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writing for godot

BERNIE--Because We Have to Win in 2020

Written by Tom Herman   
Wednesday, 28 August 2019 13:29

BERNIEBecause We Have to Win in 2020

In my work as a volunteer canvasser for Bernie Sanders, one thing I hear over and over is that above all else, we must win in 2020. Some people say, “I don't much care who the nominee is, so long as they can win.” That is to say, they think that defeating Trump is the most important issue, overriding all other goals. It seems hard to argue with that, for what good is even the best candidate if Trump prevails at the ballot box?

Yet there are two fallacies in the sentiment, and they are interdependent. One is that apart from winning, it certainly matters a great deal who our next president is going to be. What happens after they beat Trump? The country and the world are in grave peril. We have no time to deal, for example, with a bland, middle-of-the-road president, whose only plan is to take us back to a disaster-prone, complacent “normalcy.” The next president must be willing and able to tackle the many difficult problems we face.

The second fallacy is that even if beating Trump is the only thing you care about, you'd better be quite certain you know who the victorious candidate is likely to be!

People who care the least about politics are often swayed in their thinking by the mainstream media, as well as by their own acquaintances, who themselves have been conditioned by those same media. It is hard to listen to the network and cable news stations without coming away with certain assumptions about “electability.” Centrists are electable. People too far to the left or right cannot win. Bernie is extreme. Bernie can't win.

Thus I was told during the 2016 primary—over and over and over again: “You know, I like Bernie way more than Clinton. I just don't think he can win.” No matter that the head-to-head polls against Trump showed that Bernie would fare much better than Hillary. Bernie virtually always beat Trump—often by wide margins—while Hillary lost a good percentage of the time. And even when she won, it was by significantly narrower margins. But the people who expressed this apprehension about Bernie's electability—to the point they were willing to vote for a candidate they didn't particularly like—did not know about these polls, because they got their information from corporate media which, in their contempt for Sanders, neglected to mention them.

By now, Bernie is no newcomer. He is as well-known around the country as Joe Biden. Yet the media have not discontinued their war against him, because they see him as inimical to their interests, and not without reason. Medicare-for-all, one of Bernie's signature policies, is by itself a threat to the financial well-being of these media companies, given the billions of dollars Big Pharma spends on TV advertising each year. The media don't like Bernie and they don't want us to like Bernie either. If their chatter—or often the lack of any discussion at all about him—is all you are exposed to, it is easy to fall into the illusion that Bernie doesn't stand a chance of beating Trump.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it occurred to me that, rather than being a weak candidate, Bernie is the candidate best positioned to beat Trump. Below are several reasons I believe this.

1. Bernie consistently beats Trump in head-to-head polls. In the ten head-to-head match-ups listed in Real Clear Politics, (from March, 2019 to the present), Bernie has won every single one, with an average spread of 6.3 points. These polls, largely ignored by the media, are far more predictive of success against Trump than the Democratic primary horse race polls, which often reflect prejudices about who the voter thinks will win. Voters frequently will support primary candidates they favor less, simply because they believe them to be more electable in the general election. By contrast, the head-to-head polls simply say: “You're in the voting booth right now. Who's it going to be—Sanders or Trump?” And the voters choose Sanders every time!

2. Bernie generates excitement. I personally attended Bernie's kickoff rally at Brooklyn College this past March. Despite the fact that it was snowing at the time, 13,000 enthusiastic and exuberant people showed up to join him and celebrate his candidacy. In the same month he held many other rallies including one in Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles. The exact number there is not known, but there were 22,000 RSVP's on Facebook, and so many people showed up that an overflow crowd had to stand on the steps of City Hall across the street. A rally of comparable size was held in San Francisco the following day. During a 2½ month period (March to mid-May), Bernie held 40 events—large and small, rallies and town halls—and spoke to an estimated 101,000 people.

