It’s primary season in America. The challenging party is eager to win back the White House. Their frontrunner has no meaningful membership in their party. His candidacy has the support of around 30% of the party’s voters: the populist fringe. The remaining 70% are split among more moderate candidates. The incumbent’s party is going to gift him with a historically unpopular opponent.
So, am I talking about 2020? Or 2016?
Trick question. It’s both.
The similarities between the Trump and Sanders candidacies are obvious, and they ought to make everybody nervous to some extent. If you don’t want Bernie Sanders to be President, remember how Donald Trump won the enthusiastic, almost religious support of a fired-up base, and how the rest of the party, however reluctantly, coalesced around him (and against his uniquely unpopular opponent.) Be afraid. And if you don’t want to see Trump win a second term, remember how he only won his first by the razor thinnest of margins: 78,000 votes in three counties. Think how Bernie’s race so far mirrors Trump’s, and be afraid.
Republicans in some states have been purposefully voting for Bernie in the Democratic primaries because they believe he’ll be the easiest candidate for Trump to beat. I have to agree with their assessment, but not their strategy. Everyone knew Hillary would beat Trump. I knew it. The polls proved it. Until they didn’t.
It’s possible that Bernie could win. We can’t rule it out.
But now I’m going to tell you why it’s very, very unlikely.
Challenging the incumbent during a strong economy and low unemployment is always a difficult endeavor, and one that usually fails. Beating the incumbent during a strong economy and record low unemployment while insisting that the economy is actually bad? And promising radical, untested changes to that economy? That’s an extremely risky strategy.
Gallup’s Mood of the Nation poll found last month that a record high 90% of Americans are satisfied with their personal lives—the highest rate since the poll began in 1979. The poll also found that Americans’ confidence in the US economy is at a 20-year high. These numbers do not bode well for a candidate who is promising to fundamentally change our economy.
Another liability that will absolutely be hammered by Republicans if Bernie is the nominee: his age and health. If elected, Sanders would be the oldest president in our history. He is 78 years old and suffered a heart attack just last year. After age 80, one in six people suffer from some form of dementia, and the numbers get worse with each additional year. Despite originally saying he’d release his full medical records, after the heart attack he changed his mind. Just like Trump with his tax returns, Bernie has determined that whatever is in those records is worse than the backlash he’ll suffer for hiding them.
Any Democratic nominee will have to flip states that Trump won. There are six states generally considered to be tossups—all of which Trump won in 2016: Arizona, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. The two with the largest share of electoral votes are Pennsylvania and Florida: states which Sanders is already busy alienating. Bernie wants to ban fracking, which is going to hurt him, possibly fatally, in Pennsylvania. And his past and recent compliments of the Castro regime won’t gain him many supporters among Florida’s large Cuban expat community. Democrats can’t afford to so blithely torpedo their chances in these crucial states.
But his biggest liability is one he’s worn proudly as a label for decades: socialist. I’m not going to debate in this article whether socialism is a good or bad thing, whether democratic socialism has any meaningful differences from the real thing, or whether anyone even knows what they mean anymore when they say “socialism.” That topic needs an article or two of its own—and believe me, they’re coming.
The point is that socialism is a dirty word in America. NPR reported a recent poll that found 58% of Americans have an unfavorable view of socialism. Even among the younger demographic (18-38) which is more tolerant of socialism than any other age bracket, only 38% view it favorably. Another poll from July found that a whopping 76% of Americans say they would not vote for a socialist politician. Of the Democratic respondents, 64% said they wouldn’t vote for a socialist.
In an election in which the challenger needs a united party and absolutely must win over swing voters to have a chance, this label will be an albatross the size of the Soviet Union around his neck.
A lot of NeverTrump conservatives, who want Trumpism to be soundly defeated and rooted out of the GOP, have been hoping for a Democrat they can stomach voting for. They’re watching Bernie rack up delegates, and despairing.
Among Republicans who are realistic about the President’s many flaws and political downsides, there’s a saying that’s been around on social media since 2016: “All Democrats have to do is not be insane. And they can’t do it.”
Democrats, don’t be insane. Don’t nominate Bernie Sanders.