Bernie Sanders’ sweeping win in the Nevada Democratic caucus will surely prompt the Russians to pop champagne. They’ve been reportedly boosting Bernie behind the scenes, having calculated that a 78-year-old socialist with a tricky ticker in his chest is the foe most likely to lose to their stooge. They’re surely marveling at their good fortune, at how easy it has been to conquer America without firing a shot.
Even though I’m on record believing that Bernie would crash in November, and even though his lefty pipe dream of all-government health care (forcing 160 million Americans to lose their private coverage) would likely erase the suburb-driven blue wave that swept House Democrats into power, and even though skepticism about Bernie is so endemic that 65 percent of Americans now believe Trump will win a second term (new CBS News poll), I’ll try to be a good sport.
Among the Democratic candidates, only Bernie has demonstrated that he can stoke voters under age 30. They’ve grown up alienated from both party establishments, with millions burdened by college debt, mindful of the ever-widening gap between the rich and everyone else. Of all the age cohorts, theirs is by far the most supportive of democratic socialism. To win in November, Democrats need young people en masse, and Bernie alone would pull them into their coalition.
Bernie, more than any of his rivals, is connecting with young Latinos. Hispanic Americans have long been called a “sleeping giant,” because their ballot participation - relative to their population - has been markedly lower than other minorities. Bernie, with his potential strength among the youngest adults in that community, could awaken the giant. That could have a big impact on one potentially crucial state on election night: Arizona.
Bernie’s economic populism can potentially attract a lot of the white working-class voters in key Rustbelt states. Remember how Hillary Clinton narrowly lost Michigan to Donald Trump? Well, eight months earlier, white working-class voters helped Bernie beat Hillary in the Michigan Democratic primary. If Bernie wins the 2020 nomination - which now looks more likely than - he can pitch again to those voters (especially women), contrasting his economic agenda with Trump’s track record, which features a tax cut law that made the rich richer.
Democrats and left-leaning independents, desperate to halt the slide toward authoritarianism, will vote blue no matter who. By late autumn, all partisans will bury their qualms and unite for the common cause of saving democracy. One Democrat’s tweet summed it up: “I’ll vote for Bernie if he’s the candidate. I will also still think he and most of his supporters are assholes.”
Bernie could pick a running mate that broadens the ticket’s appeal. Nobody seems to be talking about this factor. Given his age, his determination to hide his heart attack medical records (reneging on his promise to release them), and his need to at least calm the Democratic establishment, his veep choice would be of paramount importance. A smart choice would be someone who helps put in play the swing states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin) that put Trump over the top in 2016 - or add states that weren’t in play last time (Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida).
Do you buy these arguments? Trump certainly doesn’t.
If he feared Bernie as an opponent, he’d be trashing him. Instead, Trump’s been rooting for Bernie at every turn. If and when Bernie wins the nomination, the GOP slime machine will kick into gear. Rest assured, if the Republicans and their allies could successfully trash John Kerry’s war medals, imagine what they’ll do with the 1980s videos that show Bernie praising the Soviet system - and marveling at the subway station chandeliers.
And even if Bernie does inspire massive turnout among habitual non-voters, 2016 third-party voters, and young minorities, who’s to say that his presence won’t inspire massive turnout among dormant Trump voters? As progressive analyst Ruy Teixeira warns, “It is truly magical thinking to believe that, in a highly polarized situation, only your side gets to increase turnout.”
But I should stop. I promised to be nice.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at email@example.com.