ST. LOUIS — To Senator Bernie Sanders, there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to his recent reversal of fortune. For everyone but him and his campaign.
The “corporate media” didn’t pay attention to his agenda.
The Democratic Party establishment aligned to block him from winning its presidential nomination.
And the young voters he counted on to power his campaign didn’t come through for him.
“Let me tell you the bad news, to be honest with you, young people vote at much lower rates than older people,” the Vermont senator told a St. Louis crowd of mostly young people Monday morning. “All right? That is the facts. I hope all of the old people vote, that’s great, but I want young people to vote at the same rates.”
Political candidates are not generally given to self-criticism. And as Mr. Sanders has seen his fortunes slide after a 30-point South Carolina loss to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., followed by Mr. Biden’s unexpected strength across Super Tuesday, he has cited a number of factors that portray him as an aggrieved outsider.
It comes at a time of particular weakness for Mr. Sanders. Through 18 states, his theory of the election has not proven true. The surge of new voters in the Democratic primaries has featured mostly older people, moderate suburbanites and African-Americans disinclined to support his campaign.
As Democrats in Michigan, Missouri and four other states hold nominating contests Tuesday, Mr. Sanders, his team and his supporters have come up with explanations for his loss of momentum that deflect the responsibility onto others.
So when Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar dropped out of the race and endorsed Mr. Biden, to the Sanders camp it wasn’t because they’d won next to no support from black voters and run out of money, it was part of an establishment plot. And Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris were simply joining the effort to block Mr. Sanders when they backed Mr. Biden this week.
“If they thought that Joe Biden was the best choice, maybe they shouldn’t have run,” Rasheen Aldridge, a Missouri state representative who was a warm-up speaker for Mr. Sanders in St. Louis, said in an interview. “Some of these candidates — Kamala has been out for a long time, Booker has been out for a while. It’s all very kind of fishy how things are working out.”
The 2016 campaign established Mr. Sanders as the Democratic Party’s foremost practitioner of grievance politics. Like Donald Trump in that year’s Republican primary, Mr. Sanders tapped into populist anger to upend a major political party.
Then, Mr. Sanders denounced Democratic National Committee debate rules he said favored Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a superdelegate system he argued empowered party insiders over grass-roots voters. His vociferous, public complaints led the D.N.C. to enact substantive changes to the rules for caucus states and to strip first-ballot voting power from superdelegates at the party’s convention.
Now the Sanders campaign says the policies he’s pitching as a democratic socialist — “Medicare for all,” free public college tuition and other proposals — represent an existential threat to powerful operators that have prompted an unusually coordinated effort to block his rise.
“We face a unique uphill battle that other candidates don’t because of the agenda that he stands for,” a campaign spokesman, Mike Casca, said. “Because of the agenda that he’s putting forward, a lot of super wealthy forces are aligned against him.”
Yet others close to the Sanders campaign say he didn’t expect to find himself trailing Mr. Biden at this point in the race and is trying to save face with his most ardent supporters by blaming others. It’s also not bad for fund-raising — perhaps uniquely among the 2020 candidates, Mr. Sanders does just as well with online contributions after he loses states than when he wins.
The ability to keep raising tons of money can allow Mr. Sanders to prolong his candidacy even if voters this week and next deliver a verdict more favorable to Mr. Biden.
Mr. Sanders blamed his Super Tuesday performance in part on the “venom” of the “corporate media.” Last month, his campaign manager said the liberal cable network MSNBC had been unfair to Mr. Sanders, while Mr. Sanders said supporters in California “may find it impossible” to vote for him because of the state’s mail ballot rules.
When he went on MSNBC to discuss the Super Tuesday results with Rachel Maddow, Mr. Sanders said that some polling shows he’s beating Mr. Biden among African-Americans but attributed his weak showing among black voters to the fact that “we’re running against somebody who has touted his relationship with Barack Obama for eight years.”
Even among those ideologically inclined to back Mr. Sanders, he has engendered little sympathy in recent days. Adam Jentleson, a close ally of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign — who has not been shy about expressing his own grievances about perceived outside forces that limited her campaign — said Mr. Sanders does himself little good in arguing others are responsible for his shortcomings.
“Blame-shifting is pointless because nobody swoops in and hands you the nomination; you have to win it,” Mr. Jentleson said. “The nominee needs to be the leader of the whole party and Bernie’s job was to convince people he could be that.”
Though Mr. Sanders’s campaign would love to get Ms. Warren’s endorsement, he has not publicly made an issue of it, saying she deserves the time to make her own determination. Privately, aides have expressed irritation that she withheld her backing while Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar quickly rallied to Mr. Biden, and many of Mr. Sanders’s supporters have publicly denounced her online.
“Imagine if the progressives consolidated last night like the moderates consolidated, who would have won?” Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota wrote on Twitter after Mr. Biden swept 10 of 14 Super Tuesday states. “That’s what we should be analyzing. I feel confident a united progressive front would have allowed for us to #BuildTogether and win MN and other states we narrowly lost.”
Mr. Sanders on Monday declined to answer a question about when he had last spoken to Ms. Warren.
Mr. Sanders also scoffed at the endorsement of Mr. Biden by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan — whom Mr. Sanders backed in the 2018 general election after campaigning for her opponent in the primary.
When Ms. Whitmer said Mr. Biden would be the party’s best nominee, Mr. Sanders said: “Well, that wasn’t her thoughts when I came here to help her get elected, as a matter of fact.”
Then on Sunday, Mr. Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week” that Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar were forced out of the race by party leaders intent on blocking his rise.
“One of the things I was kind of not surprised by was the power of the establishment to force Amy Klobuchar, who had worked so hard, Pete Buttigieg, who had really worked extremely hard as well, out of the race,” he said, in a remark that managed to unite aides to Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar, who spent months in deep political conflict with each other.
“What was very clear from the media narrative and what the establishment wanted was to make sure that people coalesced around Biden and tried to defeat me,’’ he added. “So that’s not surprising.”
By Monday in St. Louis, that sentiment was evident among Sanders supporters in the audience.
“I’m frustrated that a lot of the candidates in the field endorsed Biden,” said Jen McCabe, an information technology saleswoman from Kirkwood, Mo. “I think they gave into D.N.C. and super PAC pressure. We need to get that money out of the primary.”
Mr. Sanders made his final pitch to Michigan voters on Fox News Monday night, hardly the go-to news source for Democratic primary voters. During a town hall event in Dearborn, Mich., he blamed the news media in general for negative coverage and cited a New York Times article he didn’t like about a trip he made to the Soviet Union to launch a sister city program when he was mayor of Burlington, Vt. “What we need from the media is honesty and respect,” he said.
Asked by a voter how he’d get a resistant Congress to enact his slate of progressive proposals, Mr. Sanders said people who believe he can’t work with lawmakers to get things done are wrong.
“There’s a mythology going out around me that everybody hates me; we heard that from Secretary Clinton that I can’t work with anybody,” he said. “It’s just not accurate.”