Image Credits: CSPAN.
It can be pretty isolating to do what I do for a living, particularly the way in which I choose to do it. A lot of people who don’t know me personally, peg me for a moderate Democrat because I spend a lot of time hammering on progressives. But, I believe the only time I’ve ever opted for the moderate Democrat in my life is when I went for John Kerry over Howard Dean in 2004. That was a very difficult decision, and I could have gone either way. I don’t regret my decision at all, but I also don’t see that it was obviously the correct one. In every other case, going all the way back to 1988, I’ve aligned myself with candidates who I felt were more progressive. Only in 2008 did this pay off with victory.
If I could wave a magic wand, I’d enact a lot of Bernie Sanders’ agenda, and if I thought he’d meaningfully advance things in that direction, I’d support him. But I could not be more pessimistic about the character of this country and the universe of the possible. Even a Democratic House and Senate would reject most of Sanders’ plans, both now and for the foreseeable future. I can envision a different kind of progressive leader who might be more promising in bringing the Democratic Party to heel, but Sanders isn’t that guy.
Today brought a lot of fresh evidence of this. I’ve spent a lot of time browsing my networks on social media, and it’s remarkable to see how shocked Sanders’ supporters are to see things happen that were completely obvious to me. I’ve seen progressives say they are stunned that Buttigieg didn’t endorse Warren and call Beto O’Rourke an “asshole” for endorsing Biden. It’s like they simply wouldn’t listen when I told them that Sanders doesn’t do well at building relationships and doesn’t build alliances.
I’ve already talked about how the pundits totally mischaracterize Biden and Sanders’ true bases of support. But this is equally true for a lot of white progressive college-educated Sanders supporters. They actually think college-educated women will leap from Warren to Sanders, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’ve talked incessantly about the Democrats’ suburban strategy. At first, I lamented it because I knew it was a death knell for progressivism. But once the Democrats won the House using that strategy, I had to accept that this is where the party is, and anyone who wants to lead it has to respect that the majority is built on the support of white suburban college-educated professionals, including especially women. It’s not built on the white working man anymore and that’s not where Biden is getting most of his support.
This shouldn’t be shocking to anyone. If you’ve spent two seconds around labor union meetings, you’ll know they’re about the most socialist-friendly places in the country. The traditional Farmer-Labor segment of the party has always been built on populism and depicting the Republicans as the representatives of bosses and coastal elites. Bernie Sanders does a decent job of winning some of these voters back, and that’s one of the most admirable parts of his campaign. But it comes at a cost.
Sanders underperforms with white professionals in the suburbs, and he gets precious little black support. I think he’s improved in this area since 2016 and he’s doing well with the Latinx vote, particularly with his health care message. Overall, though, the shape of his vote is a poor fit for the Democratic majority as it presently exists, and this was so obvious that I’ve spent two years talking about why it’s a problem and why it will prevent him from getting the backing of elected and party officials as both a candidate and a potential president. When you add in Bernie’s poor interpersonal skills, there was never much chance that he’d win endorsements from his major competitors regardless of where they lie on the ideological spectrum.
I’m not saying I have a happy message. I know the opposite is true. I hear it when Sanders’ supporters mock the centrists for saying nothing is possible. I realize that this is not an inspiring message. I get that we have problems that won’t wait, including climate change. I’d love to be able to tell you that we can make big changes and enact sweeping reforms in the next Congress. But it’s not going to happen, and you should make decisions based on that knowledge.
The country is divided and Congress is broken. The Supreme Court is in extremely conservative hands and will possibly remain so for decades. Even legislative filibuster reform (a proposal opposed by Sanders, by the way) would not enable the Democrats to pass most of Bernie’s agenda. There might be five votes in the entire Senate for his Medicare-for-All plan. He’s probably about 45 votes shy of getting that through the upper chamber, but it doesn’t matter because it would never pass through Pelosi’s House. Even if it did, the Roberts Court is currently considering whether or not to rule the entirety of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. They aren’t going to shelve that to approve Medicare-for-All.
