Trump’s effort to sow discord in the DemocratS is brilliant
Donald Trump delivered the line with his usual level of subtlety.
"It's being rigged against - it's sad, it's being rigged against crazy Bernie. Crazy Bernie's going to go crazy. Crazy. I think crazy Bernie's going to be more crazy when they see what they're doing," the President told a stadium full of fans in Charlotte, North Carolina.
They loved it, obviously. But they weren't the target audience.
Mr Trump was really speaking to the millions of voters who support "crazy" Bernie Sanders and want him to be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee.
The President's rally speeches are typically long, meandering streams of consciousness without much point, beyond eliciting cheers from his adoring public.
This was different. This was trolling with a purpose.
President Trump: "It's sad. It's being rigged against Crazy Bernie. Crazy Bernie is going to go crazy. Crazy. I think Crazy Bernie is going to be more crazy when they see what they're doing." pic.twitter.com/emMQV9L4Yp— The Hill (@thehill) March 3, 2020
Mr Trump has been repeating the same basic message all week.
"It's rigged against Bernie. There's no question about it. Sounds like it's a little bit unfair," he said before boarding Marine One.
"I don't know what's happened with Bernie. I think they're trying to take it away from him. I don't know if that's fair," he said during a coronavirus briefing.
I don't often say this, but look at Mr Trump's Twitter feed. You'll detect a common theme.
The Dems are working hard to take the prized nomination away from Bernie. Back room politics, which Bernie is not very good at. His people will not let it happen again!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2020
The President's confected outrage on Mr Sanders' behalf is laughably transparent - and politically brilliant.
No one is stupid enough to think he actually gives a damn about Mr Sanders. This is all about sowing discord in the Democratic Party, and turning as many of Mr Sanders' supporters as possible against it.
Should Joe Biden become the Democrats' nominee - an increasingly likely prospect after his astonishing surge on Super Tuesday - he will desperately need the vast majority of those Bernie fans to support him against Mr Trump in the general election.
Consider these numbers from 2016, compiled by political scientist Brian Schaffner.
In Michigan, 48,000 people voted for Mr Sanders in the Democratic primary, and then for Mr Trump in the general election. Mr Trump's margin of victory in the state was 11,000 votes.
In Pennsylvania, 117,000 people switched from Mr Sanders to Mr Trump. The President won that state by 44,000 votes.
In Wisconsin, 51,000 people switched, and Mr Trump's margin of victory was 23,000.
You can see what I'm getting at here. If all of Mr Sanders' supporters had voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, she - not Mr Trump - would be president now.
The same thing could happen again.
Mr Trump might not even need to convince any of Mr Sanders' supporters to vote for him. As long as they don't vote for the Democratic nominee - staying home, perhaps, or picking a third-party candidate instead - his chances of winning the election will rise significantly.
That is the President's goal - to get Mr Sanders' base feeling so aggrieved that it's willing to punish the Democratic Party by keeping him in office.
And there are signs his plan is working.
We have already seen an overlap between the language Mr Trump used this week and the complaints coming from Mr Sanders' fans.
"They are staging a coup against Bernie!" the President tweeted shortly before Super Tuesday.
"This was not a resurrection; it was a coup," Sanders surrogate Marianne Williamson said after the results rolled in, rejuvenating Mr Biden's once dead campaign.
"Mueller was not a coup. Impeachment was not a coup. What happened yesterday was a coup. And we will push it back."
They are staging a coup against Bernie!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 2, 2020
Ms Williamson quickly deleted her comment, which suggests the Sanders campaign itself is not keen to start an open war against the Democratic Party.
In recent days, Mr Sanders has spoken cryptically about taking on "the political establishment", without getting any more explicit than that.
But Ms Williamson was far from the only person expressing that level of anger. The hashtags #RiggedPrimary and #RiggedDNC dominated Twitter on Wednesday as Mr Sanders' supporters vented online.
Their frustration is understandable. Four years ago, Mr Sanders had genuine reasons to feel robbed by the Democratic Party.
As interim Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile eventually admitted publicly in an explosive piece for Politico, Ms Clinton's campaign had exerted too much control over the party "long before she became its nominee", compromising the "integrity" of the primary process.
