The Problem with Bernie

Supposedly in the new four-hour (yikes!) documentary Hillary the subject says of Bernie Sanders “Nobody likes him.”  As with most of Hillary’s judgments, especially when it comes to gauging human desires, she is way off the mark.  In fact, Sanders appears to be a reasonably likable guy, which accounts in part for his spike in the Democrat polls.  There is a strong possibility he’ll end up the party’s nominee, a frightening prospect for the Democrat establishment and the country as a whole.  

Current polling suggests Sanders might win the Iowa primary.  He’s polling just below Biden (23-21%) within the margin of error.  Nationally, he holds a slight lead among Democrat primary voters (27-26%) also well within the margin of error.  The same poll has Warren at 15%. 

This has reportedly alarmed top Democrats.  Not only does Sanders present the type of truly radical socialist that wealthy Democratic elites really don’t want jiggling with the economy and their stock portfolios, they think a Sanders candidacy effectively will secure Trump’s reelection.  Even worse, it might flip the House as well, mirroring the crushing defeat that befell Jeremy Corbin, the far-left British politician, who Sanders resembles in many respects.  

President Sanders would attempt to radically remake the United States into a socialist state further to the left, further indebted, and further internationalized than even Western Europe’s most liberal polities.  It would be a historical disaster of epic and perhaps irrevocable proportions. 

Sanders ideas are so radical that his chances of beating Donald Trump in November appear marginal.   It’s assumed he would not bring a heavy Democratic turnout, struggle with blacks, and alienate the critical independent voters who effectively will decide the election. 

Relatedly, Sanders offers no “identity advantage” to the Democrats, which might also drive excitement within the party and push turnout.  He’s an old white guy from New York (like Trump), plus he’s ethnically Jewish, not a plus with Democrats today.

Wealthy donors, for all their talk of “equality” and pandering to the myriad of “oppressed identities” that form the Party’s base, virtue signal as they do because they are confident that their own core wealth and privilege will either rise or remain unaffected in a Democrat administration.  That would not be true under President Sanders.  And sitting representatives and senators worry that they’ll be dragged down in a Sanders debacle.

For these reasons, it’s plausible that Donald Trump would love to run against Sanders.  In Iowa, Republican operatives are moving hard against Joe Biden, not Sanders, evidently in bid to knock him out of the race early, giving Sanders the edge and momentum, which would be bolstered with a Sanders win in New Hampshire, where recent polls say he’s opened a 15-point lead.

One of Sanders strengths, but also a problem for the Democrat establishment, is that like Trump, Sanders has a solid and dedicated base.  That base is made up largely of younger and also less wealthy people, who feel alienated.  This includes so-called Bernie Bros, who think Bernie will give them a lifetime of handouts, even if they decide not to work -- God bless’em.  But it’s not just the bros.  Sanders is the candidate of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the effective national leader of the young left, who is at risk of losing her own congressional seat due to her ignorance and dismissal of retail politics.

The problem for the establishment is that attacking Sanders or brokering a convention would almost certainly alienate this base.  They might put down their video games and cellphones to vote for Bernie, but they ain’t gonna do it for Joe Biden (or Michael Bloomberg if it came to that.)

Even worse, this sense of alienation that affects many of Sanders supporters actually makes them more open to Trump than most other Democrats.  Ten percent of Sanders supporters actually ended up voting for Trump in 2016, a reflection of the fact that personality rather than policy drives a lot of people, especially younger folks.  Were that to happen again, especially given the growth in Sanders’ popularity, it could prove disastrous for Democrat hopes in 2020. 

So knocking Biden out of the race to open the way for Sanders seems like a reasonable strategy for Trump and Republicans.  But it is also a high-risk venture.

On a personal level, Sanders matches up rather well with Trump.  Like Trump, Sanders is his own man, relatively authentic for a politician.  Trump benefitted substantially from the strong dislike many Americans have for Hillary Clinton, a phony if there ever was one.  Sanders isn’t like Hillary, other than that they are both people of the left.

Philosophically, Sanders has been more consistent than Trump, who has migrated variously over the political and social map.  Trump has solidly staked a claim as a tough conservative President in the past three years, particularly through his judicial picks, but Sanders can shake off attempts by Trump to paint him as a phony.  

The bottom line is that for all his myriad philosophical problems as a candidate, Sanders does well on a personal basis.  He’s unlikely to be intimidated or shouted down, and while Sanders not as funny as Trump by a long mile, he’s less unfunny than most of his Democrat competitors.  Trump will have to beat him by scaring the bejabbers out of people with the prospect of being led by Comrade Bernie.  

Trump can do that, and would likely beat Sanders, flip the House Republican to boot, and hand the Democrats an epic defeat.  Clearly this is what the Democrat establishment fears, and Trump seems to be trying to engineer.  For Trump and Republicans, going against Bernie is a good bet, but with incredibly high stakes.

If you experience technical problems, please write to