'Bernie or bust' remains a potent force despite his health concerns

'Bernie or bust' remains a potent force despite his health concerns
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At dinner on Friday in Chicago something very “Bernie” happened. My boyfriend and I were discussing recent developments surrounding President TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE’s potential impeachment and our server, while dropping off the check, chimed in, “I couldn’t help but hear you discussing politics and you’re my only table talking about it! Do you think he’ll be impeached?”

I happily obliged her question by laying out all the elements, and handicapped the Democratic primary race to boot. She was very well versed in campaign matters, and a bit of a cable news TV junkie herself, having watched MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow before her shift. 

At 28 years old, she is white, working-class and a self-identified progressive. It was only a matter of time until we heard the inevitable: “I’m backing Bernie.” And it did come, though after rattling off a litany of reasons why she likes Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Trump DACA fight hits Supreme Court Democrats on edge as Iowa points to chaotic race MORE (D-Mass). Beyond policy, she told us, “It’s time for a lady president,” and then paused before adding, “but Bernie made my whole generation interested in politics.”

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As a member of that same millennial generation, though admittedly on the upper end of it, I’ve heard this more times than I can count. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Democrats on edge as Iowa points to chaotic race Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal MORE (I-Vt.) is credited with mobilizing young voters in 2016, a demographic that remained lukewarm toward Hillary Clinton throughout the primary and into the general election. 

The 2020 presidential election is a different beast altogether, with two progressives in the primary race. Warren, the current co-frontrunner with former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Trump DACA fight hits Supreme Court Juan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete MORE, has undoubtedly complicated Sanders’ trajectory — as has the question of “electability” as the top concern for a majority of Democratic voters in poll after poll.

A Democratic primary electorate focused on winning the general election is an electorate least favorable to Sanders. Being irascible and openly grumpy, as well as being almost a decade older than Warren, undoubtedly has contributed to making Sanders the second-choice progressive. As a result, he hovers in the mid-teens in polling while Warren pulls in an average of 26 percent support.

Quite naturally, there is concern over Sanders’s health, given his recent heart attack. About two-thirds of Democratic primary voters said that his health is a “legitimate issue” in the latest Economist/YouGov survey. In the weekend's CBS News battleground tracker poll, 43 percent of early state Democratic voters say Sanders is too old, up from 37 percent in September. And we've seen a 7 percent increase in concern about his age in the last four weeks.

But Sanders says that he’s ready to go back to campaigning at “full blast.” In an interview with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Sanders noted that he probably won’t be doing four rallies a day — the breakneck pace he had been maintaining for months — but that he’s feeling great. To that end, videos of him hitting a baseball in his yard and backing his car out of the driveway are making the rounds on social media. He’s back—  and better than ever — his supporters crow!

Even Cardi B, his highest profile supporter, isn’t giving up on him. Cardi told Vogue’s creative director, Sally Stringer, “It’s a little tricky, now that he’s had the heart attack. I feel like people are trying to paint Bernie as this little scrawny little man — which is crazy! He’s pretty strong and very tall, you know? He’s 6’1”!  I don't feel like, just because he has a heart attack, [that it] is a problem, right? I have asthma. Does that mean I’m not going to perform any more?”

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A world without Cardi B performing is not a world in which I want to live. And likewise, Sanders’s hardcore supporters are in much the same place they were before his heart attack: dug in. 

In a lot of ways, they’re not that dissimilar to President Trump’s most loyal base. We frequently talk about those voters who would support the president no matter what. He could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and they’d still be with him, he told America — and he’s largely been right. That group is an estimated 20-25 percent of the Republican electorate and, likewise, Sanders has his 15 percent of the Democratic base. 

However, that’s about all he’s got — or gonna get. The trajectory of his race hasn’t changed because of his heart attack. 

Accordingly, the odds are just as high, now that we are headed to a contested convention next summer, as they were a few months ago — and certainly before Sanders’ heart attack. The new rule that super delegates will get to weigh in only if there’s not a clear winner makes the race with co-frontrunners likely to end in a brokered convention. If Sanders didn’t go quietly into the night in 2016, imagine what 2020 will look like, especially with the fundraising numbers he’s been posting.

Without a single vote cast yet, things will surely change. But with Warren stealing away supporters from Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal Women who inspired 'Hidden Figures' film will be honored with congressional gold medals MORE (D-Calif.), as well as a few of Sanders’s folks, and Biden’s support remaining stable despite the controversy over his son’s dealings in Ukraine, I believe Sanders is where he is destined to be, heart attack or not. 

The moral of the story is that #BernieOrBust folks aren’t being cute; they’re very real. And they’re not going anywhere. 

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.