Ross Douthat and Rich Lowry are two of many to take a look at how the movement to stop Sanders seems to have succeeded while the stop-Trump effort in 2016 failed. They have good analyses, as usual. But there’s one important difference that they omit (and that I haven’t seen highlighted elsewhere).
The opposition to Trump could not consolidate in 2016 because it drew from opposite sides of the Republican Party. Ted Cruz appealed to Republicans who consider themselves very conservative, while John Kasich appealed to Republicans who consider themselves moderate. Kasich’s backers largely preferred Trump to Cruz, and Cruz’s backers even more heavily favored Trump over Kasich. In that three-way race, Trump was the candidate of the middle of the party.
The exit polls from the Republican primary in North Carolina from March 15, 2016 tell the tale. Cruz’s support was lopsided to the right: He got 54 percent of the very-conservatives and 20 percent of the moderates. Kasich was the other way around, with 6 percent of the very-conservatives and 28 percent of the moderates. Trump did well with both groups (taking 33 percent of the verycons and 40 percent of the mods) but did best with a group in the middle: voters who called themselves “somewhat conservative” (Trump got 46 percent of them). That middle group was a plurality of all voters. Trump won the state by four points.
Now, take a look at some of the exit polls from this week in the Democratic race. In Texas, Sanders beat Biden 48-19 percent among “very liberal” voters while losing “somewhat liberal” voters 28-36 and “moderate or conservative” voters 23-39. Biden won the state. In Minnesota, Biden did about as badly among very-libs as Sanders did among mod/cons. But the second group was larger, and the plurality group — “somewhat liberal” — backed Biden. Support for Sanders is concentrated on the left wing of the party, while Biden is doing well in the middle and right.
Sanders is the factional candidate, as Kasich and Cruz were in 2016. He isn’t the Trump of this race, as the usual parallel has it. Biden is.