It’s no secret that I’ve been fairly skeptical of the presidential chances of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). I love his work in the Senate, but I just don’t think that someone who openly calls themselves a socialist – and who’s going to be 75 in 2016 – would win a general election. That’s even if he can beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries, which I don’t think he can.
Again, it’s not that I’m not a huge fan of the senator from Vermont, I’m just a realist when it comes to politics and I know how these things go. If Republicans are handed Sanders as the Democratic opponent, whoever emerges as their candidate will be given the talking points of:
- He’s a socialist.
- He wants to raise taxes on millions (though mostly rich, but they won’t say that).
- He wants to massively grow government.
- He wants to add trillions to the national debt.
- He wants to cut defense spending by half.
Are any of these ideas bad? No, not really. But as I’ve said before, change usually happens very slowly and Americans have proven that they’re easy to manipulate. If Republicans are given enough of these “scary” ideas to throw out there, it’s going to be enough to push a lot of moderates and independents to the right. I know liberals don’t like to hear that because they love Sanders (as do I), but choosing not to believe political realities doesn’t change those realities.
With that said, Hillary Clinton isn’t really who Sanders needs to worry about – it’s Martin O’Malley.
Now, does that mean I think O’Malley has a chance next year? No, I don’t. Not in 2016, but possibly in 2024 after we hopefully see 8 years of a successful Democratic president.
But the reason why Sanders supporters need to worry about O’Malley is because the former governor of Maryland is courting the “to the left of Hillary” voters, which are a lot of the same people who support Sanders. These are also many of the same people who wanted Senator Elizabeth Warren to run, but have realized that’s not going to happen.
What’s going to end up happening in these primary elections is you’ll have your Clinton supporters and then you’ll have the “anyone but Hillary” folks ranging from the super-left “socialist” people who support Sanders to the very left, but slightly more moderate liberals who’ll go for O’Malley. In other words, O’Malley might have the potential to pull some supporters away from Clinton, but more realistically he could take a huge chunk away from Sanders. And if that happens, it’ll be similar to the “Ross Perot effect” in 1992 where Perot took far more voters away from George H.W. Bush than he did Bill Clinton, which helped Clinton win. I realize that was the general election and not a single party’s primary, but it’s the same general effect.
This race isn’t among a diverse grouping of liberal voters, it’s between those who support Hillary Clinton vs. those who want anyone but her. And the truth is, the other Democratic candidates aren’t trying to be Hillary Clinton, they’re all trying to be “to the left” of her. At the end of the day, that’s likely going to split the “anyone but Hillary” section of voters while almost doing nothing to the core of Clinton’s support. That’s the reality that Bernie Sanders and his supporters will have to confront and figure out a solution for if they want any chance at overcoming the odds.
Image via Dan Gross / The Gazette
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