Jonathan Chait has a piece today arguing that the socialist left is pushing the Democratic party toward a cliff, one the party ought to be trying to avoid. He opens with the usual caveats, i.e. no one can predict the outcome of an election in a time when populism and partisan division are surging. But then he makes a sustained case that even if you can’t know nominating Sanders will end in failure, there’s lots of evidence to suggest that’s the case. “The totality of the evidence suggests Sanders is an extremely, perhaps uniquely, risky nominee,” Chait writes. A big part of the risk comes from the fact that Sanders is pushing a lot of agenda items that are not very popular:
Sanders has gleefully discarded the party’s conventional wisdom that it has to pick and choose where to push public opinion leftward, adopting a comprehensive left-wing agenda, some of which is popular, and some of which is decidedly not. Positions in the latter category include replacing all private health insurance with a government plan, banning fracking, letting prisoners vote, decriminalizing the border, giving free health care to undocumented immigrants, and eliminating ICE.
That link about the fracking ban proposal goes to an Axios story which highlights these results from several swing states:
As you can see, in states the Democratic Party needs to win, the fracking ban is barely a majority position among Democratic voters and it’s a loser among swing voters. Yesterday I wrote about elected Democrats in Pennsylvania who were warning that this issue was a looming disaster for the party. “If a candidate comes into this state and tries to sell that policy, they’re going to have a hard time winning,” the mayor of Pittsburgh said. Simply put, Sanders unwillingness to compromise on his utopian vision is appealing to the far left but is going to make it very difficult for him to compete in rust belt states Democrats need to win.
If Bernie is such an obviously flawed candidate, why do Democrats seem to be seriously flirting with choosing him as their nominee? Here Chait argues that the socialist left has been living in a bubble. After Hillary lost in 2016, the left offered an explanation which doubled as a plan: Moderates don’t excite voters. Instead of fighting over the mushy middle, a bold progressive could win by exciting voters the party usually ignores. But as Chait points out, there have been two recent tests of that theory and in both cases the bold progressives have failed:
Numerous activists and intellectuals in the Sanders orbit held up Jeremy Corbyn as proof of concept for his viability. Anticipating a Corbyn victory, they argued over and over that Corbyn was showing how socialism would attract and mobilize, not repel, voters. Corbyn is more extreme than Sanders, but Sanders enthusiasts themselves drew a connection between the two, and his massive defeat obviously casts serious doubt on the model he was supposed to vindicate.
Corbyn not only lost, he lost in a historic blowout. After his loss, various voices in the media pointed out that this was a flashing warning light about candidates like Sanders and Warren. Even MSNBC’s Chris Hayes made the point about Corbyn testing the bold progressive model and failing. But he was shouted down by the left and eventually deleted his tweet.
The other test of this theory was the 2018 election. The far left scoffed at the idea fighting over the moderate middle was a winning strategy:
“Their theory of the case is to recruit old white guys who are longtime Establishment insiders who will run on a boring agenda Democrats would have run on 20 years ago,” complained Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “The DCCC is doing it wrong,” insisted Democracy for America’s Neil Sroka. “In district after district, the national party is throwing its weight behind candidates who are out of step with the national mood,” proclaimed a long piece in the left-wing Intercept attacking the party’s House recruitment strategy, “The DCCC’s failure to understand the shifting progressive electorate is costing the party.”…
Democrats flipped 40 seats. Tellingly, while progressives managed to nominate several candidates in red districts — Kara Eastman in Nebraska, Richard Ojeda in West Virginia, and many others — any one of whose victory they would have cited as proof that left-wing candidates can win Trump districts, not a single one of them prevailed in November. Our Revolution went 0–22, Justice Democrats went 0–16, and Brand New Congress went 0–6.* The failed technocratic 26-year-old bourgeoise shills who were doing it wrong somehow accounted for 100 percent of the party’s House gains.
Why would anyone looking at this conclude that the project that failed at the local level will suddenly succeed at the national level? Chait says the answer is that the left simply isn’t looking at the data. This isn’t a rational calculation, it’s an ideological crusade. As Chait put it, “For the socialist left, which has no other standard-bearer to choose from, Bernie is too big to fail.” The emotional investment of the Bernie Bros is driving the Democratic Party toward a cliff.
Of course anything can happen in an election so you can never say it’s impossible, but that doesn’t change the fact that, if you step back a bit and look at it, Bernie is the worst possible choice the party could make to run against Trump.