Bernie Sanders has spent a good part of his career on the fringes of politics, an outsider looking inward.
Now, the political protestor is discovering what it is to be the favorite in a great political party.
Sanders was the target of persistent attacks in the Democratic debate on Tuesday, both of his more moderate rivals and of his closest competitor, Senator Elizabeth Warren. He faced questions about the cost and scope of his broad legislative projects. His leadership ability was questioned and his temper was tested like never before in his career.RELATED
“Tonight I have heard my name quite a lot. I wonder why? ”Sanders joked.
Indeed, that all against one reflected the new reality of the race for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States. Driven by a wave of enthusiasm among young voters and by the force of an increasingly diverse coalition, Sanders has won two of the first three votes and practically tied in the third. He competes aggressively in South Carolina, which votes on Saturday, and could gain advantage in the crucial fight for delegates in the Super Tuesday primaries next week.
For Sanders, this is unknown political territory.
He has spent 40 years in politics as an agitator, regardless of the party apparatus. He has won elections as an independent and goes on his own at the Capitol. He is proud to be inflexible in ideology and has been willing to criticize Democratic leaders, including former President Barack Obama, for considering that they made concessions for political convenience.
Now, four years after his previous attempt to reach the White House made him rise to fame, he seems on track to become the Democratic flagman and his party’s candidate to face the president’s election, Donald Trump, in the November elections.
The Sanders force has worried many Democrats, who fear that their strict progressive ideology will dissuade voters in undecided states, especially women from the suburbs that were crucial for the party to regain control of the House of Representatives in 2018. Donors and Other party elites are nervous that another moderate candidate can overtake him in the coming weeks, but they admit that this is increasingly unlikely unless the primaries take a considerable turn.
His rivals tried to make that change of direction in Tuesday’s debate. They lashed out against the Vermont sen ator with harsh attacks, and sometimes put him on the defensive.
Former Vice President Joe Biden criticized his effectiveness as a legislator, noting that “in fact, Bernie has not approved much.”
Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, accused Sanders of changing cost estimates for his large projects, including a healthcare system known as “Medicare for all.”
New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said Sanders would not only lose to Trump, but his candidacy would be a “catastrophe” for Democratic congressional candidates running in more moderate states and districts.
“Can anyone in this room imagine moderate Republicans going out to vote for him?” Asked Bloomberg.
Even Warren, a friend and ideologically close to Sanders, attacked him firmly for the first time, finally giving in to his followers, who urged the senator to present herself explicitly as the most pragmatic and effective progressive candidate.
“Bernie and I agree on many things, but I think I would be a better president than Bernie,” Warren said.
Sanders was prepared for the attacks. When he saw his chances at the polls questioned, he presented polls that indicated he would win Trump if they both compete for the presidency. When he was pressed on whether it was feasible to implement his expensive state project plan, he said the idea that his policies are radical was wrong.
However, he was forced to admit that he made a “bad vote” by ruling against hardening arms control in the Senate.
And when he defended some positive comments he recently made about Cuban leader Fidel Castro, he seemed surprised when someone in the debate room in Charleston, South Carolina, booed him.
“Really? Really? ”He asked the crowd.
The offensive was a relief for the defenders of their rivals, increasingly alarmed by their chances in the general elections and warning that time is running out to prevent Sanders from getting the candidacy.
“They saw him under pressure, finally pressured by the other candidates,” said Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington and supporter of Bloomberg.
The next few days will be a test of whether the growing scrutiny about Sanders has raised doubts among voters. He is not expected to win in South Carolina, but he has cash available and is investing in the state this week in the hopes of giving surprise and blocking Biden, who needs a convincing victory to continue campaigning.
However, Sanders’ real objective is the numerous delegates at play on March 3, when states like California, the most coveted jewel of the primaries, vote.
Sanders’ team was confident after the debate, claiming that the senator had benefited from being the center of attention.
“He was attacked with everything,” said Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and a major supporter of Sanders. “I was at the center of that stage, where everyone else wanted to be.”