The American Democratic Party has something of a dilemma, as its primary season to select a candidate to take down Donald Trump kicks into high gear: Do they want to select the candidate best placed to beat Trump, or do they want a candidate who says everything they want to hear? Do they marry the slightly boring, reliable man their parents would approve of, in other words, or do they run off with the exciting, long-haired lefty?
So far, the answer is clear: in three contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, Democrats have voted in growing numbers to spend a naughty weekend at Bernie’s.
Sanders, interestingly, isn’t even a Democrat. A US Senator for most of the past quarter century, he has always remained one of only one or two independents in that body, for the simple reason that the Democratic Party has never been left-wing enough for his tastes. Left wing, in the United States, of course, is all relevant. In Ireland, Sanders would be considered a relative centrist. He believes in free public healthcare, progressive taxation, cutting back on defence spending, and that immigrants, even illegal immigrants, should get the same benefits as native born citizens. He’d have been the perfect candidate for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in Dublin South.
But the US electorate is not its Irish counterpart. On almost every issue, Sanders is objectively on the left fringe of American politics. He’s a self-described socialist, a sympathiser with the Cuban regime of the Castros, a critic of Israel, and somebody who holidayed in the Soviet Union and praised their bread lines on the basis that with a bread line, everybody gets equal access to the bread.
Jim Geraghty, over at the National Review, has a great piece that anyone interested in the possible next President should read: Twenty things you probably didn’t know about Bernie Sanders. It includes this gem:
That 1985 Los Angeles Times article also noted that “representatives from the Irish Republican Army have stopped by Sanders’ office during the past four years.” A subsequent Boston Globe article stated, “members of the Irish Republican Army were regularly invited to City Hall.”
So, at least, if he wins, Taoiseach Mary Lou will get a warm welcome at the White House in 2021.
Nonetheless, exciting as Sanders might be to readers of the Irish Times, Democrats are growing more and more worried about his strength:
“I’m a liberal, so I like Bernie and I don’t have anything against him. I’m just a realist,” said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), who has backed Bloomberg. “The reality is, he’s not going to play well. And Trump will easily be able to label him as a socialist… and we’re going to get absolutely wiped out.”
Sanders is benefitting immensely from a divided Democratic field of candidates, with centrists like former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg splitting the so-called “moderate” vote while Sanders cruises to victories with the support of 30% of the voters.
In many ways, of course, this has an eerie parallel with… Donald Trump himself.
Four years ago, Republicans were unable to stop Trump’s nomination because a divided field of candidates could not get enough of the voters to united behind an alternative to Trump. Like Democrats today, Republicans were convinced this would end in disaster, with an unelectable candidate with extremist views going up against a seasoned politician in Hillary Clinton. It didn’t quite work out that way.
So, can Sanders beat Trump if, as seems likely, he wins the nomination? It’s impossible to say, but Democrats are probably right to be worried. The US economy is much stronger today than it was in 2016, which gives Trump a much better record to run on than Mrs. Clinton had four years ago. In addition, while Trump was the underdog challenger four years ago, this time he will have the benefit of a billion dollar re-election campaign that will relentlessly attack Sanders as a dangerous socialist.
While polls might show Trump and Sanders roughly tied today, it’s important to remember that almost all of the negative information about Trump is already known – and that those polls might look very different after six months of negative ads about Sanders’ record of socialist policy and his decidedly unconventional foreign policy views. In an election against Sanders, Trump is probably a decent favourite.
But then, as Trump himself proved, favourites often lose.