If Bernie were the nominee…

Not going to happen, but good post from David Roberts:

This presidential race has been weird in a number of ways, but one of the weirdest is that successful outsider insurgents who have a real shot at their parties’ nominations havebarely been attacked at all

Meanwhile, the left insurgent candidate, Bernie Sanders, has also had a mostly free ride.  [all emphases mine]

If you say something like this on social media, you’ll be beset by furious Sanders supporters. (If there’s one thing it’s easy to do on social media, it’s get yourself beset by furious Sanders supporters.) But it remains true that Sanders has faced very few serious attacks…

When Sanders supporters discuss these attacks [from Clinton], though, they do so in tones of barely contained outrage, as though it is simply disgusting what they have to put up with. Questioning the practical achievability of single-payer health care. Impugning the broad electoral appeal of socialism. Is nothing sacred?

But c’mon. This stuff is patty-cakes compared with the brutalization he would face at the hands of the right in a general election

But Sanders supporters do not give the impression that they are cognizant of Sander’s vulnerabilities.

Partly this is because the GOP has been very careful so far not to go after Sanders. They show every indication of preferring him as an opponent, so they have no reason to hurt his chances in the primary.

But if he wins, they will rain down fire.

And the organs of the right will feel absolutely no obligation to be fair. They’re not going to be saying, like Sanders’s Democratic critics, “Aw, Bernie, you dreamer.”

They’re going to be digging through his trash, investigating known associates, rifling through legal records.

They’re going to ask struggling middle-class workers how they feel about a trillion dollars in new taxes to fund a grand socialist scheme to take away everyone’s health care insurance and hand them over to government doctors.

They’re going to ask when he stopped being a communist, and when he objects that he was never a communist they’re going to ask why he’s so defensive about his communist past, why he’s so eager to avoid the questions that have been raised, the questions that people are talking about.

And when Sanders and his supporters splutter that it’s inaccurate and unjust and outrageous, the right will not give a single fuck…

I have no real way of knowing whether Sanders and his advisers appreciate what’s coming if he wins the nomination, or whether they have a serious plan to deal with it, something beyond hoping a political revolution will drown it out.

But at least based on my experience, the Bernie legions are not prepared. They seem convinced that the white working class would rally to the flag of democratic socialism. And they are in a state of perpetual umbrage that Sanders isn’t receiving the respect he’s due, that he’s facing even mild attacks from Clinton’s camp…

In the name of diverting some small percentage of the social media bile surely headed my way, let’s be clear about a few things: This is not an argument against supporting Sanders. There’s nothing dumber than making political decisions based on how the other side might react. (For one thing, that would have foreclosed supporting Obama, a black urbanite with a funny name, in 2008.)

But it is an argument that Sanders has gaping vulnerabilities that have not yet been exploited at all, so his followers should not yet feel sanguine about his ability to endure conservative attacks. Also they should get a thicker skin, quick.

And, yes, of course Hillary Clinton will be attacked too. The conservative movement’s hatred of her is rightly legendary…

This is not to say that these rehashed attacks can never work, or that Clinton can’t be successfully tarred this time around. They’ve already driven her unfavorables pretty high.

But if there’s one thing people can know for certain about Clinton, it’s that she’s resilient in the face of attack.

Yes, yes, and yes.  My niece shared a charming little link this morning meant to assuage all the fears of the people who want to support Bernie, but are, presumably, just too pragmatic.  My favorite part was arguing that he is more electable than Clinton based on polls matching Bernie up against various Republicans.  Those polls simply have so little value at this point, where neither Bernie, nor most of the Republican candidates, have faced the massive onslaught of negativity they will in a general election.  Hillary’s negatives are already really high, but presumably, there’s not much reason to think they’ll go higher.  In Bernie’s case, though, safe to say, there’s lots of room for growth in his negatives.

Maybe I’m wrong about Bernie.  Maybe every Political Scientist I know that studies American elections is wrong about Bernie.  But, based on years of experience, and trusting the years of experience of many I know, I’ll go with Hillary as the far more electable candidate in a general election.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

19 Responses to If Bernie were the nominee…

  1. Jon K. says:

    Yes yes yes. This post hits the nail on the head. Bernie is as scary to radical centrists (like myself) and moderate GOP supporters who can’t support a hard right candidate as Ted Cruz is to liberals and moderate Democrats.

