Bernie Sanders Bows Out

Bernie Sanders has ended his bid for the Democratic nomination. Has the Democratic Party learned anything from his campaign?

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U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona. March 5, 2020. (photo: Gage Skidmore)

“I have concluded that this battle for the Democratic nomination will not be successful, and so today I am announcing the suspension of my campaign.”

“We are now some 300 delegates behind Vice President Biden and the path to victory is virtually impossible.”

— Sen. Bernie Sanders. April 8, 2020.

The Sanders presidential campaign of 2020 is officially over. Bernie Sanders has failed, once again, to secure the nomination of the Democratic Party.

Whether the Democratic Party has learned anything from the Sanders campaign remains to be seen.

Sen. Bernie Sanders made the announcement today; voicing his disappointment at the outcome; thanking his supporters; and pledging to support the Democratic Party’s now presumptive nominee, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

Will supporters of Bernie Sanders, who have been again denied the chance to vote for Sanders for President, really turn out for Joe Biden?

In 2016, a not-insignificant number of people who voted twice for President Barack Obama cast their vote for Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton.

Are they more or less upset with the Democratic Party than they were four years ago?

Are they more or less likely to rage vote- again- for Donald Trump?

This is a question the party needs to answer between now and November. But the Democratic Party is missing an important point about Bernie Sanders.

Sanders was never a threat to the party; Bernie Sanders isn’t the real problem. The suspension of his campaign, though it is something party leaders have wanted very much, doesn’t solve the main problem facing the Democratic Party in 2020.

It is the people who supported Bernie Sanders- fiercely and vocally, online and in real life, financially and personally- that should worry the Democratic Party. What they liked about Sanders is everything the hate about Joe Biden.

Bernie Sanders may have dropped out of the race; his voters haven’t.

Biden’s voting record, his history of cronyism and self-dealing, the accounts of women in his orbit that describe public invasions of their personal space; the recent accusation of sexual assault against him, all make Biden a very tough sell for liberal progressives.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a rising star on the progressive left and in the Democratic Party, endorsed Bernie Sanders for President, as did fellow “Squad” member Rep. Ilhan Omar (D- MN). Ocasio-Cortez said in a recent interview that she and Joe Biden don’t even belong in the same party.

She is certainly not the only liberal progressive in the Democratic Party to feel this way.

There is a full-scale political rebellion going on, and the Democratic Party is seemingly blind to it. With Bernie Sanders out, how does the party expect to entice liberal Democrats to turn out in the kinds of numbers Biden will need to win?

To understand the dynamics of Sanders voters, it is important to consider the big picture. Sanders voters aren’t alone in rejecting the political status quo of the past three decades.

“The sheer number of voters in open political rebellion against centrist politics is remarkable. Adding the Sanders base (36% of the Democratic vote in the latest Real Clear Politics poll average, or roughly 13% of the national vote considering that about 45% of voters lean Democratic) to the core Trump base of roughly 42%, and around 55% of U.S. voters now support politicians who openly despise the central assumptions of the political establishment.” — Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal. March 25, 2020

The major problem these voters seem to have is that political elites just keep getting it wrong.

Consider how wrong both parties were during the 2016 election. First the Republican Party, then the Democratic Party, completely underestimated Donald Trump.

The Republican Party tried desperately to cling to the mid-center politics of Jeb Bush; Donald Trump won the Republican primary anyway. The Democratic Party managed to field its own version of the safe centrist candidate with a political legacy name- if only just.

Donald Trump won anyway.

Barely managing to fend off the challenge of Bernie Sanders in 2016, Democrats thought Hillary Clinton would beat Donald Trump handily. No mainstream media outlet ever gave Trump more than a 10% chance of winning the presidency in 2016.

And both parties haven’t only been wrong about Donald Trump. On economics, trade, war, immigration; both parties are guilty of being wrong too many times to demand unquestioning loyalty from voters.

If both political parties were working as they should, they would be no Donald Trump; there would be no Bernie Sanders, either.

Since both parties persist in leaving large swaths of the voting population out of their calculations, Democrats haven’t seen the last of Bernie Sanders. True, Bernie Sanders himself has dropped out of the race, and isn’t likely to run again in four years given his advanced age. But the next Bernie Sanders is even now, rising to take his place.

The Republicans have the same problem. Provided Donald Trump manages to win re-election in 2020, if the Republican Party thinks to harken back to the good old, pre-Donald Trump days with a nice, safe, centrist candidate like Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan in 2024, they have another thing coming.

Donald Trump isn’t a Republican; he’s a wrecking ball. In 2024, Republican voters are going to want another one.

People who voted for Trump in 2016 wanted him to break things; like the cheap labor and trade deals that crippled American manufacturing and left small towns across the country in ruins. Like the U.S. press that has steadily come to strictly favor establishment Democrats.

Bernie Sanders voters want to break just as many things in the Democratic Party and in the status-quo. Bernie Sanders was their wrecking ball. They are going to want another one, and Joe Biden isn’t it.

Can Biden win without strong support from progressive Democrats?

“The question is of great importance to the many Democrats whose main desire is anyone-but-Trump. If Sanders has no realistic chance, it will take immediate strong efforts to stop Sanders- efforts that are likely to alienate many progressive Democrats and possibly swing the election to Trump.” — Bernie Sanders Is a Longshot, and Most Likely to Lose In Landslide Fashion, Real Clear Markets. February 29, 2020.

There have been many articles articulating Bernie Sanders lack of electability. Their authors sift back through a litany of historical precedent, which in any other time was an accurate predictor of how people might vote in an election. The problem is, the historical data has been rendered practically useless by any number of modern factors.

Not the least of these factors are the availability of information on the internet, the 24-hour news/entertainment cycle, the power of social media and Donald J. Trump.

Historical data and polls are perhaps more unreliable predictors than they’ve ever been.

When people were able to be reached in a random sampling by landline, polls might have been worth something. Now that hardly anyone has a landline, pollsters haven’t figured out a way around the most persistent systemic problem with polling.

A poll is never a true representation of everyone, or even every voter.

Polls are elective, which means that some people will elect to participate and some won’t. People with strong opinions on the subjects are more likely to elect to participate- along with dozens of other slight differences between people who choose to give their opinions in polls and people who don’t.

The polls may show Joe Biden leading Donald Trump in the presidential race. But these same polls never gave Trump more than a 10% chance in 2016. How have polling methods improved since then?

They haven’t.

In 2016, Sanders refused to leave the race until July. That he has exited the race earlier might bode well for the Biden campaign. Whether or not Sanders will aggressively campaign for Joe Biden is another matter. Many centrist Democrats still blame Sanders, and his supporters, for failing to support Clinton in 2016 after Sanders lost in the primary.

Will Sanders voters- disappointed for a second time- turn out in record numbers this time for Joe Biden?

Or will they stay home and let the Democratic Party sink into a second devastating loss to Donald Trump?

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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