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Are Divisions In The Democratic Party As Problematic As They Were In 2016?


Bernie Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist. He is also now one of the top candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination, and that has several others in the race fighting to secure their position as the moderate alternative.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: Our nominee is dividing people with a politics that says if you don't go all the way to the edge, it doesn't count - a politics that says it's my way or the highway.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you talking about Senator Sanders?


JOE BIDEN: Bernie's a good guy. But you want to run? You say you know Louisiana and you know Georgia. You want to run with the top of the ticket, defining the Democratic Party, as a socialist?

AMY KLOBUCHAR: I think we are not going to be able to out divide the divider in chief. And I think we need someone to head up this ticket that actually brings people with her instead of shutting them out.

MARTIN: That was, in order, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar. So are divisions within the Democratic Party as problematic as they were in 2016? We're going to explore this question with Jennifer Palmieri, a communications director in the Obama White House as well as communications director for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential bid. She joins us from our studios in New York.

Jennifer, thanks for being with us.

JENNIFER PALMIERI: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So there is a new Hendrix College poll out that shows Buttigieg, Bloomberg, Biden and Sanders each winning 15 to 20% in Arkansas, which is one of the upcoming Super Tuesday states. What is going on?

PALMIERI: I just spent a week in Iowa and a week in New Hampshire and was able to talk to a lot of voters. And I think that Democrats are still trying to find their orientation in the 2020 race. I think that the Trump victory was so disorienting in and of itself that they are scared of making a mistake and really working hard to consider who the best alternative is. And that's resulting in, I think, what will probably be a long contest and a fractured field in terms of, you know, that's why you see - it's very unusual to have multiple candidates in double digits in terms of support once people are already voting.

MARTIN: So a lot of that, as we've indicated, has to do with the moderate lane. I mean, you take Bernie Sanders - Elizabeth Warren is fading a little bit right now, but she is still fighting for a position in that progressive wing. The moderates are all over the place trying to secure their position. Let's talk, though, about whether or not the Democratic Party wants Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee. I mean, as you know, it was so contentious in 2016. And when he lost that nomination, his supporters were angry. I mean, do you think the party would be willing to have Sanders as the nominee?

PALMIERI: Well, you know, Sanders could be - I think Sanders - you have to consider Sanders a front-runner right now. He - you know, Pete Buttigieg is leading in delegates, but Sanders won popular vote in both Iowa and New Hampshire. And you know, the question is - how does it proceed from Super Tuesday on, which is only three weeks away? And if, you know, Sanders does seem on track - you know, he could be on track right now to go into Milwaukee - into the Democratic convention with more delegates than everyone else. You know, at that - if that's the situation that we're facing, I think that it's real hard for him to not walk out of Milwaukee as the nominee.

So you know, it's not as if I think - people often say, why don't the Democrats get it together? - as if they're a monolith or if there's someone in charge other than voters making these decisions. And so long as we have a multiple-candidate field, Sanders could continue to lead in delegates, even with a plurality, if not - but not a majority. And you know, we just, it's - I think the next three weeks, you know, people spend in Iowa (laughter) - people spend a year in Iowa and New Hampshire, but really what's going to matter is the next three weeks to leading to Super Tuesday...

MARTIN: Right.

PALMIERI: ...And what happens in those 14 states.

MARTIN: I am sure you have watched James Carville on his media blitz recently - longtime Democratic strategist. He doesn't like the idea of a Sanders nomination, quite frankly. And he says, in general, that candidates should focus less on controversial issues like legalizing border crossings and more on kitchen table issues like the economy. Let's listen to a clip of him on MSNBC.


JAMES CARVILLE: There's only one moral imperative in this country right now, and that is to beat Donald Trump. That's the only moral imperative. It's the only thing I want to hear. And until we understand that - look, we win every argument, Brian. We'd win an argument on anything. We don't win elections because we talk about stuff that is not relevant.

MARTIN: Does he have a point?

PALMIERI: I mean, he - sure. But again, this is up to voters to decide. It's not as if there's one person that can decide - that is going to be in a position to tell other candidates to drop out so there's only one moderate alternative to Sanders. That's not how this works. Voters are going to decide that.

And you know, the - what's sort of hanging out there is the Bloomberg candidacy as the big question mark. I think the Bloomberg candidacy is predicated - was predicated on the idea that Biden might collapse. And you know, the Biden campaign will tell you, well, South Carolina's our firewall; South Carolina votes in about 10 days. But voters are not waiting for South Carolina to panic. Voters are panicking now. And that's why I think you see Bloomberg's numbers start to rise.

So I think what's going to happen in the moderate lane is that you have the Nevada caucus next Saturday, and then you have the South Carolina primary the following Saturday. If the moderates that are competing now - Buttigieg, Biden and Klobuchar - do not emerge - if one of them does not emerge as a leader among the moderates before Super Tuesday, that could be a chance for Michael Bloomberg to dominate that day.

MARTIN: All right. Jennifer Palmieri, we appreciate your time.

PALMIERI: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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