By James A. Kidney
The big knock against nominating Bernie Sanders for president is that he is “unelectable.” “Do you want to repeat 1972 when George McGovern got creamed?” is the chant. “Do you want a Scalia clone on the Supreme Court?” is another. If Sanders is nominated, so this reasoning goes, the GOP will win, no matter who the Republicans nominate. Nominating Hillary, these folks also contend, is a much surer lock on another four or eight years of the presidency. The current numbers do not support this conclusion.
It is not surprising that Sanders is viewed by many as a weak candidate. He is (1) in his mid-70s, (2) a self-proclaimed Social Democrat, (3) Jewish (though not very devout), (4) disheveled (though he has neatened up his appearance over time), (5) not supported by the Democratic Party Establishment and (6) lacks Clinton’s foreign policy credentials.
Now that Sanders has lost the Nevada caucuses, the (5) Establishment is roaring that Hillary Clinton has a lock on the nomination. This is so although Sanders came within 5 percent of destroying what was once a 20 percent lead by Clinton in Nevada and beat Clinton by 20 percent in New Hampshire. They tied in the Iowa caucuses.
Although the score is 1-1-1, Clinton’s coronation is assured, we are told. Only the Republicans have a contest, these folks say, which Donald Trump is winning.
In this case, at least, the Establishment is probably correct. It looks bad for Bernie.
The Hillary coronation rests in large part on the accurate observation that Hillary will sweep the Deep South in the Super Tuesday, or “SEC” Primary (for Southeast Conference, a university sports league) on March 1. By March 15, when several other states will have voted, the results should be clear. Combined with so-called Super Delegates (Establishment all), many of whom have already announced support for Clinton, Bernie will be toast, according to these prognosticators.
Hillary Clinton boasts the loyalty of African-American voters. Because African-Americans make up a large portion of Democratic voters in the South, Clinton will sweep the South. That includes Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia on March 1. African-Americans are heavily credited with carrying Clinton to a caucus victory in Nevada last week, and are expected to also give her a win in the Democratic South Carolina primary this week.
Sanders, who actually went to jail briefly in support of the African-American right to vote while Clinton was still in high school, has far less support among blacks.
But it is also true that Democrats of all colors are rejecting Sanders, except among younger voters. Current polls show Sanders ahead of Clinton only in Massachusetts and Vermont among the handful of states outside the South voting on March 1. On March 8, Michigan votes. Clinton has a 22 point lead there as of February 20. If ever there was a state in which Sanders’ populist cry for greater equality should ring loudly, it is Michigan, which suffered much downsizing and hardship after the 2008 “Great Recession.”
As of February 22, polling reported by Real Clear Politics shows Sanders far behind in every primary state through March 15. If the numbers hold, Clinton will win and by March 15 will be the virtual nominee, if not yet hold a solid majority.
So Democrats should cheer?
Hold your horses. The nomination is not the election. Outside of African-Americans, possibly Hispanics and Pantsuit Feminists, Hillary Clinton is very unpopular. Here are the horse race numbers using Real Clear Politics poll averages:
These figures show that Sanders currently polls better than Clinton against all Republican candidates and would beat all current Republican candidates for the nomination. Clinton would lose against all Republicans except Trump and Carson. She is especially vulnerable against Rubio and Kasich, both of whom claim to appeal to more moderate voters than Trump and Cruz.
[Clinton supporters assert in the face of these general election numbers that Republicans tell pollsters they favor Sanders to encourage his nomination because he would be easier to beat. There is no evidence for this claim, which would require Republicans who can’t agree on their own nominee to engage in a grand conspiracy to fool the pollsters. The poll numbers may change dramatically by November, but there is no reason to believe they are more suspect than other polling.]
Thus, on a pure projection basis, Sanders currently ranks more favorably among the general electorate than Clinton. This result also is not surprising, given Clinton’s long history of actions in the public eye which, rightly or wrongly, lead all but the most dedicated Democrats to wonder if she is honest or trustworthy. She also is a reminder of the distant past and a symbol of the failure of the Democratic Party over much of the last 20 years to find inspiring alternatives for the new century who will boldly propose strong, liberal solutions rather than merely put up firewalls to more vigorous Republican plans appealing to its base. (President Obama was inspiring, but his first term was spent fruitlessly trying to compromise with Republicans. Only in his second term has he fought back vigorously for his own vision.)
For many voters, Clinton brings to mind the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt.” Perhaps Sanders polls better because he is unknown to many voters.
A list of polls compiled by The Huffington Post through Feb. 16 shows consistently unfavorable ratings for Hillary Clinton. They are growing larger. Back in October, the range of voters viewing her unfavorably was 6 to 10 points higher than those with a favorable view of Hillary Clinton. This month, the range is 6 to 21 points, with most polls showing double digit margins.
As of now, it seems that Sanders is actually more “electable” than Clinton, not less so.
Putting aside the polls, a strong case is to be made why Clinton is less appealing than Sanders. A voter could ask, “What does Clinton stand for aside from identity politics?” In her current speeches, Clinton suggests that Sanders is a “one issue” candidate. If so, that one issue must be inequality, which encompasses a helluva lot of other issues, from the economy, to taxes, to education, to employment, to trade, to campaign finance. Although Bernie may not be able to pay for all he promises, that is hardly unusual for a candidate whose plans must pass through the maw of Congress.
The true one issue candidate is Clinton. She makes passing mention of the economy, but her real meat-and-potatoes is greater equality for women and racial and sexual minorities, and only that. Even while appealing to these liberal goals, her campaign also has been somewhat “ageist” in that Clinton’s surrogates and supporters show little tolerance for younger women who are less concerned than they are about gender equality in the 21st Century and are scolded for their youth and ignorance. (We have noted relatively little comment about Sanders’ age by the Clinton camp; Clinton is 68.)
Regardless of your position on women, race and sexual minorities, it is clear that many, many Americans, including liberals more worried about corporate power and use of the military, are not going to treat gender and race identity as principal concerns when voting for president. Certainly, the Republican “base” and a significant segment of others will treat them only as additional reasons to vote Republican.
Also, it is easier to attract voters to the polls who are inspired by issues or a particular candidate than to do so with a candidate whose appeal is based mostly on keeping the other person out of office. Even if Trump or Rubio is the Republican candidate, there will be a sizable core of supporters enthusiastic about limiting government and opposing citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Plus, a sizable part of the Republican base is more likely to turn out to keep Clinton out of office than Sanders, if only because of long familiarity with the former.
The aforementioned younger white Americans pose a particular problem for Clinton. Along with African-Americans, their turnout is crucial for a Democratic candidate. Younger Americans are tough to get to the polls. Many are enthusiastic about Sanders. Will they sit on their hands — foolishly — come November? Or will they recognize that second to Sanders, Clinton is their best bet to tackle inequality among the available alternatives, though she would do so with modest enthusiasm and a great deal of compromise?
So why vote for Bernie? If your main concern is gender politics, Clinton is your best bet. The same if you want a more muscular American foreign policy. If your worry is inequality, and all the issues invoked by that term, Sanders is your man.
Electability? That is at least a draw.
You may not get a chance to decide if you live in a jurisdiction with a late primary. Clinton almost certainly will win the nomination by late March, based on today’s projections.
Her supporters will have a lot of work to do after that to overcome tough odds.