Though I still expect Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee, I must admit that it’s less certain than it was before. Sanders is starting to get his first serious critiques from pundits like Jonathan Chait and Ezra Klein and he’s not holding up terribly well. I wonder, though, how much of Sanders’s rise is connected with Trump.
No, I’m not suggesting their peas in a pod the way others are on the basis of the superficial fact that they are outsiders, but that their candidacies both reflect dissatisfaction with the slow workings of politics and that many Democrats figure, hey, if they are going to nominate Trump, why can’t we nominate Sanders?
That’s the dangerous gamble, for both sides and for the country.
Imagine if Barry Goldwater ran against George McGovern. The two iconic failures of each party never faced someone equally as far out on the other side. Goldwater faced the incumbent President who had led the country out of the chaos of the Kennedy assassination, and McGovern faced a president who, despite being disliked, hadn’t caused the world to end when he took power and had a handful of decent accomplishments by the time the election arose.
First, everyone has to admit that we have no idea what the outcome of such an election would be. We also have to speculate about what a term for either man would mean for liberal values. I suspect a Trump presidency would set back the conservative movement for a generation, even more than Bush II did. It would finally force the Republican party to recalibrate towards the center. Maybe. Or it could diverge into a scary “it can’t happen here” scenario. A Democratic controlled senate would stymie everything it could, but it wouldn’t matter. The damage to the United States would be irreparable.
A Sanders presidency, I think would be damaging to liberalism as well. It’s impossible to imagine that anything he wants to accomplish would occur. It would be blocked by Congress. If the kind of economic collapse occurred that opened a door to his ideas, it would be blamed either on his fellow Democrat Obama or on Sanders himself. Similarly, the kind of crisis that would require a transition to single payer would indicate a failure, not a success, of Obamacare and would not set the table well for such a change.
He would most likely be a feckless and obstinate commander in chief, a sort of reverse Bush, whose certitude contrasts with Obama’s empiricism and pragmatism.
The best I can offer about a Sanders presidency is that in his 4 years he would likely be able to replace some Supreme Court justices, though that is far from certain if he can’t gain control of the senate or if senators distance themselves from him.
His failures would be even more disheartening for the progressive movement than Obama seemed to be because while many progressives believed Obama was a crypto-left-liberal, he campaigned as a pragmatic center-leftist and delivered on that. But someone who campaigns as a left-liberal and whose government will only result in moving the country further to the right would be a disaster of Buchananian proportions.
I suspect that in their hearts, many folks know this about Trump and Sanders but are restless with incremental change but when the time comes, I think we’ll see different results.