Now that the post-election hyperbole and grief has settled it is of value to consider a plausible "what if" analysis which has value looking forwards.
Bernie Sanders could, and in fact would, have won the 2016 election.
The traditional point of view that what a candidate says, what turns out to have been dug out about his or her past from the mists of time destroying their chances was itself destroyed by the Trump. and to a lesser degree, the Clinton campaigns.
The "Access Hollywood" tapes and Trump's astounding statements, too numerous to list here that the media gorged on had zero effect, similarly all of Hillary's "Benghazi , pay for play" and etc murkiness simply reinforced preconceived notions about her (and Bill). The bottom line was it was a change election after a two term rule of one party.
The only way the Dem's could have won under the circumstances would have been to have run someone who was completely disassociated with the public's perceptions of a failed administration (not failed president).
This is exactly the strategy McCain tried in 2008 when he selected Governor Palin as his VP running mate. Palin was totally untainted by the Bush administration and rallied the base to such a degree that McCain's moribund campaign shot into the lead and he well could have won. That the Wall St. crash, not Palin, scuppered it is by the by.
Sanders would also have been unencumbered, totally, with the Obama administrations neglect of the rust belt states and in fact would have been the perfect candidate as that is where, plus Florida, the election was won and lost .
The above map is a minimum for Sanders 2016. It does not give him * Wisconsin where the Clinton vote fell an astounding 238,500 from president Obama's 2012 state total (Trump only added 2,000 to Romney's).
The local GOP machine may still have delivered the state for Trump but that is highly questionable.
The +3% of Hispanic voters who voted third party, for Stein/Johnson and remarkably 82,970 "write in" and 25,000 "others" included in the 375,000 Florida vote totals would, surely, had been enough to overcome Trump's 113,000 winning margin.
"Mrs. Clinton drew 65 percent of the Latino vote compared with 29 percent for Mr. Trump. when you compare the outcome to 2012. President Barack Obama took 71 percent of the Latino vote in the exit polls that year compared with 27 percent for Mitt Romney."
In Michigan, a state where Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton running on a similar "jobs" message to Trump's appeal to blue collar workers, it is as near a certainty as these things can be that 22% of Jill Stein's 51,000 votes would have gone to Sanders easily overcoming Trump's tiny 11,000 win.
Had blacks turned out, Clinton would have won Michigan. Had even a fraction of the more than 50,000 votes for Green Party candidate Stein gone to Clinton, she would have won the state."
Not running Sanders is, quite possibly, the death knell for the Democratic party as currently constituted.
It is utterly powerless at every level of government, the litany of elective offices lost is well known and it is leaderless with Pelosi/Schumer the unattractive face of the party.
2016 was the perfect year for a Sanders candidacy. In 2020 he will be, obviously, too old and if the Trump massive tax cuts and infrastructure spending boosts the economy, especially in the rust belt, Sanders message will have been blunted.
An Elizabeth Warren candidacy would combine the worst of the shrill Hillary imagery, with her "fake Indian" baggage, at a time when radical leftist proposals would be out of place. It would be easy to envisage a disastrous Mondale/McGovern electoral college disaster.
The Democratic Party ran the worst possible campaign with the worst possible candidate for which Republicans can be extremely grateful.
It is highly doubtful if the following article extract would have been written if Sanders had run;
Obama won 60 percent of the millennial vote. Clinton got only about 55 percent. (We're using "millennials" as shorthand for voters between the ages of 18 and 29, but some millennials are in their 30s).
The real shift seems to have come from an increase in third-party candidate support, potentially low turnout, and stronger than expected support for Donald Trump in some Midwestern states that Clinton lost.
Among voters younger than 29, 55 percent supported Clinton and 37 percent supported Trump, according to national exit polls."
"Millennials didn’t show up for Hillary Clinton in the Rust Belt"
“In Pennsylvania, Clinton badly underperformed [President Barack] Obama and Gov. Tom Wolf (who won election in 2014), among younger voters — Wolf carried them by 24 points, Obama by 28 points, while Clinton won the millennial vote by 19 percent,” Amy Walter at the Cook Political Report wrote. “More important, young voters made up a smaller share of the electorate than they did in 2012 — 16 percent to 19 percent.”
"In Wisconsin, the millennial vote is the story — in the fact they simply didn’t show up for Mrs. Clinton.
“In 2012, 18-29-year-olds made up 21 percent of the electorate and Obama carried them by 23 points,” Ms. Walter wrote. “In 2016, these younger voters made up just 17 percent of the electorate and Clinton won them by just 3 points.”
But of course Sanders would have been able to accomplish nothing with an extremely hostile congress.
*All electoral results are rounded for convenience. the full figures are at the links provided.