It’s Bernie’s world

Okay, as much as I wish it were not so, Bernie is clearly the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.  Personally, I’d prefer almost every other Democratic candidate.  That said, the center-left freakout is way overblown.

First, Bernie can absolutely win this election.  And it’s silly to think he cannot.  Does he have a lower chance than other Democrats?  I very much think so.  Is there reason to think he will hurt downballot?  Yes.  But, the hysterical, OMG this guarantees four more years of Trump is just off base.  It was not all that long ago many of us thought Trump was un-electable.  This elections stuff is complicated, and, honestly, harder to predict based on how past elections have worked than ever.  To be clear, I absolutely agree with many that Sanders is absolutely the riskiest nominee (and this is no damn time for risk!!!!), but that is a far cry from saying he cannot beat our historically unpopular (given the state of the economy) president.  I think this tweet needs smaller error bars around non-Bernie candidates, but it pretty well captures things, I think:

Secondly, as for the socialist revolution so many are worried about.   Ummm, not happening.  You might have heard of this little thing called the United State Senate.  Even if Bernie manages to get 50 Democratic Senators, if you think there are anywhere close to 50 Senators to go along with Bernie’s most left propositions, you have not been paying attention at all.

I will not be voting for Bernie on March 3rd, but will do so enthusiastically in November, if that’ what it takes.  But, Bernie needs to do better because not everybody realizes that the rule of law is genuinely at stake come November.  Good stuff from Leonhardt:

He has taken a nearly maximalist liberal position on every major issue. It’s especially striking from him, because he has shown over his career that he grasps the importance of building a coalition.

Sanders once won over blue-collar Vermonters with help from a moderate position on guns. “We need a sensible debate about gun control which overcomes the cultural divide that exists in this country,” he said in 2015, “and I think I can play an important role in this.” He was also once an heir to organized labor’s skepticism of large-scale immigration. “At a time when the middle class is shrinking, the last thing we need is to bring over in a period of years, millions of people into this country who are prepared to lower wages for American workers,” he said in 2007.

Now, though, Sanders has evidently decided that progressives will no longer accept impurities — or even much tactical vagueness. He, along with Elizabeth Warren, has embraced policies that are popular on the left and nowhere else: a ban on fracking; the decriminalization of border crossings; the provision of federal health benefits to undocumented immigrants; the elimination of private health insurance.

For many progressives, each of these issues has become a moral litmus test. Any restriction of immigration is considered a denial of human rights. Any compromise on guns or health care is an acceptance of preventable deaths.

And I understand the progressive arguments on these issues. But turning every compromise into an existential moral failing is not a smart way to practice politics. It comforts the persuaded while alienating the persuadable…

Over the past few years, the progressive left has made impressive progress, elevating issues like the $15 minimum wage, expanded Medicare and free college. A central figure in the movement, Sanders, is now the favorite to win the Democratic nomination.

But progressives are still a very long way from achieving the changes they seek. Republicans control the Senate, and a conservative majority runs the Supreme Court. Trump has an excellent chance to win re-election and usher in a dark era for American progressivism.

Faced with the potential of either large gains or historic losses, progressives would be wise to stop believing only what they want to believe. Don’t cherry-pick polls to claim that most Americans actually favor a ban on private insurance. Don’t imagine that millions of heretofore silent progressive supporters will materialize on Election Day. In the 2018 midterms, Sanders-style candidates lost swing districts, while candidates demonstrating respect to swing voters won again and again.

Beating Trump in November will be even harder. And uncomfortable compromises will make it more likely.

For Sanders, that may mean walking back his position on fracking, which threatens his chances in must-win Pennsylvania. It could also mean repeating some of his earlier arguments about the need for border security and immigration restrictions. Many working-class voters, including people of color, agree with that.

Sanders is not an ideal Democratic nominee. But he does have some big strengths. One of them is the passionate support he inspires, which gives him an opportunity to reach out to new voters while holding on to his base.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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