President Sanders?

If only Bernie had received the nomination instead of being cheated out of it by a corrupt DNC, he’s be President-Elect and not Trump, right?  Ummm, nope.  Just evidence that Democrats are plenty capable of believing in their own fantasies.  Okay, maybe, but there’s plenty of reason to believe Bernie would have lost just as badly or worse.  First Seth Masket:

Let’s go with that for the moment. Sanders certainly has a cleaner reputation. Could he have gotten more votes? Well, it seems fair to say that the Trump team wouldn’t have run the same campaign against Sanders that they ran against Clinton, and the media wouldn’t have covered him the same way. Being crooked is not seen as his weakness; being too left wing is. We never really saw this in the primaries, but a negative campaign against him would have focused on his being a self-described democratic socialist. The thinly veiled anti-Semitism employed by the Trump campaign probably would have been used more, possibly to greater effect. Maybe Sanders’ rhetoric would have played better in the Rust Belt states than Clinton’s did, but maybe he would have been even more vulnerable. And it’s not at all obvious his general election campaign would have been anywhere near as well-funded or competently executed…

I’ve heard many pundits explain away Trump’s victory by claiming that he was a “change candidate in a change year.” It’s a tired saw, but it contains the basic nugget of truth that voters tend to turn out the incumbent party after two terms in office. Could Sanders or some Democrat other than Clinton have been the “change candidate” this year? It’s unlikely…

It’s certainly understandable for Democrats to be analyzing the results and trying to figure out what they got wrong. And no candidate looks worse than the one who just lost a close race. But it’s worth remembering that the alternatives were not obviously better, they might well have been worse, and, most likely, they might not have made any difference at all.

Ultimately, though, this is a “probably not” from Masket.  More convincing is this from Kurt Eichenwald, who first dispenses with the silly notion that Sanders was robbed:

Easily the most ridiculous argument this year was that the DNC was some sort of monolith that orchestrated the nomination of Hillary Clinton against the will of “the people.” This was immensely popular with the Bernie-or-Busters, those who declared themselves unwilling to vote for Clinton under any circumstances because the Democratic primary had been rigged (and how many of these people laughed when Trump started moaning about election rigging?). The notion that the fix was in was stupid, as were the people who believed it…

Next, the infamous hack of DNC emails that “proved” the organization had its thumb on the scale for Clinton. Perhaps nothing has been more frustrating for people in the politics business to address, because the conspiracy is based on ignorance.

Almost every email that set off the “rigged” accusations was from May 2016. (One was in late April; I’ll address that below.) Even in the most ridiculous of dream worlds, Sanders could not have possibly won the nomination after May 3—at that point, he needed 984 more pledged delegates, but there were only 933 available in the remaining contests. And political pros could tell by the delegate math that the race was over on April 19, since a victory would require him to win almost every single delegate after that, something no rational person could believe.

Sanders voters proclaimed that superdelegates, elected officials and party regulars who controlled thousands of votes, could flip their support and instead vote for the candidate with the fewest votes. In other words, they wanted the party to overthrow the will of the majority of voters…

But, anyway, on to the main point, Bernie in a general election campaign.  That would so not have been pretty:

Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

The Republicans had at least four other damning Sanders videos (I don’t know what they showed), and the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick. (The section calling him a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida.) In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.

Could Sanders still have won? Well, Trump won, so anything is possible. But Sanders supporters puffing up their chests as they arrogantly declare Trump would have definitely lost against their candidate deserve to be ignored.

So, yeah, could Bernie have won?  Yes.  Trump showed us anything can happen.  But I think there’s still plenty of reason to believe he would not have performed any better than Clinton and a good chance it would have been worse.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

3 Responses to President Sanders?

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Choosing Elizabeth Warren as Hillary’s Vice President would have energized the millennials and the minorities who didn’t come out to show up at the polls and to vote for Hillary. She is authentic. Even Trump’s nickname for her, “Pocahontas”, isn’t negative. Who doesn’t love that native American princess?
    She is a proven warrior for the working and middle classes, the defender against the depredations of the oligarchs.
    Her being on the ticket with Hillary would have sent the message that in spite of the emails and the accusations of Wall Street corruption, Hillary’s heart was OK and Elizabeth would keep her nose to the grindstone if necessary.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Just don’t think VP candidates matter.

      • R. Jenrette says:

        I agree – except in this case when the loss was because the Democratic base didn’t turn out.
        In a change election, Warren as VP would have made it possible to see the team as capable of bringing change. Add her energizing capabilities as well as her vouching for Hillary and the outcome could have been different.

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