Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What If: Bernie Wins The Democratic Nomination?

Before I get into the meat of the title, I just want to note for the Republican Dead Pool that Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie are now out of the race. This leaves the list of victims to:


I never viewed Carly as a viable candidate - she was a failed Senate campaigner and her CEO history was a disaster as well - so I'm not surprised she parted after New Hampshire. Christie is a slight disappointment: after punching Rubio into submission - and likely tanking Rubio's chances - he still didn't have enough left to campaign on and was facing harder chances the rest of the primary. Christie's departure is welcome news for the Jeb and Kasich campaigns, as whatever slim numbers were backing the Joisey governor now need another candidate to follow among the "Establishment" names (I doubt Rubio could appeal to them).

Now, that said, let's look at the "What If" question I'm posing tonight. Bernie Sanders won big in New Hampshire, far better than the pundits were expecting and with polling numbers - he's cornering the college/young professional vote and doing better among women than expected - that trend towards positives that can't be ignored.

This is a legitimate question now: What if Bernie Sanders won the Democratic nomination?

If he does so, he becomes the most liberal, Left-leaning candidate put up by the party since Dukakis. In some respects - but not all - he skews far more Left as a self-proclaimed Socialist than Dukakis, Mondale, or McGovern... which are candidates for the Presidency you don't hear the Democratic leadership talk much about because they kinda flamed out (there's are reasons why centrist-leaning candidates like Carter, Clinton and even Obama - who was more pragmatic than progressive in 2008 - won since the New Deal Era).

It will happen because of something that's also happening to the Republican Party much to their chagrin: A level of anger among the voting base that stirs rebellion against "establishment" candidates. There's been a slew of articles about it, but I'll go with this one from by Jack Mirkinson:

If you look at basically any other Western democracy, you shouldn’t be too surprised that Hillary Clinton and the unappetizing mush that is Kasich/Bush/Rubio are having such a rough ride. The world is reeling from tectonic demographic and technological changes, along with the rot of oligarchical rule and continual warfare, all of which have driven the politics of country after country into great upheaval. America is no different...
Clinton is hoping that she doesn’t meet the same fate, and she probably won’t, but the scale of her defeat in New Hampshire was quite a thing to behold. This is where the particulars of who is running begins to matter very much. She lost to Sanders in virtually every demographic category, including women—and the mix of voters who powered her 2008 victories deserted her as well. Young voters went for Sanders by a crushing 84-15 margin. Most damning, 91 percent of Democrats who told pollsters that their top concern was honesty and trustworthiness voted for Sanders. Those are bruising, brutal numbers.
Clinton’s biggest hurdle—beyond the specific hurdle that comes with being a woman and carrying around 25 years of toxic political baggage—is that the very world she occupies is suddenly a deep liability for her. The Clinton who casually took reams of money to shower Goldman Sachs with praise was a woman who likely never assumed that any candidate or voter would hold that against her so vehemently. But that’s what’s happening...
For all the strengths Hillary has - years of elected and administrative experience -she still has the weakness of having played too close to business and financial institutions that gave her money and access. Those deep-pocket forces may help her pay for campaigning, but those forces are hated among the Occupy Wall Street crowds that now make up the Democratic voting base.

Sanders may have some links to these deep-pockets as well, but he's not as recognized for it and so has more room to dodge the implications. It helps him that he's been more vocal about going after the big banks than Hillary has.

Despite her front-runner status... Hillary is still Hillary. She does have Unfavorable numbers that can hurt her during another long, bruising campaign. And she doesn't tolerate failure very well.

So... what if Bernie gets all the Enthusiasm?

First off, he'd have to keep campaigning well through a series of states that are more Moderate-Centrist (read: Deep South and Appalachin) than the Northeast states. As Harry Enten from FiveThirtyEight points out:

...Sanders has yet to demonstrate strength in a state whose electorate isn’t more than 90 percent white. Nevada and South Carolina, the next contests, don’t look anything like Iowa or New Hampshire. Only 65 percent of voters were white in the 2008 Democratic caucus in Nevada, and only 43 percent were in South Carolina.
Polling has indicated that Sanders trails among nonwhite voters by nearly 40 percentage points nationally. Although no reliable recent polling is available in Nevada, Clinton leads by 30 percentage points in both of our South Carolina forecasts. In the latest Marist College poll, she’s buoyed by a 74 percent to 17 percent lead among black voters. Sanders must cut into that margin if he wants to have any chance in South Carolina or anywhere in the South.
You could already see how Sanders might have problems in Nevada and South Carolina even as he was crushing Clinton in New Hampshire. Despite winning the state by more than 20 percentage points, the best Sanders could manage among registered Democrats was a tie. His large margin came from registered independents who voted in the Democratic primary. You must be a registered Democrat to vote in the Nevada caucuses, though you can register as one the day of the election. In 2008, 81 percent of Nevada caucus-goers self-identified as Democrats. Just 58 percent of New Hampshire voters on Tuesday thought of themselves as Democrats...

There are still opportunities for Hillary to rebound: the primary system still favors her over Sanders.

