Handicapping the 2020 Democratic Primary, Part Three: Bernie Sanders

The year 2016 is never going to end. While the Republican Party owns every level of government — from Congress, to the Senate, to the White House — the Democratic Party remains in complete disarray. The same ideological battle that was fought between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Dem Primary continues on to this day, with no apparent end in sight, and will continue in 2020. 

The field of 2020 Democratic candidates is going to be enormous, potentially featuring from the jump as many as 15 or 20 warm bodies. In reality, though, the race will only involve two individuals: the establishment-backed, corporate-friendly candidate, and the Progressive candidate. No one else matters. The only questions are (1) who will be the establishment choice, and (2) who will be the Progressive choice?

Here are the current odds, listed in order of likelihood, according to 5dimes:

Kamala Harris: +550
Joe Biden: +600
Bernie Sanders: +700
Elizabeth Warren: +800
Gavin Newsom: +800
Kirsten Gillibrand: +1150
Joe Kennedy III: +1400
Oprah: +1500
Cory Booker: +1800

Part Three: Bernie Sanders (7 to 1)

This blog does feature a bias that skews heavily in the direction of Bernie Sanders, especially when compared to most of the other potential Democratic nominees. I’m not going to fight that, and if you are reading this or anything else I have written over the past few years then you are probably already aware of that. My job here is not to be a journalist. I am incapable of telling two sides of a story and in the end informing the audience that the answer is “somewhere in the middle.” That is rarely how anything works, ever, and to pretend like compromise is some sort of virtue is why the goal posts have been moved so far to the right in contemporary American politics and economics.

With that said, my bias is not across the board, as if Bernie was some infallible politician. I can on the one hand be very clear about the idea that he is far from an ideal — let alone perfect — candidate, and on the other admit that he probably offers the Democrats their best chance to defeat Donald Trump in 2020. It is not a complicated position to take, because the data is and has been available.

Remember: it was only two years ago when the hypothetical Sanders vs. Trump general election polls came out. Between May and June of 2016 Bernie averaged a 10.4% advantage over Trump, which included as high as a 15% lead according to NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, and as low as a 4% lead according to Fox News. During the same timeframe, in a hypothetical Clinton vs. Trump matchup, the former First Lady was actually trailing Donald Trump in a few polls.

This is hardly to diminish the shock felt around the world when Trump actually defeated Clinton, but it’s important to note that that outcome was never out of the question, and certainly not to the extent that some publications led on. Leading up to the November 9th general election, Clinton only averaged a 3.2% lead, which is within the margin of error. Most sports books only had Clinton around a 2-to-1 favorite, roughly equating to a 65% chance of victory.

The ways that Trump exploited Clinton were not to do with racism or sexism, as the media for a time encouraged people to believe (before Russia dominated the news cycle). They had to do with trade, and they had to do with corruption. With trade, Trump went to the midwest and railed against Bill Clinton’s free trade agreement NAFTA, which outsourced American jobs to third-world countries, and married Hillary Clinton to it. With corruption, Donald Trump rallied voters against Hillary’s ties to Wall Street and various other mega-donors.

(Trump never had an actual solution, or even any intention, to bring those jobs back. Just so we’re clear. And even though Trump wasn’t necessarily tied to the same special interests that funded Clinton’s campaign, it’s obvious that he is also an exceptionally corrupt individual.)

Despite Trump being an unbelievably bad presidential candidate, what his team created turned out to be a brilliant strategy. He hit the right notes in the areas of the country that were up for grabs, that ended up swinging the election. The fact that it was Hillary Clinton, specifically, made it possible for Trump to win — because she was, like Trump, a historically unpopular candidate. But Clinton is the embodiment for the entire Democratic establishment, meaning even if it isn’t her in 2020, if it’s Joe Biden, or Kamala Harris, or Kirsten Gillibrand, for instance, Trump would essentially be able to run on the same message: All these Democrats are the same, they are all corrupt and not looking out for the little guy.

That is why Bernie Sanders is such a strong choice to oppose Donald Trump, because the same attacks Trump could levy against any old Democrat wouldn’t work with Sanders. After all, Bernie was opposed to NAFTA. Bernie doesn’t taking corporate money. Trump would not be able to say that Sanders doesn’t care about workers, or that he is beholden to the establishment, because the workers love Bernie and the establishment deems him inadmissible.

In February, 2016, Current Affairs nailed it. In an article titled Unless The Democrats Run Sanders, A Trump Nomination Means A Trump Presidency, writer Nathan Robinson posited:

Here, a Clinton match-up is highly likely to be an unmitigated electoral disaster, whereas a Sanders candidacy stands a far better chance. Every one of Clinton’s (considerable) weaknesses plays to every one of Trump’s strengths, whereas every one of Trump’s (few) weaknesses plays to every one of Sanders’s strengths. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, running Clinton against Trump is a disastrous, suicidal proposition.

