Bernie Sanders has been battling bad news lately. He’s stuck in the polls, or maybe even losing ground. He’s lost the “left/progressive” lead to Elizabeth Warren. He’s had to shake up his campaign organization in crucial states. Key supporters, like the Working Families Party, have abandoned him.
But this morning brings the worst possible headline for Sanders 2020: “Sanders Has Heart Surgery.”
It may well be a blip on the radar, and Bernie may live to be a happy, healthy 120 years old. But he’s the oldest candidate in the race and would be the oldest sitting president at the beginning of his term in office. Medical issues have always been the hidden shoal that could sink his campaign.
And health-wise, he’s on a bad run.
He barely had a voice at the most recent Democratic debate. He canceled some appearances shortly afterward. And now, not only does his campaign have to deal with scary headlines, but he’ll be off the trail “until further notice,” in the words of Sanders consigliere Jeff Weaver.
Which might also be a blip on the radar. If he gets back to full speed within days and maintains a robust schedule, this will be forgotten by the time Iowans head to their caucuses. But if he’s sidelined for a week or more, his people will be answering the same questions every day. The Sanders coverage will be centered entirely on his health. If he can’t resume a full schedule until, say, late October, he may have lost his chance to regain momentum.
We’ve already seen and heard plenty of potential Sanders supporters wonder whether his time has passed. Those concerns will now intensify — even if he returns quickly to the campaign trail.
Fair or not, when you’re a 78-year-old running for the most demanding job in the country, you have to show that you’re up to the job. (Joe Biden faces the same scrutiny.) Sanders can overcome this, but probably not another scare. He’ll to stay energetic for the rest of the campaign. If he has another incident, even if it’s not terribly serious, it might be time to fold the tent and endorse Warren.