If you read only the New York Times and Washington Post, or watch cable news, you might not know that Bernie Sanders is the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. The well-heeled pundits, prominent columnists, and grifter consultants tapped to be talking heads mostly find Bernie distasteful and remain bewildered by his continued appeal. Thus, the hours of brain-poisoning television commentary that swings between trying to pretend he doesn’t exist and trying to gin up hysteria—as when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews recently suggested that Bernie might approve of public executions in Central Park. Anything to minimize the fact that Sanders received the most votes in Iowa and New Hampshire. But Bernie backers too often have gotten sidetracked by their grievances against a Democratic establishment undoubtedly hostile to their candidate, perpetuating the notion that he’s underperformed: if not for the dirty tricks and bad press, they too often suggest, his victories would have been even more impressive.
The deeper story of these early contests has been that the Bernie campaign, whose base tends to be younger voters and people of color, has ground out wins in states whose populations are older and more than 90 percent white. In the wake of those victories his campaign has surged. He’s now earning just over 30 percent support in both NBC/Marist and ABC/Washington polls of registered Democratic voters nationwide, with no one else coming within 10 percent of his lead.
The other candidates clustered near the top of the Iowa results (Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren) and those from New Hampshire (Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar) don’t have nearly as much money as the Sanders campaign. His war chest has come from millions of small-dollar donations, and allowed him to build a truly national campaign. It’s not clear where a race-altering victory will come next for Buttigieg, Warren, or Klobuchar, not least because of their paltry support from black and Hispanic voters. If Biden manages to eke out a win in South Carolina, it will be against the backdrop of his campaign’s precipitous decline.