Feb 13, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Democratic establishment's angst over Sanders grows

Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

In a mirror image of the queasiness among establishment Republicans as Donald Trump gained momentum in 2016, Democratic insiders see an increasing possibility that Bernie Sanders — a democratic socialist who tied Pete Buttigieg in Iowa and edged him in New Hampshire — will be their nominee.

The state of play ... There are two groups of Democratic worry: those who think he'll be the nominee and can't get elected (and would risk taking the House with him), and those who think he'll be the nominee and can get elected — and would sink the economy and blow up health care.

  • One top Obama veteran was among the Democratic insiders who took comfort in Sanders' narrow New Hampshire win, saying that it showed Sanders has a ceiling, and that it's lower than many thought.

Sanders' robust start is triggering alarm among congressional Democrats, with many warning that a ticket headed by a self-declared democratic socialist could devastate chances of winning the Senate and holding the House, AP reports:

  • In anxious huddles around the Capitol, apprehensive Democrats shared their worries that Sanders' socialist label and unyielding embrace of controversial proposals like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal would repel voters in the affluent, moderate districts that flipped House control in 2018.
  • Democrats' jitters have Republicans rubbing their hands in delight.

Go deeper

Clyburn: Sanders' "socialist" label will be "extra burden" in House races

Jim Clyburn with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday that Sen. Bernie Sanders' identification as a democratic socialist may be an "extra burden" in down-ballot House races if he were to win the Democratic nomination.

Why it matters: Clyburn's comments echo fears from many establishment Democrats, who worry the House majority they won in 2018 by taking moderate seats carried by President Trump could be at risk with Sanders at the top of the ticket.

Biden says he'll "work like hell" for Bernie if he wins the nomination

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Joe Biden continued to argue on ABC's "This Week" Sunday that the Democratic Party would have a harder time defeating President Trump if it nominates Bernie Sanders, who labels himself a democratic socialist, but stated that he would "work like hell" for the Vermont senator if he wins.

Why it matters: The divide between the moderate and progressive wing of the party has reignited debate over whether voters from each side would ultimately back the nominee against Trump.

Bernie Sanders' uneasy New Hampshire win

Sanders at his victory speech in Manchester. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Bernie Sanders' victory in the New Hampshire primary was real, but he had two moderates close on his heels — suggesting that Democrats aren't ready to hand the nomination to a socialist without a longer fight.

The big picture: Amy Klobuchar's surprisingly strong showing, along with the close margin between Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, was a reality check on the idea that the moderate wing of the Democratic Party has disappeared.