That was nine months before the general election, so it isn’t as if no one saw it coming. One could argue that Bernie Sanders’s success in the midwest during the Democratic Primary — which included wins in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, and a massive upset in Michigan — was the original sign that Hillary Clinton would struggle in the general.

That is the primer looking towards 2020, because the same states that Sanders had success in two years ago are where Trump inevitably defeated Clinton. To flip the White House back in favor of the Democrats they will have to recapture places like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and to do so they will be better served running a Progressive candidate whose policies reflect the interests of the working class. I don’t offer that because it supports my own bias towards the left, but rather that it’s already been proven that establishment politics did not work in those states.

Anyway, Bernie’s problems don’t have to do with a potential heavyweight fight against Trump, they have to do with accomplishing what he failed to in 2016: securing the Democratic nomination. Granted Wikileaks proved in 2016 that the DNC did not run an even-handed primary, effectively tilting the scales to ensure that Hillary Clinton would be the Party’s nominee. The Democrats blame the Russians for the hacks, but they have still yet to refute any of the details that were exposed by them.

To this day party insiders push the narrative that Bernie Sanders is “too divisive,”  which are basically two words next to each other that hold no weight beyond the surface. After all it is undeniable that Bernie Sanders campaigned for Hillary Clinton after conceding the primary to her; it cannot be refuted that he went on a Unity Tour with DNC Chair Tom Perez; and a week after the election Senate Democrats appointed Sanders to “lead outreach,” a role basically invented to promote their Party through Bernie’s popularity.

Sanders’s relationship with the Democratic Party is a point of contention among Progressives, since it seems like Sanders is trying to recruit young people into a Party that actively worked against him in 2016, and that still thwarts Progressives at every turn. On its own Bernie’s active participation in the DNC is odd, unless of course he believes he has a better chance of winning the Presidency as a Democrat than a third party candidacy. He may need the Democratic Party infrastructure as much as the Party needs him.

The second common narrative used against Sanders is that he is too old, and too white, and therefore he should not run again. Just as with the Bernie Bro myth, or the straight up lie that the only people who support Sanders are white men, the Democratic establishment likes to use identity as its weapon to sow division in the Party. They did it during the 2016 election cycle in branding Sanders supporters as sexists because they didn’t support Hillary Clinton, a female, and they will do it again in 2020 when the candidate he opposes is either (a) a woman or (b) black.

The reason they do this is because the establishment can’t fight Progressives with ideas, since it’s the Progressives with all the ideas and the establishment that has no ideas. Honestly, can you think of one thing that you know the Democratic Party stands for? As an organization they have failed to come out in support of Medicare For All, a $15 minimum wage, or even legalizing weed. In reality they could probably take back the House and Senate if they ran on any one of those issues, but that would be operating under the assumption that Democrats care about winning elections.

The irony, of course, is that Bernie Sanders’s social policies benefit people of color more than white people. Putting more money in the pockets of workers is not a Whites Only policy, because white people, on average, do better economically than black and hispanic people. Supporting free public college is not a Whites Only policy, because white people go to college at vastly higher rates than black and hispanic people. Medicare For All, by definition, is not a Whites Only policy, and I shouldn’t have to say which races and ethnicities are most largely affected when hundreds of thousands of Americans go bankrupt each year trying to pay medical bills.

Even Bernie’s harshest critics can’t refute that. They have tried, they have failed, and the fact that many of the presumed Democratic Party challengers in 2020 have adopted Bernie’s platform of Medicare For All and refusing to accept corporate money, only makes the establishment’s attacks seem more personal than anything else. I guess it’s up to the voters to decide.

No one ever went broke betting on the establishment to crush the Progressives, so I will choose not to advocate that you bet actual money on Bernie to win the 2020 Democratic nomination. The machine that defeated him in 2016 is still alive and well, only that the next time around they will not have the benefit of stymying a guy without any name recognition. By this point Sanders is a wrecking ball, a face that has played a major role in American politics, who regularly makes appearances on the mainstream news. Come 2020 he will not be sneaking up on anyone, and a strong argument can be made that he is the current favorite.

Because I believe Bernie will ultimately be one of the final two, I think his current 7-to-1 odds are favorable. With the real chance he squares off against Kamala Harris for the soul of the Democratic Party, I would tend to think Sanders’s true odds would be somewhere in the range of 2-to-1, or slightly better. At that rate, putting money on a 7-to-1 dog is not the worst investment a person could make. (Again I am not saying to do it, but if Bernie wins in 2020 I will refer back to this article ad nauseam.)

So take my bias for what it’s worth, as only time will tell if I am anywhere close on all this stuff. I just think the time for establishment politics, where the status quo is more or less maintained regardless of which team is in office, is long gone. Bold leadership is required to tackle the very serious problems that America is dealing with. And since Barack Obama failed to bring it, and since Donald Trump is currently floundering, Bernie seems like the most obvious choice to bring meaningful change to a system that has been overdue for an upset.