Second, there is still the fear among Democrats about going too far Left on the spectrum to where they could scare away the non-Party Moderate voters. I noted earlier that Left-leaning candidates got clobbered over the years, especially after the Civil Rights and Great Society years of LBJ. The DNC leadership has to be terrified of a Sanders campaign - already pushing for a universal health care platform with trillions of dollars tied into it - wrecking them much in the way Trump's anti-immigrant campaign is making the Republicans headdesk in frustration.

In Bernie's defense, the younger generation that is making up his greatest support are skewing that far Left in response to a Far Right domestic agenda that has alienated them. In another FiveThirtyEight article, the polling is showing greater numbers of 20-something and college-age voters having a favorable view of socialism. While they don't outright support socialism in practice - income redistribution isn't that popular among the young - they're not terrified of it.

I actually predicted this bit, years ago. That the Republican Insult of Choice for anyone Far Left - Socialism - was losing its effectiveness due to its abuse, and that history was making it obsolete as a new generation grew up:

We are getting, right now (2009) with this year's set of 18-year-olds, the first generation of college students and the first generation of voting age that DOES NOT KNOW THE COLD WAR on any personal level. When they were born, Gorbachev was on his way out. The United States was the sole superpower on the planet with any conceivable military, economic, political, and cultural mojo. Cuba was this island off of Florida with a constant supply of decent baseball players swimming over, with a graying old man in charge who could be viewed more as a run-of-the-mill dictator than a Communist propangandist. Okay? We're talking about the first generation ever who learned about Communism (and its cousin Socialism) IN THE PAST TENSE. Trust me, from my memories of high school history studies: Anything older than ten years in the history books is ANCIENT HISTORY. This is a generation of 18-year-olds who grew up learning how COMMUNISM FAILED. To them, it's not a threat. It's not even a joke. It just... is. Like feudalism, or mercantilism, it's just things to study. How can you terrify a generation with the boogeyman specter of "Socialism" when they've never even experienced it?

If Sanders wins the nom, it is going to be on the backing of a large group of young voters deciding as a bloc in a way few previous generations have. Even Boomers - a massive generational bump - were arguably more divided. This generation - Millennials - are coming of age with the bleakest future of low-paying jobs and massive college debts any young voting group have ever faced, with little sign that the leadership of either party - including the Democratic party that at least speaks to their social activism on gay rights and gender equality - is going to do anything about their key issues any time soon. They can't trust Hillary: her coziness to the financial leviathans that wiped out the economy in 2007-08 makes them wary.

But what would this all mean in the part of the election that matters: the General election where all voters of all ages come into play?

Whereas the Republicans are facing the great risk of alienating a vast majority of non-Party voters if Trump becomes their nominee, the Democrats are facing a lesser risk. As Peter Beinart noted in The Atlantic last month, the nation - despite all the Far Right noise screaming that claims otherwise - is noticeably shifting Left on the political spectrum. After 40-plus years of a Right shift - started by Goldwater, achieved by Reagan, destroyed by Dubya - the country is reacting to the failures of the Republican Far Right insisting on tax cuts that don't work and a foreign policy that pisses off our allies.

Where the Republicans risk the likelihood of Trump alienating half their own party with his reactionary Nihilism, the Democrats are facing the likelihood of Sanders making Far Left Progressivism - maybe not as far as Socialism in the purest sense - palatable. It helps that Sanders could position himself in ways the moderate non-Party voters would accept: as an experienced, competent leader in opposition to Trump's bullying celebrity persona.

As for the fears that a Sanders Presidency would fail to achieve any goals or promises, as John Cole points out at Balloon Juice if Congress remains under Republican control - the House remains likely - that's a moot argument:

A lot of people surprised by the youth vote for Bernie and then dismissing his policies as unattainable seem to be missing a few things. First is that with a Republican House and Senate, everything Clinton and Sanders propose is pie in the sky. Fer fuck’s sake, the House broke tradition this year and isn’t even going to pretend that Obama is offering a budget... 
So dismissing the Sanders proposals as uniquely optimistic or unattainable makes me think that the harsh realists uttering said statements don’t have as harsh a grip on reality as they think they do. They won’t work with Obama, so I have no idea why some of you think they’re going to work with “Hitlery”- you know, the person they have been savaging for what? Four decades? How could Sanders be worse?...
Basically, the Democratic voters are realizing that there won't be any real difference between Hillary in the White House or Bernie: the Republicans will still play a game of obstruction and ruin because that's how the Far Right rolls, son.

Bernie winning the nomination can only be a problem if - and only if - the Republicans are able to run a nominee who can truly appeal to Moderate-Centrist voters who matter in the General Election... or if the Republicans can repress voter turnout through cheating... or depress voter turnout through massive negative campaigning.

The first option is unlikely as a Browns Super Bowl appearance right about now. The "Moderate" candidates like Jeb (ha) or Rubio (HA!) or Kasich (meh) are failing with no sign of improvement. The odds are favoring either Trump (AUGH) or Cruz (AUGH) as the nominee. The second option is likely as the GOP has been pushing the excuse of voter fraud - that they can't prove - to shut down likely Democratic voters, and the third option of mudslinging has honestly alienated enough voters to shy away from elections to where turnout can barely break 50 percent of the population.

