What would have happened in a Sanders vs Trump race?

I’ll confess right up front that I don’t watch Bill Maher’s show on HBO, but one of his recent episodes is covered over at AlterNet and it broke out into some blue on blue verbal warfare. Maher got into a scrap with Cornel West, an avowed Bernie Sanders supporter, over West’s claim that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were “equally awful.” Even though it still comes down to a battle over which of them despises President Trump more, West feels that the Democrats bear an even larger share of the blame because Bernie Sanders was not only the better choice in the primary, but that he would have beaten Trump in the general election. Here’s the six minute clip of the panel discussion followed by a short excerpt from the coverage.


Friday night, HBO Real Time host Bill Maher went toe-to-toe with professor and social activist Cornel West over the 2016 election, with Maher confronting West for calling Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump “equally awful.”

West, a prominent backer of Sen. Bernie Sanders, insisted that the Vermont independent could have won the election, and took a shot at Clinton after Maher pointed out that one of the former Secretary of State’s first speeches as a candidate was about mass incarceration that disproportionately affects young black men.

“Hillary gave speeches about a whole lot of stuff,” West shot back,” but it didn’t have a whole lot of integrity in it, brother.”

It’s always fun to watch two people who both so desperately hate the President knocking each other around, but West’s poorly phrased and hyperbolic claims do raise an interesting question. With this much water under the bridge and plenty of time for reflection, is there any credence to what he’s saying? If the DNC hadn’t cheated and connived to hand the primary victory to Hillary Clinton, could Bernie Sanders have actually won?

Actually, David Horsey – political cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times – began picking that question apart last December and arrived at much the same conclusion as Cornel West. He based his reasoning on the relatively slender margin of victory that Trump had with white, working class voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. His conclusion is that those same voters were actually a pretty god fit with Bernie’s platform and since many of them would rather vote Democrat if given the chance, he could have snagged those 46 electoral votes and won a slim victory.

All three of those states usually lean toward the Democratic candidate. This time around, most working-class white voters — many of whom voted for Barack Obama in the last two elections — saw Clinton as the incarnation of a political establishment that was indifferent to their struggles. They were won over by Trump’s boasts that he would protect American jobs and challenge the influence of Wall Street. Who else in the 2016 campaign made similar promises, with far more conviction? Bernie Sanders, of course.

Polls and interviews with voters, both before and after the election, identified a significant overlap between Trump voters and Sanders admirers. Among non-college-educated whites in the old industrial states, many were simply looking for someone to address their concerns and shake things up in Washington. They went with Trump on Nov. 8, but plenty of them would have voted for Sanders if he had been on the ballot.

If Sanders were “any other Democrat” from the mainstream of the party I might be inclined to at least acknowledge the possibility of him being right. But the fact is, Bernie wasn’t just “not another Democrat” in that race… he wasn’t a Democrat at all. And the portion of his political makeup which isn’t at home in the Party of the Donkey is summed up best by the one word he himself uses the most often… socialist. Horsey gave a nod to that fact in his analysis from December, but immediately blew it off as being essentially a non-factor. Citing the fact that the Soviet menace is no more than a memory, any attacks by the GOP on that score, “would have been largely limited to a constituency on the right that no Democrat could win anyway.”

Pardon my attempting to inject brutal reality into the conversation, but that sounds like the same abject denial of reality which is pervasive among the American Left. First of all, a campaign against Sanders would have been structured entirely differently than the one rolled out against Hillary. The themes of Crooked Hillary and Lock Her Up would have been replaced entirely by Socialist Bernie and Send Him Back to Europe. (The fact that he never lived in Europe could be conveniently ignored.) The few kind words that Trump had for Sanders on the campaign trail were entirely focused on the unfair treatment he was receiving from the crooked DNC and would be forgotten as soon as the general election began.

And how would those working class white voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin have felt about Bernie once the phrase “socialist” was being blasted into their ears 24/7 for a few months? Too many public opinion polls show that Bernie probably would have done, if anything, even worse with this specific voting demographic. The polling results on this question have been widely reported, including during the 2016 race, and the results are consistent. Americans – including the aforementioned working class white ones – are an incredibly tolerant group and would consider nearly anyone as a possible president. The linked report once again confirms that 93% would vote for a Catholic candidate, 92% would vote for a black candidate, 92% would vote for a woman and 91% for a Jewish or Hispanic hopeful. Gays and lesbians don’t do quite as well, with 74%, and Muslims fair worse with 60%. But all of those are enough to lock up a solid majority and get you over the finish line.

You know who didn’t make it to the 51% margin? Socialists. Only 47% said they could bring themselves to vote for one (and that’s pretty much the entire Democratic base plus a shocking number of leaners). Pretending that this well deserved bias isn’t out there doesn’t make it go away. And Sanders’ own history is ripe with low hanging fruit, including many quotes and clips where he proudly declares himself a socialist and extols the virtues of that ideology. Trump’s team would have turned on a dime if Bernie had won the primary, picked up the Stop the Socialist banner and run with it for all it was worth. And it would have worked.

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David Strom 6:31 PM on October 05, 2022