Sanders is running the table so far in early primaries. He won Nevada resoundingly on Saturday. We also just found out that he is getting helped by the Russians. Sanders thinks the Russians want him to win the presidency. Do they? Or do they want him to win the Democratic nomination because they think he is Trump’s golden ticket to re-election? Maybe they like him because his candidacy creates the biggest possible ruckus in American politics.
Right now the Democratic Party is a big tent full of factions. The factions are squabbling with each other to try to convince others to believe in the candidate they want to win. One thing is certain, though, this general election is going to be razor thin close once again. Trump has the benefit of incumbency, the Russians, and his abject willingness to lie, cheat and steal to win the next election. Voter suppression by Republicans is rampant. To win, the Dems will need to come together behind the nominee to beat Trump in the general election with the largest blue tsunami possible. What’s at stake is everything- Presidency, Senate and House. This is the most important election in our lifetimes. We need a candidate who can create the biggest possible tent. Who can do it?
Could Sanders be that unifier?
Sanders, like Trump, can be forceful and inspirational. He channels the populist anger about the dysfunction of our country, wage stagnation, and the inability to get ahead especially for Millennials. Bernie’s core base of 18-19 year olds feels as aggrieved and angry as Trump’s older white low education base. Trump was not the populist reformer he claimed to be which is evident now. But Bernie seems to be. He even looks the part of the socialist organizer from central casting, itching for a fight, never changing his mind or giving in an inch. He will stand firm. He is an ideologue. But that also means he is uncompromising and rigid. He resonates with an agitated left-wing base that is comparable to Trump’s 30% base on the right. Bernie’s base consists of many more voters who are, rightfully, upset about being born into a country that has limited the potential they have to move into the middle class and beyond in part because they are saddled with debt. In Nevada Sanders proved he could also appeal to a broader group of Democrats including Hispanics and younger black voters. Many of Bernie’s policies would make life much better for people trying to make their way into the middle-class. Free college. Medicare for All. Bernie, like Trump, is a “my way or the highway” kind of guy which is part of his strong appeal. Many say his policies are not likely to be enacted, however, because even if he becomes president. His ideas are too far left. And because of the down-ballot problem I discuss below Mitch, the grim reaper, could remain in place even if Bernie wins the presidency.
Trump is itching to run against Bernie. He thinks Bernie is the perfect foil for him. Trump has amassed a trove of opposition research he can’t wait to detonate. There’s a lot of stuff about Bernie being a radical and praising the Soviet Union, Ortega, and Castro, lefty dictators whose countries fell into poverty and where land was forcibly taken from landowners. Trump will have a lot of ammo against Bernie and will tell us all over and over again the story of how Bernie will destroy America. I think this will be a showdown between Millennial and Boomer thinking if the candidates are Bernie and Trump.
The Scary Down-ballot Problem
If Bernie is the nominee, however, Democratic down-ballot candidates in purple and red districts who are running for the House and Senate are worried because they believe, with good reason, that they might lose their seats. These House members who won in 2018 have to appeal to the older generation who have a very unfavorable view of socialism (58% unfavorable). When asked which presidential candidate would make it harder for these lawmakers to win their elections in purple or red district/ states, they invariably report that the worst candidate for them is Bernie Sanders. Warren gets second place as second worst for them. They know their districts well and can predict this down-ballot voter problem if Sanders tops the ticket. You might think Sanders’ policies should excite the older white low-education voters in these purple and red districts and states who voted for Trump after voting twice for Obama, but this voting bloc listens to Fox News and talk radio. They universally believe that so-called rugged American individualism is good, and “entitlements” are “socialism” which is bad. Most of these Americans do not trust Medicare for All. They want Medicare for all who want it or a fix for the Affordable Care Act. They reject the Green New Deal as too expensive if they even believe in climate change.
Bernie’s ideas should excite Walmart America but instead they evoke anger in the blue-collar Republicans in the key swing states because these people are convinced that they will be left holding the bag for expensive policies. They think they will be paying the bills for a bunch of grifters, immigrants and undeserving brown and black people. White supremacy is etched into their psyches. There are millions of these swing state Independent voters in purple and red districts who will tip the balance in the coming election.
Could Bernie supporters or Bernie himself convince these people that Bernie’s soft socialist ideas are in fact good for them? Because that is what would need to happen. This is the big unanswered question of Bernie’s revolution.
If you believe that Bernie’s fleet of canvassing missionaries for socialism can convince older Walmart Americans that they should vote for these ideas that they have been brainwashed to reject, then you, my friend, are more hopeful about people changing their minds than I am. I personally think that to get to the world that is ready for Bernie’s ideas, some older white close-minded dudes need to kick the bucket. If the minds of Walmart voters cannot be changed or there are not enough young people and people of color in these at-risk districts to show up to vote in BIG numbers to overcome rampant voter suppression and Trumpism, then, guess what? Trump wins! And Putin breaks open the champagne to celebrate like he did in 2016.
This is the gamble we face with Bernie’s revolution.
What about the suburban voter?
Another key demographic that the Dems could get on board because they are appalled by Trump, are suburban voters- soccer moms and men who are former Republicans. If we look at what happened in 2018 when the Dems took the House by storm, the suburban vote really helped that victory along. Here is the bad news for the left wing of the Democratic Party- this suburban bloc of the electorate rejects Sanders’ democratic socialist revolution. He is a bridge way too far for them. Many say they will stay home rather than vote for either Trump or Sanders. Suburban voters are opposed to socialism (61% oppose and 27% in favor.)
