Sanders had planned to pose as the quiet front-runner. The Democratic establishment might not be ready to anoint a populist insurrectionist, but Sanders, like Trump with the Republican base in 2016, thought that he had what the party’s voters wanted. Democratic operatives and veteran consultants whispered to anyone that would listen that Sanders, who had retained a permanent campaign infrastructure after coming up short in 2016, held a critical advantage in Democratic politics: the best ground game. The formula that supplied and maintained Barack Obama’s power had been mailing lists, volunteers, data, and pounding the pavement. Our Revolution, Sanders’s arm, was the heir to Organizing for America, the Obama mothership, and Sanders, like Obama, was awash in cash.
But Sanders’s campaign underestimated Biden out of the gate. And this time, Sanders’s Achilles heel appears to be even more exposed than it was to Clinton. African Americans are the lynchpin of any Democratic strategy, but so far, black Southern Democrats seem to like the idea of Barack Obama’s lieutenant as president, even if Obama himself doesn’t feel so warm about it. Last time round, South Carolina was Stalingrad for Sanders. It didn’t finish him off, but it lost him the war. Right now, it’s déjà vu all over again for the senator from Vermont.
Part of Sanders’s struggle has been recapturing the magic. Sanders is running against the Trump boom. The economy is better than it was four years ago, and the electorate are perhaps less receptive to his Menshevik message.