Bernie Sanders Supporters Should Be Worrying More About Martin O’Malley Than Hillary Clinton

martin-omalleyIt’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

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


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  • Michael Siever

    Problems with the Ross Perot analogy:

    1. Although he won 18.9% of the popular vote in the general election (the highest percentage a third party Presidential candidate carried since Teddy Roosevelt in 1912), Perot failed to win a single state.
    2. The majority of the votes Perot got were in states that George H.W. Bush outright won, anyway (Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, etc).

    Like you said, Allen, it’s not the same as a primary election, but it’s still a flawed analogy that give people the common misconception that if Perot had stayed out of the race, Bush would have won. Most people saying that are bitter Republican voters who just couldn’t believe that their guy lost, and felt they were robbed of a another term of a Republican in the White House. Hell, we’ve been seeing a lot of this attitude from them for the past 6.5 years…

    • Greg Price

      Which may not work to our advantage. The carry-over on Obama’s corporatist policies are turning off Democratic voters, and have been successfully spun by TEAOP as being the reason for continuing poor conditions.

      That, plus all the organizational chicanery that has distorted the vote gives TEAOP an almost unbeatable edge barring a true grassroots uprising like 08…and look what a miserable failure THAT turned out to be…

  • Jeffrey Dumaine

    This would be true, IF Bernie was running as an Independent. He is not, he is running for the Democratic nomination, so he won’t pull votes from anyone, the “Perot effect” is a non issue.

    • Doorman60

      That is correct. He has stated he will NOT be a spoiler. I do hope that I don’t have to vote for Clinton though.

  • Greg Price

    One thing the article gets wrong: we DO NOT need to add trillions to the Debt. We do need to start paying DOWN the Debt, which means running surpluses.

    The other major flaw in the analysis of the next 8 years under a Democratic president. If it’s Hillary, we run the very real risk of having a one-term “do nothing” President at best or a a bi-partisan” (read: appeaser of the TEAOP) at worst.

    Hillary is really a “conservative Democrat” or a “liberal Republican”. Whichever you call it, she’s a corporatist sell-out just like Obama before her, and Billy-boy before him.

  • Cemetery Girl

    I continue to be bothered by the “just embrace Hillary” attitude. Sanders, O’Malley, anyone else that makes a go at Democratic candidate, they won’t be impacting the two candidate selection in November 2016. It isn’t horrible to have options to investigate for Democratic candidate. Even strong supporters of Hillary should be glad for competition that should force her to begin to show her strengths before the end of the primaries. For those that don’t already embrace Hillary, it doesn’t mean that we all feel “anyone but Hillary”. Some of us really just want a chance to select who we feel is the best candidate. The months of “just support Hillary” is irritating. (And yes, months. The pushing Hillary as the only candidate option has been going on since before she announced running, although we all knew it would happen.) There is nearly a year and a half before the election and way too early for embrace Hillary now or a Republican will win attitude.

  • Timo_s

    Cut and run already because only Hillary can win? I have ideals and I will stick with Bernie as long he is in the race. To dismiss and proselytize at this stage is wrong, Cliff.

  • james cartwright

    Sanders has always been my choice however omalley seems acceptable to me. The thing that has not been discussed is that neither Sanders , Hillary or O’Malley will be able to do a thing without 2 other things happening
    1. retaking the house and the Senate
    2. Replacing conservative democrats with liberal and/or progressive ones . less Schumers and more Sanders,Warrens or Browns. We can not simply elect anyone with a d next to their names

    • Greg Price

      Better that than allowing the election of any “R”. No matter how bad a Conservacrat like Clinton or Schumer would be, the TEAOP candidates will be 1000x worse.

  • Peter Tobias

    – Bernie is a Scandinavian style social democrat, not a Soviet style communist.
    – Bernie should give more details on his tax plan, to disarm opponents.
    – Bernie want to grow government programs. He probably wants to reverse the shrinking of the government personnel under Obama.
    – Bernie wants to cut defense spending, but is not naive and knows that we need a military, and he is intimately familiar with the needs of veterans.

    “He wants to add trillions to the national debt.”
    Republicans might want to do that for cutting taxes and weakening the government, but Bernie? I see no substantiation of your statement, it is pure propaganda.