In addition, both Sanders (and Warren) have insulted and attacked this voting demographic. These people are financially well off, business leaders, corporate and financial types and the so-called 1%. These suburban voters see themselves as hard working Americans who made it to a comfortable life and don’t deserve to be attack for being successful. The question of whether billionaires even deserve to exist is a laughable thought experiment for this group because they believe that most people would love to get to that level of success in life. Many do not understand that they were born on 3rd base and that other people also work extremely hard to get ahead but are blocked by an unfair system.
Americans DO need a safety net. And if any of the more moderate Democrats become president, the safety net will be secured and enlarged. So the question we all have to wrestle with is whether Sanders’ progressive ideas have found their time or are before their time. The Electoral College is holding our country back from its destiny, you could say. It is keeping our our country in the center right range or, with Trump in office, so far right we are all forced to live in Crazytown with a lunatic driving our bus off the cliff.
What about Elizabeth Warren as a unifier?
Warren does not call herself a socialist. She would love to be the unifier. Maybe if Warren could differentiate herself from Bernie, soften her rhetoric about corporate people and people in the suburbs, she could get the support of a lot of voters who want a woman to win and would be ready to vote for her. Has Bernie sucked all the air out of her candidacy by being a stronger contender in the early primaries? Her voters seem to be migrating to Bernie as he gathers steam. If she were president, she would likely be more open to compromise than Bernie but would still fight for Americans to have a way forward into the middle class. She too risks losing the House and Senate because of the down-ballot problem due to her left leaning policies that will also be branded as socialistic by Trump, but she has shown herself to be capable of articulating her ideas in a less rigid way compared to Bernie.
How about Bloomberg as a unifier?
Bloomberg has instant appeal for most former Republicans who have been left homeless by Trump hijacking the Republican Party and making it his “bitch”. Bloomberg also, surprisingly, appeals to many older black voters who like Biden but think he is missing a step. Bloomberg’s appeal to black voters seems to be pragmatic: “Sure, he is super-rich, but he will be our protector. That could help us. He will protect us from Trump and his lunatic fringe followers. So what if he has a lot of money? That means he could become president without owing anyone anything. We could feel safe with Bloomberg driving the bus. Maybe he is not inspirational, but he will be a good manager. We are sick and tired of the chaos, the tweeting, the drama, and the insanity. Let’s stop fighting and get things done instead. We need a designated driver to get us back on track.” And come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea- a moderate who can get things done and stop the insanity. Hmm.
Bloomberg would also appeal to moderates in the heartland because he is not too far to the left and would end the chaos (which even Trump voters hate). As a more moderate person with a track record of effective management, he might start looking better as the primary continues. We will know more after the next debate and Super Tuesday. Bloomberg will need to do a far better job of responding to the incoming from his fellow debaters. He tanked in his first debate. If he is unable to shake the idea that he is a Trump mini me, his campaign will be over. He would do everyone a favor by funding Joe Biden or Mayor Pete so that Democrats could have the choice of a viable middle lane candidate. Bloomberg knows that. He is watching the numbers. If he is not gaining traction, he will get out and fund better candidates who can beat Trump.
How about Mayor Pete?
He has the potential to be a terrific president and unifier. His message is modulated, thoughtful and well informed. It is one of inclusion based on his own experience as a gay man. He is is the moderate lane which naturally gives him greater appeal in the general election and probably increases the likelihood of down-ballot success to hold the House and win the Senate. The bad news is that he is getting no traction at all with the African American voter. None. Without that he cannot win. The question for him is whether he can build support with that bloc of voters.
How about Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden?
By all accounts their campaigns are on life support because they are running out of money. South Carolina is predicted to be Biden’s last stand unless he pulls out a win there. If he wins he could continue to run but he could use some money to get out his message. As for Amy Klobuchar, she probably needs to give it up now or very soon. Sigh. I like her.
How about Trump as a unifier?
Now you’re talking. He is the ultimate unifier for the Dems. Just thinking that Trump could get four more years to trash our democracy, hollow out our legal system, deny climate change, crater our Intell community, and tee up our economy to explode because of our multi-trillion dollar debt, makes everyone who is not a Trump cult loyalist willing to crawl across broken glass to vote for the Democrat whoever it may be. Rachel Bitecofer has predicted that the Dems could win based largely on the agitation of the Democratic base that she believes will turn out in massive numbers. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/02/06/rachel-bitecofer-profile-election-forecasting-new-theory-108944
Hate for Trump could overcome a lack of excitement about the candidate this election. Biden would probably win in a general election, in other words, despite being uninspiring, if Bloomberg would fund him. Buttegieg could win too if he had some of Bloomberg’s money and could get traction with African American voters. Warren could win in the general election if you believe Bitecofer’s thinking.
We cannot forget that Trump’s base is agitated too. They too will crawl across broken glass to vote for him. This is why it is so important to keep the tent big. Some factions will leave the tent, and stay home to sulk. We just want the minimal number of factions sulking especially voters living in swing states and the suburbs. They are the ones who really need to vote.
One more thing. Every single candidate is flawed. Every one of them will be hit and hit hard with opposition research. Some of it might be fake. It is going to make you feel sick to your stomach. We have to get over purity tests. To be human is to be flawed.
When all is said and done, try to be pragmatic with your primary vote. That vote may turn out to be more important than your vote in the general election. And, look, I am not saying this will happen, but if Bernie is the nominee, I personally pledge to do everything I can do to help him become president. I hope you will too. The alternative is too horrible to imagine.