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Bernie Sanders Makes His Charge


Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally in Derry, N.H., Feb. 5.



Photo:

Steven Senne/Associated Press

No major American political party has nominated a full-throated socialist for President. But after his strong showing in Iowa, could

Bernie Sanders

be the first? That’s the question Democrats have to ask as Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary approaches. Republicans may want to hold the Schadenfreude.

The counting fiasco has muddled the Iowa results, but it seems Mr. Sanders has either finished a narrow first or a close second to former South Bend Mayor

Pete Buttigieg.

The Vermont Senator now leads in New Hampshire by 4.7 points in the Real Clear Politics average. He has so far held off

Elizabeth Warren,

his main challenger on the left, who finished a distant third in Iowa and trails in the Granite State.

A second victory would give Mr. Sanders momentum for this month’s later contests in Nevada, where the polls have tightened, and South Carolina, where voters who favor

Joe Biden

might be looking for a new champion if the former Vice President continues to fade. The Morning Consult poll says Mr. Sanders is the top second choice for Biden supporters, with 27%.

Mike Bloomberg

is next with 21%.

Mr. Sanders has taken a 4.8-point lead in California, the largest delegate prize on March 3. That day will also include primaries in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Utah and Vermont, all states that Bernie won in 2016. Mr. Sanders won’t lack for money, having raised $25 million last month, on top of the $108 million he previously raised from mostly small donors, according to data at OpenSecrets.org.

All of this is a credit to Mr. Sanders’s grass-roots appeal. He has struck a chord in particular with millennial voters who don’t recall the miseries of Cold War-era socialism. The Senator is running as an outsider in an era when millions of Americans mistrust elite institutions. Not unlike

Donald Trump,

he campaigns as a fighter for those left behind. The difference is that his foils are corporations and the wealthy, the classic targets of left-wing populists.

The risk for his supporters and the Democratic Party is that Bernie’s platform is the most explicitly left-wing since at least

Henry Wallace

in 1948. He wants to nationalize health insurance, eliminating 170 million private policies. He wants a $16.3 trillion Green New Deal and a $2.5 trillion housing plan, to include national rent control. He wants to cancel $1.6 trillion in student debt and ban fracking. He wants a “wealth tax” on individual net worth, with rates up to 8% a year. He wants a federal law saying workers can’t be fired without “just cause.”

All of this is no longer disqualifying in a Democratic primary because the party took a sharp left turn during the

Obama

years and has kept driving. Mr. Sanders’s backers also remember being scolded to rally behind the “electable”

Hillary Clinton.

Now that pitch has less salience for Mr. Biden. Progressives think Mr. Trump’s personal unpopularity offers a unique chance to win the White House with an agenda that yanks the country to the left.

***

All of which confronts Democrats with a dilemma not unlike the one Republicans faced four years ago in Mr. Trump. Their panic is already palpable, yet who can they rally behind as the alternative?

Mr. Biden finished fourth in Iowa and might be the collateral damage of

Nancy Pelosi’s

impeachment missile. She aimed at Mr. Trump and hit Uncle Joe. Mr. Buttigieg is rising in New Hampshire and could become the default non-socialist alternative. But he’s a 38-year-old former small-city mayor who hasn’t attracted much African-American support.

Mr. Bloomberg is pouring hundreds of millions into ads in March 3 primary states, but what if his main contribution is to siphon votes from Mr. Buttigieg, or Mr. Biden if he’s still running? Democrats also have to worry about appearing to conspire to deny Mr. Sanders the nomination, alienating his supporters whom they will need to win in November.

Republicans will be tempted to cheer, thinking Mr. Trump would trounce Mr. Sanders. Some GOP officials in South Carolina, the Charleston Post and Courier reports, plan to urge Republicans to vote for Bernie in the state’s open primary. This is playing with fire.

Mr. Sanders is beating Mr. Trump in most head-to-head polls in key states, and simply labeling him a socialist won’t be enough. In this politically volatile age, the impossible can soon become inevitable. Ask the Democrats who rejoiced when the GOP nominated Mr. Trump.

The Democratic Party’s Iowa caucus results were delayed by the failure of an app designed to speed up the process. Image: Reuters/Shutterstock / Composite: Brad Howard

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