Meet Grandfather. His mind is sharp as a tack!
The question of the week: Is Bernie Sanders electable in a General Election???
The implied assumption is that a Democratic-Socialist from Vermont could not survive in real-world politics, with “real world” defined as the part of America outside New England. See an interesting discussion over at Clarissa’s Blog.
It is true that Bernie would have a hill to climb to persuade 51 percent of American voters to support him. But wait! Every presidential candidate must climb that hill. Would it be more, or less, difficult for Donald Trump to achieve 51 percent support in the General Election? How about Ted Cruz?
In Sanders vs. Trump OR Sanders vs. Cruz, both the Democratic and Republican nominees would be unconventional candidates. Maybe even strange candidates. In a normal election year, none of the three would stand a snowball’s chance of winning a major-party nomination.
The scenario is, we have a strange, unprecedented election in front of us. Totally unpredictable. But we can take a look at a number of obvious political factors.
Item one: Likability. Most successful candidates for president must pass the father-figure test. More than any other single characteristic, Americans yearn for a father figure in the White House. That’s my opinion. Bernie Sanders even passes the grandfather-figure test!
And grandfather’s mind is sharp as a tack!
In other words Sanders wins on image and personality. Bernie Sanders is the only candidate you’d want for a grandfather. (Hillary Clinton passes the grandmother test, so Bernie and Hillary are tied on this one). Americans everywhere can picture Bernie Sanders as the affable, sometimes stern, always opinionated grandfather at the head of the Thanksgiving dinner table. Is a presidential election about issues, or is it more about which candidate makes a voter feel safe and comfortable?
Item two: Political landscape. Start with Sanders winning Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Hawaii. Those are almost gimmes. You can easily imagine him winning New York. (When was the last time we had a president with a Brooklyn accent?) New Jersey and Connecticut seem at least plausible. New Hampshire and Maine, possible. For the sake of argument, throw in the big prize, California, on the theory that every Democratic presidential candidate has carried California in recent elections.
So we stipulate that Sanders starts with a small but dependable base of electoral votes. The Republican candidate also starts with a solid base of electoral votes — Texas and most of the South, the Plaines, and the Rocky Mountain states.
Outside of each party’s base states, the voters will make up their minds during the campaign, based on the issues and how comfortable (or not) they feel with the candidates. Sanders is doing OK in Iowa. Any other Midwestern states where he might do OK? Swing states like Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, will be in play.
Socialism and apple pie
Item three: Sanders might wither under relentless Republican attacks, especially from Donald Trump. Well, how has Sanders stood up so far against Hillary Clinton? She’s a formidable opponent. Sanders gives a good speech. He draws crowds of supporters. Hasn’t he been the most disciplined of candidates in staying on message? Does Sanders look like he’s afraid? Afraid of anybody? Does Sanders even care what Donald Trump says?
What’s Trump going to do? Call Sanders a socialist? Voters have heard that word so often in the past year, it’s become almost bland. Sanders has diluted the meaning of the word “socialism.” Bernie Sanders’s brand of socialism is not the fearful socialism of 1919 or 1949. Hardly a voter is alive who can remember 1919, and only a dwindling minority remembers 1949. Get a grip. It’s the 21st century. Voters are not exactly panicked by the word “socialism.”
Item four: Who’s honest, sincere, plays well with others? Who, Trump? I don’t think so. Cruz? Trump has labeled Cruz “a nasty person?” Let’s concede that Sanders wins on honesty and sincerity. And niceness!
Who will voters trust?
Item five: The voters. Now we’re getting to the heart of electability. Bernie Sanders starts with all liberal Democrats. Trump? Conservative Republicans dislike him. Independents? Sanders has been the only Independent in the U.S. Senate for years. He can get at least an even split with Independents, maybe better. Who’s going to win the Black vote and the Hispanic vote? Not Trump. The Muslim vote?
In other words, if you add up liberals, Independents, Blacks, Hispanics, you’ve got a lot of people who are definitely not voting for Trump or Cruz. Add in organized labor. Trump said in a TV debate about the minimum wage: “Americans are paid too much.” (I’m pretty sure I heard Trump say that. Readers, does anyone remember differently?)
Now add in everyone else who’s concerned about their own job, or someone else’s job. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic-Socialist, is the candidate who comes down as a conservative on international trade. Who will American workers trust to go eye-to-eye with China over international trade and outsourcing of American jobs?
Single-issue voters? Mark down in Sanders column any voter who says their only issue is Social Security, or Medicare, or universal health care, or women’s rights. NRA gun voters? Sanders can probably get at least an even split.
Who are the sure-thing Trump voters? Wall Street bankers, big business, the one percent, people with big stock portfolios. Not a majority.
Item six: War and Peace. I’ve saved this one for last. Many Americans admire Donald Trump’s loud mouth. But many other Americans will be downright embarrassed (and frightened) if he’s elected president. To those who will be embarrassed on general principles, add those who don’t want a full-blown war in the Middle East.
Who do voters think will be aggressive, impulsive, reckless, most likely to get us sucked into another war? Trump. Or Cruz.
Who do voters trust to be sensible and careful in the Oval Office? Grandfather. Who do voters think will keep us out of war? Grandfather.
People who want war will vote for Trump. People who want peace will vote for Sanders. Simple as that.
When I think about the voters, the issues, the personalities of the candidates, I can’t see any way Trump or Cruz can win if Bernie Sanders is the Democratic nominee. If the GOP nominates a mainstream Republican, like Jeb Bush, all bets are off.
Might Hillary Clinton be an even stronger Democratic candidate? Quite possibly. I don’t know. That’s a question for another post, on somebody else’s blog. You can read a good argument in favor of Hillary over at Liberal With Words.
Today’s question was about the electability of Bernie Sanders. Yes, he can win. I rest my case.
— John Hayden