Bernie Sanders can beat Trump
Byline: Kirsten Powers
The Democratic establishment is having a mass freakout as Bernie Sanders surges. The Vermont senator capped a week of strong polls Saturday with a commanding, broad-based win in the Nevada caucuses.
For most of the primary season, politicos, commentators and journalists have dismissed the Sanders candidacy at best or attacked and misrepresented it at worst. How often do we hear it claimed with soothsayer certainty, "A democratic socialist will never be elected president in the United States"?
You know who else will "never" be elected president of the United States? A former reality TV star with zero governing or policy experience who attacks war heroes and the parents of war heroes, brags on tape about grabbing women by the p---y and, well, you get my point.
This is not to say that because Donald Trump became president -- after improbably winning a Republican primary attacking the Bush family and the Iraq War, challenging other previously sacred cows on the right, and even having once praised single-payer health care -- that anyone can become president. It's to point out how the ground has shifted in terms of what is possible in politics. The old rules simply do not apply, so we should stop using them.
It's true that at one point, calling yourself a "democratic socialist" would be a bridge too far for many voters, including Democrats. But that was before people began to realize how unmoored the American capitalist system is from any sense of ethics or morality. The level of economic inequality and suffering from lack of affordable health care, crushing debt, and a discriminatory and racist for-profit incarceration system in one of the world's wealthiest countries is astonishing.
Closing the gap
People are exhausted from working nonstop trying to just survive financially in a system that dangles the carrot of financial stability or wealth always slightly out of reach except for a favored few. Nothing about this is normal, and that is fundamentally Sanders' so-called radical argument.
As Bernie's new foil, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is waving the "moderate lane" banner of electability and claiming that Bernie's kooky notions (which are considered normal behavior in many industrialized countries) go too far for American voters. These are the same voters who would cut off your hand if you reached for their government Medicare or Social Security.
Still, the premise of Bloomberg as electable slipped seamlessly into the public debate. Of course, Bernie fares just as well, and sometimes better, than Bloomberg in hypothetical matchups against Trump, but the electable moniker has mysteriously eluded him.
What ultimately will make the Democratic standard-bearer electable is his or her ability to excite and turn out voters. This is why the most pertinent issue for Bernie's electability argument has been his weak history attracting African American support. While he made significant inroads since 2016, much of that critical voting bloc has been locked up with Joe Biden.
But that is shifting. Tuesday's NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist found that Bernie has narrowed that gap to just 3points, and he tops Bloomberg by 12points. And in the Nevada caucuses, entrance polls showed he captured about a quarter of the black vote.
Bloomberg claimed recently that Sanders had no chance to beat Trump, because he'll scare moderate voters. But a Buzzfeed reporter surveyed moderate Democratic voters at a Biden Iowa event last month, and one after another said that despite their concerns about Sanders, they'd pull the lever for him if he won the nomination.
Not running for king
There's no doubt that if Sanders is the nominee, Republicans will continue to conflate democratic socialism with communism and pretend that Venezuela is Sanders' ideal society, though Sanders has said that he is a democratic socialist in the vein of the Scandinavian countries, home to the world's happiest people. Republicans will lie about what Bernie believes the same way they will lie about whoever becomes the Democratic nominee.
Ultimately, there's no reason to think voters are being motivated in any meaningful way by ideology this cycle. People who are more afraid of a single-payer health care system and free college than they are of Trump and his creeping authoritarianism are probably not Democratic voters or even Democratic-leaning independents.
Bloomberg suggested that Bernie's views were tantamount to "communism" at the Las Vegas debate, echoing Republican talking points. On the campaign trail last year, Sanders explained his vision of how democratic socialism would work: It's "an economy in which you have wealth being created by the private sector, but you have a fair distribution of that wealth, and you make sure the most vulnerable people in this country are doing well."
Whatever people's fears about Bernie's democratic socialism, the fact remains he's running for president -- not king -- of the United States. Some of his solutions are dead on and others less so. But he cannot enact any of them without the support of Congress. This means he will have to use his bully pulpit to bring the country around to his point of view if he wants to enact change. American voters are capable of grasping this.
It's well past time to bury the "Bernie is unelectable" trope.