymooned in the Soviet Union, proudly supported the brutal Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and who once spoke admiringly of the Cuban government. If they nominated Sanders, Democrats would own his entire radical agenda and history. 

Should this happen, it would represent a tremendous gamble for the Democratic Party, which would be betting its future on a deeply polarizing figure who is disliked by many in his own party. And in a matchup against Donald Trump, it would represent a no-win scenario for anyone who values individual liberty, free markets, or even just basic executive competence. 

Some Democrats appear to realize the predicament their party is in. But as former Jeb Bush adviser Tim Miller wrote for The Bulwark, with Super Tuesday, and its giant delegate haul, just days away, it may already be too late. Unless Democratic voters can consolidate around a non-Sanders candidate in a very short period of time, Sanders is set to win. 

It's possible, of course, that nominating Sanders could backfire on both the candidate and the party, and that Sanders could end up losing by a large margin in November. Some Republicans appear to believe that Sanders would be the easiest candidate to beat, and that he would have down-ticket effects on the rest of the party. 

That scenario does not strike me as out of the range of possibility. Yet I wouldn't be too sure. Because in many ways, the Democratic Party would be following in the footsteps of Republicans, who in 2016 similarly nominated a polarizing, populist, authoritarian-curious outsider who won just enough votes in an unusually crowded and competitive primary field despite broad opposition from the party establishment. Most knowledgable observers thought that nominee had little to no shot at winning the election. But Donald Trump is now our president.

It is still early, but Sanders is following in Trump's footsteps. With Sanders' win in Nevada, he's one step closer to the presidential nomination. And America is one step closer to a socialist in the White House.