LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Bernie Sanders was the winner in the Nevada caucus, and his chief challengers wasted no time in warning Democrats that Sanders would be a reckless choice for nominee.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PETE BUTTIGIEG: Senator Sanders believes in an inflexible ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Pete Buttigieg speaking last night. He went on to say that Sanders wouldn't change the toxic tone of U.S. politics.
Joining us now to talk about the race is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So Sanders won big, but he's still seen as a huge risk by moderates in the party. We heard Buttigieg saying so. Others took indirect swipes at Sanders. Biden, for instance, said that he personally ain't a socialist. Will these attacks have any impact on Sanders' momentum?
LIASSON: That is the big question. Up until now, really only Mike Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg have been willing to go after Sanders. For the most part, the center-left candidates have been in a circular firing squad attacking Mike Bloomberg. Will that change now? There are already attack ads. Pete Buttigieg has one in South Carolina running against Bernie Sanders.
But the problem is that the leading center-left alternatives to Bernie Sanders - Mike Bloomberg and Joe Biden - have failed to perform at a level high enough to clear the field. And the center-left candidates now have what you could call a collective action problem. They all believe it's better if there's one alternative to Sanders, but none - no one of them is willing to drop out to make that happen. So the bottom line is Bernie Sanders has the clearest path to come into the Milwaukee convention with a plurality of delegates. Even one-third might be enough to get the nomination if the opposition to him is split many ways.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Mara, this brings up the issue of tensions inside the Democratic Party. Sanders himself has said he's running against the Democratic establishment. How are these tensions kind of playing out in real time?
LIASSON: Well, I've been racking my brains. Who is the Democratic establishment these days?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Where's this...
LIASSON: Now - yeah, because there's no DNC with their thumb on the scale this time. Bernie Sanders has been in elected office for about 40 years. Maybe he means the Democratic establishment are people who don't agree with him. I'm not sure. But the difference is that Bernie Sanders has a different mission from the other candidates. As he says, every day, he is running to lead a political revolution. He wants to move American politics to the left. He's not running to lead a political party.
And as Pete Buttigieg said - yesterday, he said the only true way to deliver on any of the progressive changes we care about is to be a nominee who actually gives a damn about the effect you're having from the top of the ticket on frontline Democrats. And what you hear from those frontline Democrats - incumbent Democrats in the House and Senate - are candidates who want to flip a Senate seat. They're worried that with Sanders on the top of the ticket, they could possibly lose the House and lose the chance to pick up the Senate seats in Colorado, Arizona, Maine or hang on to one in Michigan.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. We don't know a lot about this, but I do want to bring up this other thing. The intelligence community apparently briefed Bernie Sanders that Russia is interfering to try and help his campaign. There are many questions here that are still unanswered. Why was this leaked now? What is this intelligence? How robust is it? But let's look at how Sanders reacted.
LIASSON: That's right. He was briefed about a month ago. He didn't make it public until the story broke. He was asked on Friday why he thought the story broke now, a month after he was briefed, and here's what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BERNIE SANDERS: I'll let you guess - about one day before the Nevada caucus. Why do you think it came out? It was The Washington Post? Good friends.
LIASSON: The Washington Post said they broke the story when they had the story. Bernie Sanders didn't call the Post fake news or enemy of the people, but he sounded a lot like President Trump. To his credit, Sanders says he doesn't want Russian interference. Putin isn't a friend of his. He's making it clear that he is reacting to this news in a completely different way than Donald Trump, who denies Russian interference, pretends it isn't happening. But from what we know about the intelligence briefings, the intelligence community thinks that Russia seems to want Sanders to win the primary and Donald Trump to win the general election. And coincidentally or not, Donald Trump also wants Bernie Sanders to win the primary.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.