Bernie Sanders is making a lot of Democrats nervous. Every day brings fresh warnings about the perils of pitting a soft socialist palooka like Sanders against a battle-scarred capitalist brawler like the president. Veteran pugilists like James Carville know Sanders has never been in the ring with anyone who fights like Trump. They know he has never taken any real punches during any of his previous political campaigns or from his current competitors for the Democratic presidential nomination. Consequently, these professionals justifiably fear that the Vermont senator won’t be ready for the haymakers that Trump is preparing for him pursuant to his proud devotion to “democratic socialism.”
This is, of course, the Vermont senator’s glass jaw. He has a very long record of praising communist regimes, he campaigned for the Socialist Workers Party, there is that inconvenient video of Bernie heaping praise on the Soviet Union, ad infinitum. Yet, from the perspective of sane Democrats, a knock-down-drag-out between Trump and Sanders could end a threat to their party far more dangerous than the loss of any single election — its steady slide to the left. A presidential campaign between the president and the Vermont senator would also be about the systems of government that Trump and Sanders represent. As Mark Penn, another seasoned Democratic fighter, writes:
It is odd — in a time of such great prosperity, low unemployment and rising wages — that his message would resonate.… The exit polls, for example, put the voters in the New Hampshire primary at 60 percent liberal while the electorate as a whole is no more than about 25 percent liberal.… It is too easy for candidates who are out of step with America to gain traction in the Democratic Party.
In other words, the Democratic Party has drifted so far to the left that a socialist candidate like Sanders has a real shot at capturing its 2020 presidential nomination. More importantly, because the senator makes no attempt whatever to disguise his agenda — to convert the United States from free market capitalism to democratic socialism — his nomination would set up an uncharacteristically honest debate about the Democratic Party’s vision for the nation’s future as it compares to that of the GOP. If Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, he won’t attempt to hide his views behind euphemism and subterfuge. Nor will President Trump be coy about his enthusiasm for capitalism.
This debate would inevitably lead to a Trump victory, which would almost certainly be accompanied by a return of the House majority to the GOP. A new Gallup poll reveals that despite the positive portrayal of socialism promoted by the Democrats and many media outlets, the public just isn’t buying the propaganda: “Less than half of Americans, 45%, say they would vote for a socialist for president, while 53% say they would not.” Nor is this, as we are often told, an artifact of systemic bigotry or ideological bias. According to Gallup, Americans are remarkably open-minded in their assessment of presidential candidates. This applies to race, religion, and gender:
More than nine in 10 Americans say they would vote for a presidential candidate nominated by their party who happened to be black, Catholic, Hispanic, Jewish or a woman. Such willingness drops to eight in 10 for candidates who are evangelical Christians or are gays or lesbians. Between six and seven in 10 would vote for someone who is under 40 years of age, over 70, a Muslim or an atheist.
Only the socialists failed to make the cut. After the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, each of which awarded Sanders the majority of votes cast, the Democratic establishment and much of the media are terrified. As one headline put it, “Yes, Bernie Sanders Could Be the Nominee — and It Would Be an Epic Nightmare for Democrats.” They should, however, welcome the news. It does portend election losses in the short term, but it offers a chance for rational Democrats to purge their party of faux socialist headline hunters like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and “the Squad.” Yet, even pragmatic veterans like James Carville fail to see the opportunity:
Some people in this country want a revolution. They want disruption. They scream at people and bully people. And I don’t know how you win an election: 78 years old, screaming in a microphone about the revolution but you gotta give people an alternative.… If we go the way of the British Labour Party, if we nominate Jeremy Corbyn, it’s going to be the end of days.
This isn’t merely melodramatic; it misses the point. Carville, Penn, and other rational Democrats should get out of the way and let Trump take out Sanders and the radical Democrats who control the House. But this will work only if Sanders is the nominee. If some ostensible moderate is handed the Democratic nomination by the party elite and proceeds to lose, it will strengthen insurgent socialists like AOC who are already pursuing a hostile takeover of their party. It’s time for a strategic retreat. That means defeat by Trump and the GOP in November, which would indeed be hard to swallow. In the end, however, it would be good for both parties and the nation as a whole.