Bernie Sanders is cruising towards the Democratic nomination. But can he win? | Richard Wolffe

The contest has become Bernie Sanders v a delusional sideshow of centrists bent on mutual annihilation

We have officially reached the Hunger Games stage of this Democratic primary season. The stage where you can grab the horse-faced lesbian weapon and hurl it at an arrogant billionaire within the first minutes of the show starting.

Its the stage where a young midwestern mayor can trash the experience of a midwestern senator, who turns right back at him and says, Are you trying to say Im dumb or are you mocking me here? So much for all that midwestern niceness.

Theres a reason why the Democratic debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday turned into such an epic Donnybrook. Its called the primary calendar, which is inexorably counting down to the Super Tuesday contests in less than two weeks.

At that point, one of the candidates on stage will emerge with a delegate lead that puts an end to all the quadrennial talk of a brokered convention. At this point, that candidate looks like Bernie Sanders.

In the meantime, his five rivals on the debate stage have engaged in an entirely delusional sideshow of mutual annihilation.

The odds will never be in their favor. They dont have the time for all the cannon fire before they lose the Nevada caucus and then watch Sanders sweep the majority of California delegates.

Instead they engaged in an entirely futile effort to knock each other out of the contest so they could confront the frontrunner alone. This is something that Mike Bloombergs advisers acknowledged is the only realistic prospect of stopping Sanders.

Which prompted Amy Klobuchar to accuse Bloomberg of telling women like her to wait her turn and step aside. If Elizabeth Warren hadnt already thrown the horse-faced line at Bloomberg, Klobuchar might have earned a few of the many gasps of shock and awe that rumbled through the audience.

Until now, each new frontrunner in this long primary contest has faded under the fire of everyone else. At various points over the last year, Kamala Harris hemmed, Elizabeth Warren wilted and Pete Buttigieg bumbled.

By the time it was Bernie Sanders turn in the barrel, it was his great good fortune that most of the fire was turned on everyone else.

Mayor Bloomberg, should you exist? asked NBCs Chuck Todd, crystallizing in one short question how ludicrous this primary contest has become. Faced with a metaphysical question about his own existence, the Democrats favorite billionaire admitted the obvious. Ive made a lot of money, and Im giving it away, he said, justifying his existence with his munificence.

On stage alongside a hostile gang of millionaires, our beleaguered billionaire found his stride by defending the otherwise defenseless figure of the American economy. Were not going to throw out capitalism, he said, sounding unscripted and unplugged for the first time. We tried that. Other countries tried that. It was called communism and it doesnt work.

For the first time during the debate, there were more gasps from the people on stage than from those in the audience.

The expectations of Bloomberg were somewhere between subway and sewer levels. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

This topical argument about capitalism v communism led to an awesome series of counterpunches. Bernie said Mike was wealthier than the bottom 125 million Americans. Mike said Bernie was a socialist millionaire with three homes. Elizabeth talked about a wealth tax. Mike said he wanted to roll back the tax cuts of the Obama, um, Trump administration.

One of the many pitfalls of political analysis is the temptation to treat the next election like the last one. But hindsight is not foresight, even when the names and faces look familiar.

This Democratic primary is not the same as it was four years ago; nor is it like the Republican contest of the same cycle. After three years of Trumpian dysfunction and disinformation, nothing is the same.

Take Bernie Sanders. Four years ago he was the bitter insurgent, railing against the establishment and capitalism, while trashing the delegate count. Today he is the clear frontrunner, railing against the establishment and capitalism, while loving the delegate count.

Wednesdays debate was meant to be the biggest test for the former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose lavish spending has launched him late into the primary spotlight.

But the expectations of Bloomberg were somewhere between subway and sewer levels. He was supposedly so ill-prepared for public gaze, and such a clunky gazillionaire, that his ability to communicate with the great unwashed was limited to him buying the services of professional meme-bots.

Somehow Bloomberg was underwhelming at the same time as overperforming. He crossed the bar in the most boring way possible.

In substance and style, this is Sanders contest. He has skewed the entire field towards his socialized healthcare proposal known as Medicare for All, so that the supposedly centrist candidates are calling for a Sanders-lite plan that Barack Obama never proposed because he couldnt pass it through a Senate where Democrats held a filibuster-proof 60 votes.

But it is the tone of the debate that Bernie owns, not just the policy frame. Nobody can turn his fire on other candidates like the Vermont senator. When pushed hard on how he would pay for his new public healthcare system, Sanders accused his critics of being owned by healthcare CEOs. When pushed for his long-promised medical records, Sanders challenged his questioners to join him for pushups on the campaign trail.

Sanders doesnt just dodge questions; he destroys the questioner. On those terms, the other angry candidates sounded like pale imitations of the angry old socialist.

Joe Biden said he was best equipped to beat Donald Trump. Mike Bloomberg said he would spend his money to beat Donald Trump. Amy Klobuchar said she won in Minnesota so she would obviously beat Donald Trump. Only Bernie Sanders sounded like he would dismember Donald Trump.

This would be fine if there werent a billion dollars of disinformation headed towards Sanders for his socialism and his medical records. If there werent endless examples of successful scare tactics against socialists, Sanders could sail on regardless.

Instead we face an election between a Democratic nominee who was pro-Soviet Russia versus a Republican president who is pro-Putin Russia. What a time to be alive.

We shouldnt have to choose between a candidate who wants to burn this party down and another who wants to buy this party out, said Mayor Pete in one of the lines his developers hardcoded into his haircut.

They shouldnt. But they will.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/feb/19/bernie-sanders-democratic-debate-centrists

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