Bernie's Waterloo

On the eve of the primary in the first Rust Belt state to vote in 2020, one that many journalists have come to regard as a microcosm of the national electorate, things are looking pretty grim. Biden is being projected to win Michigan, where 147 delegates are at stake, by a margin of as much as 17 points. Polls have been wrong in this state before, and in 2016 Sanders seemed to benefit from a decent amount of shy Toryism. But the reality on the ground looks very different in 2020. Where before Sanders benefited from low turnout among African-American voters (and from an unusually high level of participation in the parallel GOP primary), this time observers are predicting that both black and suburban female voters will turn up in droves to support Biden — and that young people, Sanders’ meaningful constituency in the state, will stay home. This is exactly what happened two years ago in the Michigan Democratic gubernatorial primary, in which the moderate Gretchen Whitmer, who went on to win the general election, triumphed over the Sanders-endorsed outsider progressive Abdul El-Sayed. Possibly the only thing working in Sanders’s favor here is the likelihood that thousands of ballots have already been cast for other moderate candidates who have since dropped out. In the long run, a vote for Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg is probably a vote for Biden — but in the short term, on Tuesday, the only salient fact will be that they divide the centrist opposition.

If the worst indeed comes to pass and Sanders loses the Wolverine State, what will happen next? My guess is he probably won’t concede to Biden, at least not for a while. (This is also what he recently told Chris Wallace of Fox News.) But his momentum will be arrested more or less permanently, and the best he will be able to hope for is a long divided retreat to Vermont, where he can reassess his campaign and decide what, if anything, will become of his movement now that his presidential ambitions have been defeated for good.