Where is the NeverBernie movement?

The title question comes to us courtesy of Kevin D. Williamson at National Review. An established veteran of the NeverTrump movement, Williamson looks over the quickly collapsing prospects of Senator Bernie Sanders, noting the level of ire he raises among many of the established footsoldiers of the Democratic Party and wonders why there hasn’t been a corresponding “Never Bernie” movement among their ranks. The author notes that there is definitely organized (if very quiet) opposition to Bernie Sanders’ hopes to be the presidential nominee, but it’s more of a utilitarian, businesslike affair than any sort of pledge to keep Sanders and his socialist manifesto from ever darkening their doorway.

There is a purely strategic anti-Sanders effort, to be sure, typified by the Big Tent Project, which works to promote less radical candidates (it helped Joe Biden in South Carolina) and warns Democrats that “nominating Bernie means we reelect Trump.” There is a very large difference between worrying that a candidate will lose and believing that he does not deserve to win—that he is, as many conservatives said of Trump in 2016, fundamentally unfit for the office he seeks. Which Senator Sanders manifestly is. Democrats may be concerned that his radicalism is likely to be a political loser, but there is not much intellectual or moral pushback against the radicalism itself.

To the extent that one exists at all, the supra-strategic “Never Bernie” tendency consists of 7,844 nobodies on Twitter and David Brooks, a conservative-leaning New York Times columnist who interned for William F. Buckley Jr. and who has been an ex-Republican for about as long as Donald Trump has been a Republican.

Williamson also touches on the lack of shock and horror being expressed by nearly anyone on the left that Sanders is an overt socialist if not a closet communist. For this part of the discussion, he points us to this article from Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine. Chait goes to great lengths to attempt to draw a line between Bernie’s flavor of socialism and actual communism. The best he’s able to come up with is that communist revolutions result in the creation of a single-party state, whereas Bernie has never gone quite that far.

And while it is unfortunately easy to confuse socialism with communism, the two are not synonymous. As you move left on the ideological spectrum, liberalism bleeds into socialism, but it is difficult to define a fixed point where one ends and the other begins. (The Socialist Party’s program from a century ago is now largely uncontroversial not only among Democrats but Republicans.) But the divide between democratic socialism and communism is fairly clear. Communism envisions political change occurring through revolution, followed by the establishment of a one-party state, that party representing the sole political organ with a claim to political legitimacy.

Sanders has rejected this theory his entire political life. In a speech 30 years ago, while extolling socialism, he distinguished his creed from communism:

You can read the dusty, old Sanders speech at the link if you like, but the distinction is more of a technicality when looked at in 21st-century realities. Bernie may not be looking to officially eliminate all political parties and replace them with a single state organism, but he would clearly be just fine with one party dominating control of Washington in perpetuity, regulating every aspect of the lives of all citizens and redistributing every last bit of wealth until we all exist equally in a state of government-managed poverty.

Getting back to the original question, however, I have a slightly different take on why a true parallel to the NeverTrumpers hasn’t risen up on the left. The Democrats who are fighting to stop Bernie Sanders from firing up his “revolution” and seizing the presidential nomination, by and large, don’t really hate Bernie Sanders or find him reprehensible (though plenty of lefties in the media seem to). As I wrote this weekend when discussing Ben Smith’s recent article about Sanders, there are plenty of Democrats who would probably love to see many of Sanders’ policies put in place. They would be fine with the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, Basic Guaranteed Income and a wealth tax that would drive the hated top one percent into the poorhouse. But they also realize that those types of policies lose elections. Their opposition to Sanders is a practical matter rather than a visceral one.

The NeverTrumpers like Williamson, however, are motivated by something entirely different. They despise Donald Trump for being Donald Trump. They love to talk about how he’s not a real conservative (and for most of his life he certainly wasn’t). They hate his brash, public persona and how he interacts with anyone that stands in his way. But when it comes to policy? It’s a rare day when you hear the NeverTrumpers complaining about all of the justices Trump has flooded into the courts around the nation. Virtually every one of them believes we need to strengthen our borders and combat illegal immigration. And with the exception of a few hawks, I would wager that the majority of them would like to see us extricate ourselves from Afghanistan and aren’t terribly sorry that we’re out of Iraq, either. Sure, they will rightly complain about the levels of federal spending and the soaring debt and deficit under Trump, but Republicans have sadly grown used to that it seems. The GOP is opposed to big government spending when it’s Democrats doing the spending. Not so much when the shoe is on the other foot.

So, in short, there simply isn’t enough visceral hatred of Bernie on the left to fuel a real NeverBernie movement. They would rather pat him on the head, tell him he gave it a good try and send him back to Vermont or whichever of his three homes he’s staying in these days. The NeverTrumpers, on the other hand, would prefer to see the President leave town strapped to a rail. But they’ll happily keep all of the judges he’s appointed and the gains he’s made in key policy areas. And that’s why the parallel that Williamson is searching for doesn’t really exist.