In that scenario, a Bernie Sanders nomination means the Democratic Party has to - HAS TO - push ever harder for Get-Out-The-Vote efforts. They kind of have to do that with Hillary as well - her burden is an Unfavorable polling number that could scare away potential voters - but in Bernie's case it is going to be a brutal necessity.

They'd also have to pray like hell that the Republican nominee is Trump or Cruz: the stark difference between the candidates would be a positive to the Democrats.

Personally, I'm still undecided between Hillary or Bernie. I am set on voting Democrat regardless of candidate, because my apostasy against the wingnut-mad Republican Party makes it impossible to back ANY of them - even Kasich, the one-eyed king among weak/insane Republicans - in the General Election.

I just want the Democrats to nominate their candidate for all the right reasons: practical, thoughtful, with an eye towards social justice and better wages with better jobs.

We'll see.


Infidel753 said...

.....among the Occupy Wall Street crowds that now make up the Democratic voting base.

Actually blacks, Latinos, and moderate liberals make up the Democratic base. OWS was never a very numerically significant phenomenon and seems to have faded now. Groups like blacks and Latinos and moderates favor Hillary because they want someone who can win in November. Being more pragmatic, their focus is where it should be -- preventing the utter disaster of a Republican President. This is no time to gamble when the stakes are so high.

Bernie's win in New Hampshire was well along the lines of at least some polls I saw. The narrative hasn't changed. Hillary remains far ahead nationally and in the upcoming states you mention which are more typical of the whole country. She lost in one small, non-typical state with almost no minorities which borders on her opponent's home state. That was expected.

Make no mistake -- if Bernie gets the nomination I'll fight like hell to get him elected. But nothing has happened so far to make that any more likely. And I wouldn't feel very confident of our chances if the moderate and minority rank-and-file of the party felt the activist/progressive/blogosphere wing had foisted a candidate on them in place of the one they support.

Infidel753 said...

PS: If the young generation retains its support for socialism as it grows older and begins to turn out to vote more consistently, it may eventually become possible to run an avowed socialist for President with confidence of winning. I'd certainly like to see that. I don't think we're near that point yet, though.

Paul said...

I would like to think that the more moderate/centrist voting blocs in the Democratic party and independent left-leaning coalitions are fully aware of the damage to come if they don't turn out to vote this election cycle.

At the least, the pro-Obama voters have to realize his legacy is on the line: any Republican in the White House guarantees that every action Obama has done - health care reform, foreign policy deals like the Iran nuclear drawdown, other post-Dubya reforms - gets undone to our nation's dismay.

We've seen what happens when this modern Republican Party controls all three branches of federal government: we get the Bush the Lesser years of stagnant/nonexistent job growth, out-of-control deficits thanks to massive tax cuts to the rich and megacorps, and the likelihood of our nation devolving entirely into a police state obsessed with mass deportations/torture/civil rights abuses.

Why do you think I keep screaming "get the goddamn vote out, Dems" nearly every post? :) It's my own version of "Carthage must be destroyed"...

Paul said...

I referred to the Occupy Wall Street movement as a kind of starter kit for the current faction of Democratic/Left-leaning voters falling in with Bernie's message against the banks. There is a casual link from A to B there, although I agree it's not as dominant a movement within Democratic ranks.

As for Socialism, I think that the polling shows the younger voters aren't entirely on-board with its ethos, it's just that they're not afraid of it the way older generations - Boomers especially, Gen Xers just a bit (we're more of a libertarian bent from what I've gleaned of my equals) - are.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of -isms at least in terms of adhering to one like a dogmatic creed. I understand the moral intent of Socialism - trying to make things equal in a socio-economic system by capping wealth to counter poverty - but I'm aware of the difficulties of enforcing anything like that. But I'm not afraid to try elements of Socialism to DO something about our income inequality and overarching greed/corruption dominating our financial sectors.

dinthebeast said...

Socialism was the enemy for so long (Union of Soviet SOCIALIST Republics) that the left has been hobbled with its association with it for a long time. As more of the electorate becomes post-cold-war, this effect may fade, we'll just have to wait and see.
I'm staying in a house full of very young Bernie Sanders supporters for the next week, and their enthusiasm is both encouraging and bittersweet to me. Encouraging, because political apathy is how truly awful people often come to power, and bittersweet because I find myself hoping that they don't end up getting their hearts broken in the event of a Sanders victory when they'll have to face up to the reality that he is a politician with a job to do.
On the other hand, the sound of wingnut heads exploding when they realize that an actual socialist (as opposed to a centrist with a D after his name) has been elected would be pretty sweet indeed.

-Doug in Oakland

Paul W said...

Mostly true, Doug... Bernie and the entire concept of Socialism has to get over the major hurdle of American Exceptionalism, the ideology overlapping libertarianism, conservatism, populism and nihilism in opposition to anything tried in modern European political systems.