As election season swings into full gear and we look back at Iowa and New Hampshire it is clear the front-runner for the Democratic nomination is an Independent Democratic Socialist who until 2016 did not call himself a Democrat. Bernie Sanders, taking advantage of a fractured Democratic field, has surged to the top of the pack with a bare plurality of the vote on a message of change and revolution.
While the primary season is not concluded there is now no worse than a 50/50 chance a Democratic Socialist Senator will be the party’s nominee for President. To the angst of many in the Democratic establishment, the party nominee would be calling for a massive economic and institutional revolution right at a time when the economy is humming and Americans report the highest level of economic optimism since George Bush.
This begs the question, beyond all partisan considerations and individual issues, whether Americans would be willing to stick with Trump because he is the devil they know? Bernie is the devil they don’t.
Obviously, this deeply concerns the Democratic establishment. If it didn’t, the party would have coalesced around Sanders some time ago and tried to push other candidates out of the contest. Instead, the party has urged anybody and everybody to run to be the alternative to Sanders. The downside, it appears this is allowing Sanders to garner momentum in the drive up to Super Tuesday.
It should be noted while Trump (2016) and Bernie campaigned on a message of change and their shticks are to bring new voters into the process, Trump has appeared to be far less fractional of a candidate than initially thought. Indeed, short of tweeting and governing like a Jacksonian on foreign policy, the President has surrounded himself with traditional conservative and pursued the usual ideological goals. Bernie, on the other hand, can rely on no such loyalty from his party.
A big reason is economic. Much as voters have reason to dislike the President personally, economically, there are few. The President’s approval ratings have risen significantly in the last month. Some of this can be attributed to right-leaning Independents and Republicans unifying around the President due to impeachment. But another factor is the booming economy. While the President’s overall approval ratings remain middling overall, he scores much higher marks on the economy.
Case in point; the most recent Gallup survey shows the President with a 49 percent approval rating among Registered Voters and 50% saying he deserves to be reelected. But, he scores a whopping 63 percent aapproval rating on the economy and his increased standing is arguably boosting the GOP brand overall.
Not every individual in the country is benefiting. Further, there are simply voters in the country who do not care about the booming economy and simply want to see permanent, structural change. It is these voters, Bernie would most likely target. Ironically, they tend to be voters who have the most divergent viewpoints on social issues (which is why it benefits Bernie to stick to class economic warfare).
Unfortunately, for Sanders, and by extension, the Democratic Party, there seem to be limits to this strategy even in Democratic circles. Against more traditional Democrats (Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Warren, etc.), Bernie can barely garner 30 percent of the vote nationally or even in favorable states (New Hampshire anybody). This means there are significant pockets of resistance to Bernie’s rhetoric. Polling confirms is where we would expect it to be; white collar suburbanites, college educated women and African-Americans. Without strong majorities of these voters no Democrat can win the White House.
It not likely Trump would suddenly find himself with new sources of support if he squares off against a Democratic Socialist. But, rather, some core Democratic voters might stay home and as a result Trump might find padded margins in key swing states. After-all, while a voter switching their vote nets two total votes (opposition loses a vote, you gain a vote), a voter staying home still nets you a vote by default. It is here where a Sanders bid becomes risky.
Sanders has been pilloried over his Bernie bros support, accusation he told Elizabeth Warren she could not win because she is a woman and general ignorance of female centric identity politics. College educated white women don’t react favorably to Sanders because of this.
Of course, the chance Bernie will offset these losses by bringing in burn it down type blue-collar voters and younger, first-time voters is possible. But, Trump already has found deep appeal among the blue-collar base and is actively investing millions in turning out disaffected and occasional voters (primarily from this socio-economic quarter). How much better can Bernie do among these voters is an open question.
Ultimately, a election between Bernie and Trump is the classic devil you know vs. devil you don’t? Some might label this the lesser of two evils, but, let’s be real for a second, every election is that in some form. Rather, this election would be fought along the lines of a President arguing they have fought the rigged system and righted the economic ship (sorry Obama) and a candidate threatening massive economic change right at a time when the economy is humming along for a majority of Americans.
No Democrat is proposing to go as far as Bernie. Even Elizabeth Warren, arguably his pro-capitalism protege, cannot hold a candle to where Bernie wants to take the nation with nationalization of entire sectors of the economy (beyond healthcare) and trillions upon trillions in new taxes on all (including the middle class). This will inevitably come back to haunt Bernie and the party he professes so support this November.