You can lament this but you can’t ignore it. And it’s very difficult for me to understand why so many folks think that Bernie Sanders has the potential to take this Democratic Party and this Supreme Court by the scruff of the neck and make them go along with his plans. Where is the evidence for this?
A lot of Sanders’ supporters are feeling besieged and betrayed right now, but the fault for this lies partially with their candidate. A different person might have won over a Beto O’Rourke or a Pete Buttigieg. They might have convinced more elected Democrats from competitive districts that he’s going to help rather than hurt their reelection bids. He hasn’t done it, and that’s also something that was so predictable that I’ve predicted it for two presidential election cycles in a row.
Now, I’ve endured all the enthusiasm people have had for other candidates like Kamala Harris and Julian Castro and Beto and Cory and Amy and Pete. But I told you beginning eleven months ago that this was almost certainly going to come down to Sanders vs. Biden. Even a heart attack and an impeachment haven’t changed that trajectory, which really exemplifies the solidity of my analysis.
This isn’t about the DNC or the establishment putting their fingers on the scale. This is about two candidates having more appeal and more strength, each for their own unique reasons, than any of the others. This was always going to be a battle between the Obama-Biden loyalists and the Sanders insurgents. The eleventy billion other candidates and their supporters were kidding themselves thinking otherwise.
In that battle, the outcome has never been certain and I cannot tell you who will prevail in Milwaukee. But I can tell you that both candidates have huge glaring weaknesses. And I can tell you that the party will struggle mightily to unite around either of them. However, you can see for yourselves that Biden has more support from elected officials. This is because he’s running on a strategy that carries less obvious risk for them.
For the same reason, Biden would have an easier time leading the party and getting Congress behind his platform.
Now, it may be that the best solution here is for the convention delegates to choose neither of these men and instead find a compromise candidate. I’m open to that solution and it could produce the optimal outcome. It’s actually their assigned job to do this if no one has a majority of the delegates.
Now, I told you ahead of time what was going to happen and why, but from here on out nothing is certain or predictable. Sanders could muscle home a win or convince the convention to nominate him in a brokered convention. Sanders could collapse for some unforeseen reason, or because of a recurrence of his health problems, and Biden could win an outright majority. Biden might win a brokered convention on the backs of uncommitteds and superdelegates. Or, the convention could go in another direction entirely.
What’s clear is that Sanders is going to have a hell of a time trying to rally the party to his side. And that’s always been foreseeable and one of the main reasons why this progressive has been unwilling to get on his bandwagon.
Having said this, I’ve also seen people accuse Sanders of never getting anything done. But he’s helped make a lot of formerly fringe progressive issues go mainstream in the party. That’s what a message candidate is supposed to do. If he were strictly a message candidate like H. Ross Perot on the deficit or John McCain on campaign finance reform, he’d have to be considered a major success. But he’s not a message candidate. He’s the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. And what progressives have to weigh is whether he’s a good fit for that kind of job.
I’ve concluded that he is not. I hoped that maybe Elizabeth Warren might be that person, but I was correct to be deeply skeptical that Democrats would be willing to risk running another woman against Trump. I think women have been the most resistant to trying that experiment, and it’s doomed all the women who ran in this contest.
Finally, I can’t end this without talking at least a little about Sanders’ online supporters. They aren’t helping their candidate by condemning everyone who isn’t backing him. He needs to add to his coalition but all the effort seems to be directed at trashing other Democrats. This, too, was predictable because it’s a pattern that was established in 2016. It’s just one more reason why no one should be shocked or think it’s some conspiracy that people are lining up against Bernie.
He and they need to own some of their self-imposed limitations, and ideally they’d recognize that some progressives simply don’t believe they can deliver on their promises and there’s nothing nefarious about this judgment.