The second Sanders campaign has shown conclusively how badly the left misunderstood the electorate. It is not just that Sanders has failed to inspire anything like the upsurge in youth turnout he promised, or that he has failed to make meaningful headway with black voters. White working-class and rural voters have swung heavily against him. In Missouri and Michigan, those voters turned states he closely contested four years ago into routs for his opponent. Some rural counties have swung 30 points from Sanders 2016 to Biden 2020. The candidate in the race who has forged a transracial working-class coalition is, in fact, Joe Biden.
The factor that actually explains 2016, as some of us chagrined liberals insisted at the time, was Hillary Clinton’s idiosyncratic personal unpopularity. It turned out large portions of the public, even of the Democratic electorate, simply detested her. Sexism is obviously a very large reason, along with Clinton’s own mistakes and the media’s frequently unfair coverage of her. But the important thing is that Clinton’s toxic standing among wide swaths of the electorate was the gravitational force causing the phenomenon Bernie fans misread. Clinton hatred allowed Sanders to draw more than 40 percent of the primary vote, and Clinton hatred allowed Donald Trump to narrowly win.