    Even my good friend – an ardent Bernie supporter – was taken aback when I pointed out Sanders plan for a top tax bracket over 75%. When the details of Bernie’s revolution actually are exposed – and the price tag all Americans would be expected to pay to implement them- he will be seen as the utopian extremist that he clearly is.

    On a separate note I hope nobody ever has to go through the horrible experience of having a sinus infection spread to your eye and have it swell shut. Losing vision that way is about the most painful and scary experience I have endured in a very long time. Thank God that I can finally see out of both eyes again and don’t need to sit in the dark anymore! I will never put off visiting the doctor until situation is unbearable again. It is just not worth it.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Wow!!! My goodness! Glad you are doing better.

      • Jon K says:

        Yeah I learned a lesson. The stimulants that I take may keep my nasal passage clear, but the rest of my sinuses can still back up. In a sense I don’t have the same early warning system (stuffed up nose) that I might have a sinus issue. I noticed my ears were backing up but it didn’t hurt so I didn’t do anything about it. When it spread to my eye I went to the doctor. That was probably a week or more longer than I should have waited. As I said never making that mistake again. By the time I got to the doctor it was so bad that it has taken 4 days of antibiotics (oral and eye drops) to knock the infection down enough to be able to have my lights on. My right eye was half-open yesterday but I couldn’t see out of it.

  2. John F. says:

    Oh man, so much to say on this….

    Sanders has been through and won 14 different elections, and sure, it was in Vermont but he’s not some 1st term African-American northern Senator with a Muslim sounding name. He’s had labels thrown at him for years and has pulled through fairly handily. You don’t get to have the highest favorability rating in congress without having broad appeal.

    I’ve heard this general election assessment of Sanders’ prospects repeated countless times in article after article and it’s almost as if the folks writing them are unaware that these attacks are being perpetuated right now by the Hillary campaign and her broad allies in the media, and have been for decades in contest after contest.

    So what do we know for certain?

    We know that Democratic prospects in the general rests on turnout. We know how the numbers on the Democratic and Republican sides will break down in a conventional election (and that republican voters are much more motivated through negative information than democrats). That’s clear, it’s the same split in every election. The key to understanding what the outcome would be in a general with either Clinton or Sanders as the nominee is who is going to generate excitement beyond the party faithful to push the non-affiliated voters and new voters to turnout. (Do you know of one democrat who will not voter for Sanders if he’s the nominee?) I am confident, even more so than you are that Hillary will be the eventual nominee, that she will not be able to turnout independents or new voters. If you accept that premise, I don’t think either of us can definitively say what her chances are but as I’ve said before I don’t believe them to be especially positive and the hypothetical polling currently bears this out; she loses in more election matchups than she wins while Sanders wins more than he ties – there’s no one in the field that currently beats him according to the polls.

    On the polls, you seem to agree that they don’t mean much, except where they do i.e. the national polls. I have absolutely no faith in national polls. Primaries are state by state contests largely divorced from national sentiment (except where media messages are concerned), and in this case the polls are heavily slanted in favor of Hillary. Is there a single soul in this country unaware of Hillary Clinton? That strength is also her weakness. The republican attacks against her only strengthen her supporters’ resolve but it also leaves a huge opportunity for those looking for an alternative because of their familiarity with her. And it makes no difference where those perceptions are derived, and I think you’re correct, it does come from years of scurrilous attacks by republicans. My problem is not with Whitewater, Benghazi or emails, it’s with her authenticity and honest, character issues, and with her [often changing] positions. But in a hypothetical contest comparing each of the candidates, I’m certain voters connect far more deeply with tangible issues like Whitewater, Benghazi, emails, and character, than they do with abstract arguments over political ideology. Obama’s election/re-election, despite the greatest national propaganda campaigns to convince voters he’s a socialist committed to destroying America, pretty much confirms that hypothesis.

    The bottom line is the entirety of this conversation is conjecture, and anyone claiming otherwise should be suspect. So why even entertain these hypotheticals if you’re so confident Sanders has no chance of winning the nomination?

    • Steve Greene says:

      Because Bernie supporters keep on saying he’s more electable than HRC and my knowledge and experience tells me they are quite likely wrong.

