SOUTH BEND – Many of the Democrats whose No. 1 political goal is defeating President Trump now ponder a dilemma with Bernie Sanders. They fear they cannot win with Bernie. They fear they cannot win without him.

If they aren’t part of the Sanders revolution, they fear that the democratic socialist with strident ideological views on sweeping changes, including Medicare for all, would lose in key Middle America battleground states, enabling Trump again to prevail in the Electoral College. They fear Sanders could even drag down Democratic congressional candidates in swing districts, resulting in a Republican-controlled House.

What if one of the more moderate candidates wins the nomination to offer voters a bigger tent? Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar? Or even the less ideologically stringent Elizabeth Warren? Would that mean a wider appeal, winning over voters who don’t really approve of Trump but aren’t likely to approve of Sanders’ revolution either?

Maybe. 

But then there is the other horn of the dilemma. Would there then be once again enough angry members of the Bernie base refusing to vote for the Democratic nominee  – staying home or voting third party – to enable Trump to prevail just like in 2016 in the Electoral College?

Trump, delighted with this situation, tries to sharpen both horns of the Democrats’ dilemma. He encourages his supporters, with no Republican nomination contest, to cross over to Democratic primaries to vote for Sanders. Trump relishes a race against Sanders. He seeks to affix a “Crazy Bernie” label and likens “socialist” to “communist.” At the same time, Trump promotes a perception that Sanders is a victim of a “rigged” Democratic nomination process in which the party organization plots to keep Sanders from winning. That’s aimed at keeping the Bernie base from the polls in November if their hero isn’t nominated.

The Bernie Bros are just as unwavering in supporting Sanders as is the Trump base in supporting the president.

As Trump famously said, he could shoot somebody in the middle of New York’s Fifth Avenue and not lose his supporters. Well, Bernie also could shoot someone there or anywhere and not lose his supporters. Fervent backers in each camp would brush off a shooting as fake news or obviously justified.

For Sanders, that loyal, unwavering base, even if it’s only the 25.7% he got in New Hampshire, may well be enough to win the nomination, while the other Democratic contenders split the other three-fourths of the vote.

Nate Silver, the guru of analyzing presidential races, puts it this way: “Sanders is in the strongest position for now, and he has a high floor of support that should win him delegates almost everywhere, while the rest of the field is a mess behind him.” Contenders in that mess behind him chop up the remaining three-fourths of the vote and chop up each other, as they did in the Las Vegas debate.

In New Hampshire, where Sanders actually underperformed a bit, he still had enough base support to stave off his nearest opponent, South Bend’s Pete Buttigieg. “The voters who pushed Sanders past Pete Buttigieg in New Hampshire could fit within half a college hockey rink,” Silver noted.

If Amy Klobuchar had not come on strong in third place in New Hampshire, taking “moderate” votes that might otherwise have gone to Buttigieg, Sanders could have suffered a humiliating defeat in a state where he was an overwhelming favorite.

But with the New Hampshire win, Sanders became regarded as the frontrunner. He has a path on Super Tuesday, March 3, to run farther in front, perhaps to run away with the nomination.

So, many a Democrat who isn’t a fervent backer of the Sanders revolution ponders a dilemma: Fear that Democrats cannot win with Bernie and fear that they cannot win without him. 

Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.