Most Republicans would see a Sanders candidacy as a gift, letting them paint the entire Democratic Party in socialism. The idea that he might emerge as the candidate against Trump is too much of a dream for them to even admit. Many Democrats agree.

Sanders’s team thinks all those people haven’t woken up to the new political reality, or to the power clearly demonstrated this year by independents and Millennials.

“He’s uniquely positioned to do better against Trump in the general because he appeals to white working-class and rural voters—much better than a conventional Democrat does,” said Ben Tulchin, who was Sanders’s 2016 pollster and remains in touch with his team. “He also is very popular and has done well in the Midwest, such as Michigan and Wisconsin, which are critical to winning.”