In the three weeks since his pre-determined impeachment acquittal in the Senate, President Trump has shown people like Sen. Susan Collins that he did indeed learn a lesson: that the GOP has given him license to do whatever he wants to in any manner.

Trump is on a mission to punish those who did their duty by testifying to what they knew, demonize and squash his political opponents, and abuse his power even more by having a corrupt attorney general put his finger on the scale of matters of political interest to the president. The man whose staunchest defenders in Congress assure us he is “concerned about corruption” are openly cheering his own corruption as he blatantly erodes the rule of law.

We the people who want to preserve the integrity of our institutions have one chance to get this right in November.

And yet, a plurality of Democratic primary and caucus voters, to this point, appear ready to potentially send the party over a cliff and gift-wrap Trump’s re-election to him.

By now, Bernie Sanders has established himself as the clear Democratic front-runner. If he performs well in South Carolina on Saturday, Feb. 29, and has a strong showing on Super Tuesday, March 3, he’ll likely be well on his way to clinching the nomination without anyone to stop him.

That has sparked angst among much of the party as well as people planning to cross over and vote Democrat (perhaps for the first time ever). They believe having Sanders at the top of the ticket will not only result in a second term for Trump, but also the possible loss of the House of Representatives and Republicans maintaining control of the Senate, leaving the wannabe autocrat completely unchecked.

“The fate of the world depends on the Democrats getting their **** together and winning in November,” James Carville, the famed political strategist and architect of Bill Clinton’s winning presidential campaign in 1992, said recently in an interview with left-leaning Vox. Throughout the interview, Carville unloaded on Sanders and the party’s seeming race to the left and warned that in the virtual ignoring of Trump’s shenanigans in the debates and distraction from not developing a winning message and building a coalition that will rid the country of the current president.

“The Republicans have destroyed their party and turned it into a personality cult, but if anyone thinks they can’t win, they’re out of their damn minds,” Carville said.

Now, it is worth pointing out that at this point a Sanders presidency would be far better than four more years of Trump, as Carville and those of similar minds would agree. Sanders will push a “Democratic socialist” platform, but he will not lead some oppressive communist regime as some would contend.

“America under a Sanders presidency would still be America, both because Sanders is an infinitely better human being than Trump and because the Democratic Party wouldn’t enable abuse of power the way Republicans have,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote earlier this week. “I’m more concerned about (a) the electability of someone who says he’s a socialist even though he isn’t and (b) if he does win, whether he’ll squander political capital on unwinnable fights like abolishing private health insurance. But if he’s the nominee, it’s the job of Dems to make him electable if at all possible.”

While Krugman’s contention is that Sanders “isn’t the left’s Trump,” Sanders defenders have pointed out that media talking heads who also talked four years ago about how Trump could never be the Republican nominee shouldn’t be listened to when they make the same statements about Sanders.

It is true that Sanders is showing the ability to turn out more voters and is expanding the diversity of his coalition. He has tapped into a real anger out there, and he’s got an army for a base.

But Democrats have also got to face the facts on the ground. The Democratic primary electorate is not the same as the general election electorate will be. And the Republicans, and now sadly by extension the Russians, are licking their chops at the prospect of a Sanders candidacy and are gleeful about the thought of exploiting a history of him saying some politically outright kooky things.

Last week, we learned that the Russians are once again working to elect Trump, but that they are also trying to influence the Democratic primaries in a way that will make it easier for Sanders to become the nominee. Sanders apparently learned this from U.S. intelligence officials five weeks ago, chose to keep it under wraps instead of being transparent about it and then bizarrely seemed to chide The Washington Post and others for reporting on it on the eve of the Nevada caucuses.

It’s not hard to ascertain why the Russians would be doing both of these things: They want Trump to remain in power, and they feel like Sanders as the Democratic nominee most easily guarantees that. Democrats and those who recognize this country can’t take another four years of Trump had better pay attention to that, and they better pay attention to those warning that Sanders would face an uphill climb to 270 electoral votes.

At the end of the day, the bottom line number on Democrats’ minds and the minds of those planning to vote Democrat should be 38. That’s the number of net electoral votes the Democratic nominee needs to gain in November to win the election. And they’ll have to do it through some combination of Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, with Georgia and North Carolina as other (but less likely) possibilities. It doesn’t matter how big of a margin he runs up in the blue states; can he win in those critical swing states? There are some warning signs that suggest the answer is no.

If he can’t take back all three of those Rust Belt states that Trump pried away in 2016, he almost certainly has to win Florida. And going on “60 Minutes” and saying that while the Castro regime in Cuba was brutal and oppressive, it also had some good features like a focus on literacy and decent health care, isn’t going to win crucial votes in south Florida. I didn’t hear anything malicious in Sanders’ comments, but it’s just a completely stupid thing to say. It can be used as easy fodder for the right, and it can be construed as the same kind of mind-bending logic Republicans used to say that low unemployment, a decent economy and more conservative federal judges give Trump a pass on corruption and his attempted destruction of the rule of law.

All that said, as Sanders supporters would point out, if Bernie isn’t “electable,” who is, or who can actually win the nomination? Michael Bloomberg is spending millions and millions in advertising in an attempt to be relevant but has shown the charisma of a dry sponge. All that money would be put to better use in so many other ways. Joe Biden has led an admirable life of public service but has never proven to be good at running for president.

Elizabeth Warren delivered a well-deserved takedown of Bloomberg and saw a fundraising spike after her debate performance last week, but still couldn’t reach a double-digit percentage in Nevada. She has been effectively boxed in by Sanders’ candidacy.

Pete Buttigieg has been a trailblazing candidate in more ways than one and given an important voice to a new generation of leaders, while Amy Klobuchar is a tough and competent female candidate with a proven track record of winning and coalition-building. But neither has been able to pull together large numbers of black and minority voters to this point, and if that isn’t corrected quickly, their candidacies will not survive.

It would stand to reason that if this isn’t all practically over by a week from now, it will be time for several candidates to “come to Jesus,” end their campaign and coalesce around someone else who they feel can go the distance if they worry about what a Sanders nomination will mean.

Whatever happens, Democratic voters — and this especially goes for the online “Bernie bros” — must fully rally around the nominee in order to have the best chance of defeating Trump.

There is indeed one chance to get this right. And that Carville quote is ringing loudly in my ear.

Scott Thompson is editor of the Barrow News-Journal. He can be reached at sthompson@barrownewsjournal.com.

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