I’m Good Enough. I’m Smart Enough. I’m Socialist Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!
By any measure, Senator Bernie Sanders (Socialist – Vermont) is off to a very solid start in the Democratic primary race. He’s the only declared candidate within spitting distance of the as-yet undeclared Joe Biden in the national polling and even leads him narrowly in a couple of states. He raised more money in the first 24 hours of his candidacy than anyone except Beto. And he’s entering the race with one thing most of his potential primary opponents don’t have: the experience that comes from running a bruising, 50-state campaign, along with a lot of experienced staffers who have been down this road before.
But Sanders still has one serious hurdle to overcome. Is he “electable enough” to break through in the general election? I suppose this is the equivalent of the “likable enough” question that female candidates rail against. It’s a serious question for the Democratic base to consider, but Bernie wants you all to know that it’s not a problem. He’s totally electable… probably. (Associated Press)
As he revs up his second presidential campaign, the Vermont senator and his supporters are putting his case for winning the general election at the center of the argument. The emphasis is meant to aggressively confront the perception that Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is too liberal to win over the coalition needed to win the White House. That question dogged Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination four years ago. This time he is trying to shake it early…
What Trump was offering “was faux-Bernie Sanders in order to beat Hillary Clinton,” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said, adding that Sanders plans to focus on the three states even as he fights off a crowded field of Democrats vying for the nomination in states with early primary contests. “We will invest, we will go to these states and demonstrate through real action, and hopefully data and numbers, that we can beat Donald Trump.”
It’s easy to understand not only Sanders’ predicament but the strategy he’s employing in an attempt to counter it. His spokespeople are already out there making the case that the crazy ideas he was floating during his 2016 battle against Hillary Clinton have now been adopted by many of the Democrats running for the nomination. In that sense, he’s absolutely correct. Hard left, socialist talking points have essentially become mainstream thinking on the left. But that’s also still his biggest problem. They are only mainstream among the younger elements of the Democratic base.
No matter who wins the Democratic nomination, whether it’s Bernie or one of the younger hopefuls, if they are preaching socialism they have to sell the idea to the moderates and independents of the nation on election day. As Ed pointed out yesterday, Sanders has been busily trying to make that sale, but history – both ancient and current – provides too many examples of how badly socialism almost always ends.
To be sure, we’ve seen an alarming shift in the numbers, primarily from people who haven’t been around long enough remember the bad old days. One recent poll showed that 57% of registered Democrats view socialism more favorably than capitalism. That’s certainly disturbing, but we should also note that you’re still only talking about slightly more than half of your own base. If 47% of your own core voters aren’t so wild about socialism, you’re going to have a tough row to hoe in the general election.
So how does the rest of the country view the topic? As recently as last summer, polling showed that a whopping 76% of Americans overall said they would not vote for a socialist. Those numbers may have slid down a bit since then, but not by that much. So Bernie’s electability argument is on shaky ground to start with. But as far as I’m concerned, the Democrats should go full bore into the breach and nominate a socialist. I’m sure they’ll do just fine.