By next week? Maybe 30 percent if, as expected, Sanders wins Nevada and jumps out to a lead in South Carolina.
I don’t think he really believes Bernie might lose 49 states, though. When he says “it could happen again,” he means that Democrats might lose in a landslide like McGovern did in 1972. In our hyperpartisan age, Dems could nominate Trump buddy Rod Blagojevich and still be sure of winning California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois(!), Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Washington, and (probably) Delaware and Oregon. Twelve states at worst, 175 electoral votes in the bag.
But that last 95 he’d need to actually win the White House would be tough. Especially since a high-turnout election, which is what Sanders keeps promising in insisting that he’s electable, may well favor Trump rather than the Democrats:
As part of its “100 Million Project,” the Knight Foundation surveyed thousands of nonvoters (defined as those who are eligible but not registered, or registered but have cast no more than one ballot in the last six national elections) in 10 of the most competitive states to better understand what could be the most pivotal portion of the electorate, especially as 2020 may be on track to have a record-shattering turnout.
Whereas nationally more nonvoters say they would rather vote this November for a generic Democratic nominee than vote for Trump, in Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia, more nonvoters say they would vote for Trump than a Democrat. In Georgia, which Trump won in 2016, more nonvoters say they would support the Democratic nominee than Trump, and in the other battleground states polled, neither Trump nor the Democratic nominee had an advantage—or the advantage was below the margin of error.
In Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Nevada, Trump and the generic Dem are statistically tied, potentially making the turnout battle a wash. Bernie fans would interject here that their guy is the opposite of a generic Democrat (why, he’s barely a Democrat at all). He can compete for white working-class votes more formidably than most of his Democratic rivals and he’s uniquely appealing to young voters, who might be unmoved by a different nominee. But that argument cuts both ways: Casual voters who lean right might also be more powerfully motivated to turn out in the name of defeating socialism than they would be if, say, Amy Klobuchar were on the ticket instead. Trump was hugely unpopular in 2016 nationally but won the presidency because his opponent also had special liabilities. Bernie has a special liability. Don’t underestimate the power of negative partisanship.
The most notable part of Matthews’s spiel below is his exasperation that Sanders is on the cusp of putting this race away and he still hasn’t taken any hard shots from his competitors (although that may change tonight once Bloomberg joins the fray). Ben Shapiro marveled yesterday that Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is on life support and yet she still continues to target candidates on her right instead of the progressive who’s depleted her potential base of leftist support:
They're going to just hand Bernie the nomination. It's unbelievable. Bloomberg isn't the frontrunner. https://t.co/zOikTTowzR
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) February 18, 2020
Harry Reid is also quietly exasperated, urging Bernie’s opponents to “speak up” about him before Nevada votes if they think he’s unelectable — while refusing to do so himself despite his huge influence in Nevada. (Reid even made a point of telling reporters that he voted “uncommitted” on his ballot this year instead of making a pitch for a more electable Democrat.) I think punches are being pulled against Sanders for a simple reason: Like Trump in 2016, the most hardcore elements of his base are cultish about him and the party can’t afford to alienate them ahead of a potentially tight general election. Biden or Warren might get some votes grudgingly from Berniebros in the fall on pure “Anyone but Trump” grounds if they win the nomination while playing nice with the Great Man. But if they disparage him or sneer at socialism, they’re risking mass defections. Where do they make up those votes against Trump? What’s to be gained by nuking Bernie in the primary if it amounts to nuking yourself in the general?
Such is the theory. But remember that Republicans did eventually start hitting Trump hard four years ago as his lead in the primary began to look more daunting. Rubio went after him before flaming out on Super Tuesday. Ted Cruz hugged him for months, believing that Trump would fade on his own accord and leave Cruz to incorporate the Trump cult into his own base, but once he realized that wasn’t happening he started throwing roundhouses. In the end, enough disgruntled Rubio and Cruz fans turned out for Trump against Clinton that fall despite the bad blood in the primary to hand him the White House. Why Warren doesn’t let it all hang out against Bernie and hope for time to heal all wounds, I don’t know; why the likes of Klobuchar don’t swing hard at him beyond sniffing that he’s probably unelectable is unclear. Maybe they just … sympathize with Sanders’s ideology too much to really attack it? (Cruz’s and Rubio’s attacks on Trump, and vice versa, were personal as much as ideological, if not more so.) Or maybe they’re all caught up in the muddle in the middle and under the impression that they need to nuke each other first before nuking Bernie. Big mistake. It’s probably already too late to undo it, although Bloomberg’s going to try.