+“What Happens If Biden Doesn’t Run — Or Flops?” | FiveThirtyEight | Perry Bacon | 04/12/2019
“First, even though Sanders is positioning himself as one of the most liberal candidates in the race and Biden is likely to be cast as one of the more conservative ones, it’s not clear that Democratic voters are seeing those two as representative of different ideological poles within the party. According to polling from Morning Consult, Sanders is the second choice for many Biden voters, and vice versa. That Sanders gained 10 percentage points in the Change Research poll when Biden was not included also suggests that some voters are choosing between those two. Again, that finding could simply reflect that Sanders is the only candidate besides Biden who most Democrats are really familiar with. But it’s also worth considering that voters, at least at this stage, either might not know or might not care about the various candidates’ policy differences, which may already be well-known to party activists and journalists.”
1) Despite a clapping and cheering audience at a Fox News town hall, more money raised than any other Democratic candidate, and strong polling, no one whose byline a news junkie would recognize is referring to Bernie Sanders as the Democratic frontrunner in the race for the presidential nomination. More broadly, the consensus among center-left Democrats and media is that Sanders cannot be the nominee. Why?
2) It’s not simply because the establishment is waiting for Joe Biden’s mind to be made up that last 5%. And it’s not simply because Sanders isn’t a (big D) Democrat. Rather, it’s because he’s a (small d) democrat who reminds center-left “New Democrats” what it means to be a good old-fashioned New Deal, Great Society, liberal Democrat. Some might say “a real Democrat.” That’s the dilemma at the heart of Democratic Party politics right now. The center-left Democratic Party as we understand it now was remade throughout the 1980s by thought leaders such as Michael Kinsley of The New Republic, senators such as Bob Kerry, John Kerry, Paul Tsongas, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, and President Bill Clinton. Such Democrats were pulled rightward by the Reagan Revolution to what we now think of as “the center” where they affirmed deregulation, privatization, globalization, and cutting entitlements.
3) Within the chasm between the party’s ideological center and its left lies the Democratic Dilemma. Can a socially liberal centrist candidate make a convincing case that (s)he can manage a market economy more efficiently than an extreme Republican? Can an unapologetically liberal candidate make a convincing case that American politics and economics have swung too far rightward and need to be re-calibrated with bold ideas like the Green New Deal, wealth taxes, Medicare For All, and the end of forever warfare? Several centrist Democrats have made the first argument in campaigns, with a lot more losing than winning the presidency. And no one’s seen a presidential candidate like Sanders make the second argument since 1972. The chances that the Democratic Dilemma will survive a Trump 2020 win without a major realignment along center/left lines within the party are slim.
4) Bernie Sanders isn’t considered electable because our notions of “electability” are defined from the top downward by party leaders, major donors, journalists, and pundits. “Electability” is purposely designed to not apply to anyone other than a center-left or conservative Democrat. Because electability is about aspects possessed by certain kinds of candidates and not a property of electorates, “who’s electable” has effectively been decoupled from “what will it take to beat Donald Trump.”
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