He’s careful not to rule out the idea, even noting in passing that it’s “necessary in certain cases.” Scoffing outright would be a bad look for a candidate who famously struggled to win black votes in the 2016 primaries, and Bernie knows it. But his campaign will ultimately succeed or fail based on his ability to attract white working-class voters. And he knows very well how this issue will play with them.

So expect lots of ambivalent rhetoric like this from Team Sanders so long as this unlikely issue persists as a subject in the Democratic primaries. It reminds me, in fact, of Louis CK’s famous bit, “Of course/but maybe.” Of course, busing has its place. But maaaaaaybe…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But does that also mean busing? Because your website actually says that you are coming out for repealing of the ban on funding for busing.

SANDERS: No, we’ve — busing is certainly an option that is necessary in certain cases, but it is not optimal. Does anybody think it’s a good idea to put a kid on a bus, travel an hour to another school and to another neighborhood that he or she doesn’t know? That’s not the optimal. What is the optimal is to have great community schools which are integrated, that’s what I think most people want to see. That’s what I want to see.

The thought balloon over Sanders’s head reads, “I can’t believe this is what we’re talking about instead of health care or college tuition.” It’d be like if assisted suicide suddenly became the hottest topic at the debates. That’s also Real Issue about which Americans have passionate views, but which hasn’t been a matter of urgent national debate for decades. I hope Bernie has an answer about his opinion of Dr. Kevorkian ready to go.

In the meantime, he’d better be prepared for more questions about busing. Kamala Harris is all-in:

The bad news for Democrats is that this issue used to poll abysmally, as I noted yesterday. It’ll probably poll a bit better now thanks to negative hyperpartisanship but not so much better that it’ll be more of an asset than a liability in jurisdictions Dems are targeting next year. Especially among those suburban women who helped deliver the House back into Pelosi’s hands last fall and who probably don’t want to pack their kids off for a long ride to a different district every morning just to go to class.

The good news for Democrats is that Harris knows all of that and will chuck this issue into the ocean within eight seconds of clinching the nomination. It’s useful to her as a potential wedge between Biden and black voters in the primary and a liability everywhere else. The moment it’s served its purpose, she’ll drop it. In fact, despite yesterday’s pro-busing answer, I bet she won’t revisit the subject voluntarily at further debates. There are other avenues for attacking Biden’s record on race; it’s silly to stick with one which she knows will be an albatross in the general election. I think busing was just the first step in a multi-step strategy to shake the faith of black Democrats in Obama’s VP, planting a seed of doubt about Uncle Joe before she moves on to more salient stuff like the crime bill.

I hope it works out for her, for her own sake. Biden fans are pissed off and warning her that the odds of a Biden/Harris “dream ticket” next year are falling:

“She played low ball, which was out of character. And he didn’t expect it, nor did I,” said Lee White, a Biden supporter who attended his remarks at the Jesse Jackson Rainbow PUSH Coalition. “She should not have gone that route. She’s much too intelligent, she’s been able to be successful thus far, why do you have to do that.”…

“We can be proud of her nonetheless, but her ambition got it wrong about Joe,” said former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the first African American woman to serve in the Senate who has endorsed Biden in the 2020 primary. “He is about the best there is; for her to take that tack is sad.”…

[O]ne of Biden’s supporters called the attack by Harris “too cute by half” after her campaign tweeted out — and quickly began merchandising — a photo of Harris as a young girl. “Couldn’t they at least pretend that it was semi-organic?” the Biden supporter asked, referring to the planned nature of Harris’ debate night ambush.

One “major” Biden supporter from Harris’s home state of California was asked about the prospects of a Biden/Harris ticket and replied, “That sh*t ain’t happening.” Eh, we’ll see. So long as Harris doesn’t get too nasty about it (remember, she assured Biden at the debate that she doesn’t think he’s racist), questioning his commitment to civil rights arguably makes her more valuable to him as a VP. If she fails to stop him from winning the nomination but succeeds in wounding him among black voters, he may want to put her on the ticket purely as a gesture of reconciliation. He’ll do what he needs to do to win.

But yeah, a sustained line of attack by Harris at the debates on his cred as a racial “uniter” will make it harder, bit by bit, for him to swallow his pride and do it. She’s obviously playing to win.

Here’s Bernie in of course/but maybe mode.