If you tell a die-hard Sanders supporter that Hillary Clinton cleaned their candidate's clock in the first Democratic primary debate last week, they will get all huffy about Bernie's performance and lecture you about Bernie's revolution-dreamin'.
But the debate represented more than performance at a podium. It verbalized Democratic voters' desire for a substantive, issues-based and practical contest. Looked at it from that perspective, Sanders actually did worse substantively than he did performance-wise. His newfound support for gun control didn't square with his votes against the Brady Bill and numerous other gun safety measures, and his promise of igniting a political revolution that will scare Congress straight (his version of governance by podium pounding) didn't convince too many people outside his core supporters. Voters may also be catching on to Bernie's xenophobic record on the border and immigration.
In my first impressions of the debate, I observed, "Of all the candidates on stage, Sanders was the least interested in crafting policy and the most vocal in yelling about revolution." It seems Democratic primary voters are moving towards that direction as well.
In three polls released this month after the debate, Hillary Clinton has widened her national lead over Bernie Sanders, and without Vice President Biden as an option, Clinton is within striking distance of 60% support in two of those. The just-released NBC/WSJ poll has her at 58% to Sanders' 33% (a lead the Journal notes is 10 points wider than a month ago). A Monmouth University poll released Monday saw Sanders at just 24% while Clinton had 57% with Biden out of the race. And in an ABC News/Washington Post poll released today, Clinton leads Sanders 54-23 even with Biden being counted - a lead ABC News says is 12 points wider than last month. In that poll, Biden is at 16%, and most of his support is likely to go to Clinton in the likely event he does not run.
It's not just national polls, though. Sanders is sliding in New Hampshire. While Clinton has been building an early organization beyond the early primaries (New Hampshire and Iowa), Sanders has been betting the house on the first contests. Sanders supporters were elated in September when a CNN poll showed Sanders sweeping New Hampshire 46-30 against Clinton. But now, Clinton has bounced back post-debate to lead Sanders 37-35 in a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll. Sanders badly needs to win NH if he is going to even matter post-NH.
Politics punishes predictors, but I see this as the beginning of the end of the pitchfork-Left's dream of a Sanders presidency. Some Democrats have toyed with the idea of an angry white old dude president (only from the "Left"), but the party's voters by and large realize that government by revolution is not an option. This president's years in office has shown Democrats that we are the thing that stands between America and utter chaos, and that to govern, we need a pragmatic progressive, not a hothead.
Quite a lot of Sanders' support is novelty and "oh-not-another-dynasty" knee-jerk reaction anyway. But push is coming to shove, and Sanders seems to have peaked rather early. Right with the first debate, he's falling not just nationally but in the early competition states.
Sanders-dreamers, consider yourselves wakened.
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