"If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters had decided which one they wanted to lead," Ms Brazile wrote.
This time, however, there is no evidence of the party rigging its process against Mr Sanders. In fact, it has bent over backwards to make him happy, even rewriting its rules to sideline the superdelegates that caused such consternation in 2016.
The only thing Bernie fans - and Mr Trump - can really point to is the sudden consolidation of moderate support behind Mr Biden in the hours before Super Tuesday.
After failing badly in last weekend's South Carolina primary, centrist candidates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar both dropped out of the race and endorsed Mr Biden.
Both concluded they had no path to the nomination. They decided Mr Biden was best placed to defeat Mr Sanders in the primaries, and then Mr Trump at the general election.
"When I ran for president, we made it clear that the whole idea was about rallying the country together to defeat Donald Trump, and to win the era for the values we share," Mr Buttigieg said.
"That was always a goal that was much bigger than me becoming president. And it is in the name of that very same goal that I am delighted to endorse and support Joe Biden for president tonight."
"If you feel tired of the noise and the nonsense in our politics, and if you are tired of the extremes, you have a home with me, and I think you know you have a home with Joe Biden," said Ms Klobuchar.
"We do not, in our party, want to just eke by a victory. We want to win big, and Joe Biden can do that."
Mr Biden also won the support of Beto O'Rourke, a popular Texas politician who had dropped out of the presidential race in November.
That's it. That is the extent of the supposed rigging.
Until last week, the Democratic "establishment" had turned its back on Mr Biden. He'd been written off. His campaign had so little money that he couldn't even advertise in some states.
And it wasn't the establishment that saved him; it was the African-American voters in South Carolina who gave him a massive win, finally convincing everyone else he was the most viable moderate in the race.
Three days later, millions of voters decided they preferred Mr Biden to Mr Sanders, and the wave of new young voters Mr Sanders had promised failed to materialise.
That is the real reason Super Tuesday went so poorly for Mr Sanders. But it won't stop his rowdier supporters from complaining. Nor will it stop Mr Trump from preying on their anger.
The President has even used the candidacy of Mr Sanders' fellow progressive Elizabeth Warren - not exactly an establishment politician - to fuel the fire.
In the aftermath of Super Tuesday, he repeatedly amplified their frustration at Ms Warren for staying in the race and sapping support from Mr Sanders for so long.
Ms Warren didn't win a single contest, and could finish no higher than third in her home state, Massachusetts. She finally dropped out of the race on Thursday.
The Democrat establishment came together and crushed Bernie Sanders, AGAIN! Even the fact that Elizabeth Warren stayed in the race was devastating to Bernie and allowed Sleepy Joe to unthinkably win Massachusetts. It was a perfect storm, with many good states remaining for Joe!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2020
Goodness knows whether Mr Trump's faux concern for Mr Sanders will work. His attempted manipulation of the voters is so blatant it borders on absurdity.
But he has correctly idenitifed a huge vulnerability in the Democratic Party, and you can guarantee he'll spend the next seven months relentlessly exploiting it.
Democrats are working hard to destroy the name and reputation of Crazy Bernie Sanders, and take the nomination away from him!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 1, 2020
Pete Buttigieg is OUT. All of his SuperTuesday votes will go to Sleepy Joe Biden. Great timing. This is the REAL beginning of the Dems taking Bernie out of play - NO NOMINATION, AGAIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 1, 2020
So selfish for Elizabeth Warren to stay in the race. She has Zero chance of even coming close to winning, but hurts Bernie badly. So much for their wonderful liberal friendship. Will he ever speak to her again? She cost him Massachusetts (and came in third), he shouldn’t!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2020
Wow! If Elizabeth Warren wasn’t in the race, Bernie Sanders would have EASILY won Massachusetts, Minnesota and Texas, not to mention various other states. Our modern day Pocahontas won’t go down in history as a winner, but she may very well go down as the all time great SPOILER!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2020
Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren, who was going nowhere except into Mini Mike’s head, just dropped out of the Democrat Primary...THREE DAYS TOO LATE. She cost Crazy Bernie, at least, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Texas. Probably cost him the nomination! Came in third in Mass.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2020