Estab­lishment Democrats are making the same mistake they made in the election of 1968. I Wiki­media Commons

After embar­rassing showings in Iowa and New Hamp­shire, former Vice Pres­ident Joe Biden’s cam­paign was left for dead by many in the estab­lishment. 

But after Sen. Eliz­abeth Warren, D‑Mass., destroyed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the debates, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg failed to build on his momentum from strong per­for­mances in Iowa and New Hamp­shire, Biden found himself once again the favorite of the estab­lishment.

Biden’s comeback victory in South Car­olina set off a domino effect, which began when Buttigieg pulled out of the pri­maries and endorsed Biden. Within 24 hours, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D‑Minnesota, and former can­didate Beto O’Rourke fol­lowed in Buttigieg’s foot­steps and endorsed Biden ahead of Super Tuesday. His strong showing — and Bloomberg’s sub­se­quent with­drawal on Wednesday — now makes it a two-horse race between Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I‑Vermont. 

So what led to this sudden rush to endorse Biden? What com­pelled Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Bloomberg to col­lec­tively throw in the towel so early and support a man who they all took turns attacking in the past? 

The answer is simple: to prevent Bernie Sanders from winning the nom­i­nation.

It seems as if the Democrats are repeating the mis­takes they made in the 1968 election. 

In August of 1968, the Demo­c­ratic Party con­vened for their national con­vention in Chicago to nom­inate their can­didate for the pres­i­dency. This was no typical political con­vention. Rather than three days of cel­e­bration and excitement, the American people wit­nessed on their tele­vi­sions a civil war between the party’s bosses and pro­testers opposing the Vietnam War. 

The eventual Demo­c­ratic nominee Hubert Humphrey would cam­paign tire­lessly to con­vince voters he would end the war, attempting to cobble together a winning coalition to defeat Richard Nixon. While popular among Repub­licans, Democrats and the media loathed Nixon. If anyone could seem­ingly unite the Democrats in oppo­sition to their can­didacy and turn out the vote, it would be Nixon. 

But Humphrey’s best efforts could not overcome the divi­sions and damage done to the Demo­c­ratic Party during the primary process. 1968 was a missed oppor­tunity for Democrats. 

Sanders is not beloved by Democrats in Wash­ington D.C. He has always reg­is­tered as an inde­pendent outside of his two pres­i­dential cam­paigns. Sanders has an acri­mo­nious rela­tionship with the party’s donors and lead­ership. His socialist views are highly unpopular among white, sub­urban women — a key demo­graphic in the Demo­c­ratic Party’s 2018 midterm vic­tories.

It is clear that Democrats are just as com­mitted to pre­venting Sanders from winning the nom­i­nation in 2020 as they were in 2016. 

That being said, the estab­lishment has not done itself any favors in regards to their treatment of Sanders. Whether it be Donna Brazile of CNN passing on debate ques­tions to the Clinton cam­paign in 2016, Wik­ileaks dis­closing pos­sible cor­ruption in the nom­i­nating process, or the con­tro­versy over superdel­e­gates, the Sanders camp feels cheated out of their fair shot at the nom­i­nation. 

While avoiding a Sanders ticket may be a wise choice, the alter­native of angering and iso­lating the Sanders base could prove equally dam­aging for the Demo­c­ratic Party’s chances in November.

In 2016, a stag­gering 12% of Sanders sup­porters switched their alle­giance to Trump instead of backing Hillary in the general election. That 12% of voters cost then-can­didate Hillary Clinton the vital states of Wis­consin, Michigan, and Pennslyania — and ulti­mately the pres­i­dency.  

Since the 2016 cam­paign, the ani­mosity appears to have only grown worse. A recent National Emerson College Poll revealed that only 53% of Sanders sup­porters would commit to backing a Demo­c­ratic nominee other than their pre­ferred choice. This poll was fol­lowed by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D‑Detroit, leading a chorus of boos against Clinton for her crit­icism of Sanders. Though Tlaib would go on to apol­ogize for jeering Clinton, her actions reflect growing resentment towards the party’s old guard. 

The last thing Democrats can afford is a repeat of 1968. But with the way this election cycle is trending, one should not be sur­prised if they see sig­nif­icant protests in Mil­waukee when the Demo­c­ratic National Con­vention rolls into town. 

The Demo­c­ratic race may come to two can­di­dates. The great divide between Biden and Sanders on ide­ology reflects the deeper chasm of ani­mosity splitting the pro­gressive wing and the estab­lishment. 

If Democrats hope to defeat the Nixon of this era — that is, Pres­ident Donald Trump — they have to rec­oncile the dis­trust. 


Matt Fisher is a senior studying political economy.