So the betting markets are predicting that Bernie Sanders will be the Democratic nominee for President. Today, in the New York Times, Adam Jentleson argued that Bernie now has the clearest path of any candidate to the nomination. And both David Leonhardt of the New York Times and David French of the National Review and the Dispatch have argued that Bernie could win it all. The Bernie bros must be feeling pretty good about things now.
For my part, I am ambivalent. On the negative side, I have serious concerns about electability. Poll after poll has shown that people view socialism negatively. Sanders, of course, is a self-described socialist.
The argument made by his supporters that Bernie will bring out new voters has absolutely zero evidence to support it. Turnout for the Iowa caucuses, where higher turnout might have made the difference for Bernie, was lower than expected. In 2018, when Democrats won back the House, flipping 41 Republican seats, not a single one of those seats was flipped by a candidate embraced by the left. In the U.K., Conservative Boris Johnson trounced Labor’s Jeremy Corbin, who promised to win by turning out the progressive base. AOC may have helped some progressives get elected, but in every case those wins were in solidly Democratic seats. Obviously, to win the presidency, Democrats need to win a lot more than solidly Democratic seats.
Furthermore, I want to see whoever wins accomplish real change in Washington. I have no doubt that Bernie is committed to such change, but the reality is that achieving policy in Washington requires compromise and the ability to log roll with other elected officials. I wonder about Bernie’s willingness to engage with the system to get what is possible done.
I can already hear the howls from the Bernie bros. When I wrote an article detailing Bloomberg’s unexpected strength in the Democratic primaries, I received comments calling me a “liar” and a “delusional psychotic,” and accusing me of being “paid for this article.” As Deborah Hart Yemm pointed out in her comment, “avid Bernie fans are going to hate me” for making such comments.
But here’s the thing. For Bernie to ultimately win the presidency, he’s going to need the support of people like me. I am a liberal who actually shares quite a bit philosophically with Bernie. I have a great deal of respect for him, and although I preferred Elizabeth Warren, I will happily vote for him if he is the nominee. Indeed, should he arrive at the convention with insufficient votes to clinch the nomination, but with more delegates than any other candidate, I think it would be crazy to deny him the nomination under those circumstances. So in general, Bernie bros should consider me an ally who should be courted.
Bernie understands this, by the way. That’s why he went out of his way in 2016 to support Clinton’s campaign after she won the primaries. He understands, as one of my former employers once told me, that “politics is a game of addition, not of subtraction.” Even though I might not pass the purity test demanded of some of Bernie’s supporters, if they can’t bring me on board, then he really has no chance in the general, and likely will lose the nomination too.
If, on the other hand, the Bernie bros can get themselves under control and behave inclusively rather than exclusively, he stands a real shot at winning the nomination. To those who say he is the leftist Trump, you need more nuance in your analysis. Unlike Trump, Bernie is a truly caring person who has shown throughout his life a deep understanding of policy and a serious commitment to social justice. In those respects, he is the anti-Trump.
The last time the Democrats nominated a true progressive for president was 1972. That year, activists demanded ideological purity. The result was Nixon winning 49 states in a landslide. That election did more than simply lead to four more years of Republicanism, though. It dealt a deathblow to the progressive movement that we are still struggling to recover from. If Bernie can’t expand his support beyond his most enthusiastic supporters, progressives might face another fifty years in the wilderness. Our country cannot afford that.
It is still a long road between Bernie and the White House. That said, such a road does exist. At this point, the biggest barrier on that path is the behavior of some, although certainly not all, of his supporters. For the good of our country, the Democratic party, and Bernie’s cause, I hope those supporters can set aside the politics of purity in favor of the politics of inclusion. That is the only way Bernie can win.