      • John F. says:

        As I said, I think this whole conversation is conjecture. There’s not a single piece of political science that I’m aware of that would lead one to suggest they could draw a definitive conclusion on the outcome of Sanders in the general, at least not at this point. Any Democratic nominee will be pummeled with false accusations but it’s folly to assume those attacks will be successful or Sanders will fold when faced with scrutiny. I think it’s wishful thinking to suggest so by those supporting Hillary.

      • Steve Greene says:

        I’m sure it’s just random chance that every Political Scientist I know that studies elections pretty much agrees on this.

      • John F. says:

        Not sure? Perhaps you may want to talk to some organizers who have seen the deemed impossible become the possible.

  3. Jon K says:

    Activists just feed off each other’s energy. You lose focus on the fact that just because you are all excited doesn’t mean everyone else is just as excited. Activists live under the delusion that people with a different perspective will come on board if they just hear the right message. It is delusional. I thought it was solely a problem on the right, but apparently the same issue exists on the left…

  4. Jon K says:

    I personally am aware of dozens of voters who typically vote republican, but this year they are reconciled to voting for HRC because they believe that the GOP will nominate a candidate who is too extreme for their vote. Not a single one of them would ever consider voting for Sanders. If Ted Cruz somehow wins nomination he is so hated that you could see elected republicans not supporting him. What could screw up this potential disaster for the GOP? Bernie Sanders. That’s why he has no support from Democrats in Congress. They know how bad he would be for down ballot races.

    • rgbact says:

      Polls must be wrong then. They show Hillary does better than HRC. Maybe there’s voters outside your friends you haven’t considered?

      • rgbact says:

        Sorry, meant “Bernie does better”..

      • Steve Greene says:

        The meaninglessness of current head-to-head polls is a major subtext of the Roberts’ piece.

      • Jon K says:

        Head to head match ups of potential GOP candidates vs Democrats at this point are meaningless for a variety of reasons. Believe what you want. I will continue to trust what I learned studying political science and what I am reading and seeing from experts I trust. There is a reason that both Sanders and Cruz have no support from their colleagues in Congress. It isn’t because they would be the best candidates. It is because their colleagues know that dysfunction would be the result of either of those two being elected. They might make great despots, but in a democratic system if you can’t make compromises you can’t pass legislation. If you can’t pass legislation then you can’t govern. It is as simple as that.

      • rgbact says:

        IDK about the “dysfunction” argument. Have you seen any polls on the approval of Congress? I will admit that Bernie has gotten the least negative coverage of anyone so far, and media will go after him eventually. Still Hillary’s main weapon for so long was being the only Democrat that could win. Thats gone.

      • Steve Greene says:

        Um, no, it’s not. The only people who think Bernie can win a general election are hard core Bernie supporters.

      • John F. says:

        That’s a hilarious argument! The only people that think Sanders can win are the very people that actually determine if he’ll win. Other than them, NOBODY thinks he has a shot. Extra points added for creatively working in the appeal to authority logical fallacy: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/appeal-to-authority

      • Jon K. says:

        Excellent piece in the Atlantic on this very subject:
        But is there any real evidence that there is a hidden “sleeper cell” of potential voters who are waiting for the signal to emerge and transform the electorate? No. Small-donor contributions are meaningful and a sign of underlying enthusiasm among a slice of the electorate, but they represent a tiny sliver even of that slice; Ron Paul’s success at fundraising (and his big crowds at rallies) misled many analysts into believing that he would make a strong showing in Republican primaries when he ran for president. He flopped.

        Is there a huge core of committed ideological conservatives who have not voted before because they had only “moderates” on the ballot? Other than the fact that no objective person could look at the policy positions of John McCain and Mitt Romney as moderate, there is no evidence; the only real parallel to draw on for the theory is Barry Goldwater in 1964. Important as voter identification and get-out-the-vote efforts are, they do not convince chronic non-voters to vote. And, of course, a truly purist ideological campaign would stir a clear counter-reaction on the other side, diluting its impact.

        http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/why-bernie-sanders-cant-win-and-cant-govern/460182/

  5. R. Jenrette says:

    Young people are excited by the idea of revolution. ..finding a cause, joining others in the excitement, believing anything is possible if you just care enough.
    Then Mom steps in with a dose of reality, saying don’t pay much attention to that old, wacky uncle. She scares you with stories about a pied piper leading the kids to who know what disaster.
    If you believe in fairy tales hard enough, do they really come true?

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