3. Bernie has the most grassroots support. On August 2, 2019, the New York Times published a map of the United States, color-coded to indicate where each candidate's donor base was strongest. There were relatively small pockets favoring each candidate: Texas in red for O'Rourke; Indiana in lavender for Buttigieg; tiny Delaware in orange for Biden, and so on. But by far, the great bulk of the map is in blue, representing Bernie Sanders. It almost looks as if the map itself is blue, over which a few other colors are superimposed in select spots here and there. In fact, Bernie so dominates the map that a second map, showing all the major candidates except Bernie, is provided to better detail the donors to the other candidates. As of June 30, the date on which the mapping data is based, Bernie had 746,000 individual donors. Warren, the second highest, had 421,000. Biden, who came in fifth, after Buttigieg and Harris, had only 256,000.

And while Bernie's average donation amount was by far the lowest, he had managed to raise the most money. His $36 million was followed by $32 million by Buttigieg. Biden, again in 5th place, had raised $22 million. And it must be emphasized that Buttigieg has had to date, the backing of 23 billionaires, and Mr. Biden, 13. Of all the major Democratic candidates, only Bernie has had zero billionaire backers.

4. Bernie is best equipped personally to take on Trump. Now while this is a subjective evaluation, let me give you the reasons I believe this. Whatever you may think about Trump's competency as president, let us not be deceived into believing he doesn't do some things extremely well. Anyone who can beat 17 other Republicans, including some very prominent ones, and go on to win the presidency is good at something! What he is good at is tearing other people down while making himself appear to be powerful. It may be a repugnant quality, but he has it and it works.

Yet in order to do this, there has to be something in the other candidate that is vulnerable to this kind of assault. Which of those Republicans had nothing to hide, nothing that was compromised, corrupt or hypocritical in their careers? “But,” you might interject, “who was more compromised than Trump himself?” That would be true. But that's where Trump's great skill—let's call it a complete absence of civility, a shamelessness which permits him to say anything at all that serves his purpose, however cruel, however untrue—comes to the rescue. It is the synergistic combination of this laser-like, demonic attack strategy and the inherent weakness of his opponent that provide his effectiveness.

But Bernie is not like those 17 Republicans, and he is certainly not like Hillary Clinton either. When Trump called her “Crooked Hillary” it was obnoxious. But it resonated. We knew about the speeches at Goldman Sachs, where she made lots and lots of money and confided that she had two sets of policies—one for the public and the other for her donors. We knew that she had her own private email server, which was both suspicious and illegal. And we knew that the primary was rigged in her favor and against Bernie. So it was not as if Trump's attacks came out of thin air.

There have been very few accusations made against Bernie's integrity. When they do arise, they are almost embarrassingly thin and shabbily concocted. While they might do some immediate damage, they are eventually dismissed as being, at most, distortions of some fairly benign facts. Bernie is inherently one of the most honest and principled politicians any of us has seen, and even many of his opponents will grant as much. His qualifications for office are also beyond reproach. And so he leaves Trump no comfortable target for his malice, nor need Sanders defend himself against exposure of the non-existent skeletons in his closet.

It is quite the opposite. To a man of integrity like Sanders, the vulnerability is all Trump's. Trump can be exposed as the liar, the racist, the xenophobe, the misogynist and the enemy of the working class that he is. All that he pretended to be—the populist image he tried to convey—will be countered by the true populist that is Bernie Sanders. And the contrast will be visible to all but Trump's most devoted fans, those who share in his greed and/or his bigotry.

5. People like Bernie. Bernie Sanders has polled as the most popular senator in the country for the 11th year in a row, with 64% of Vermonters approving of his performance. These are the people that know him the best, so their affection for him is particularly telling. Indeed, history shows that the more people see Bernie and hear him speak, the more they like him.

Let's look at his net favorability rating nationwide. Net favorability is determined by subtracting a candidate's unfavorable rating from their favorable rating. At the moment, President Trump has, for example, a net favorability of -13.8. (Significantly more people disapprove of him than approve.) Unfortunately, we cannot directly compare the net favorability of the current Democratic candidates, because those data appear not to exist. But some older numbers might well shed light on how popular Bernie is compared to Donald Trump.

On November 5, 2016, three days before the presidential election, Hillary Clinton had a net favorability of -14 (minus-14). On the same day, Bernie Sanders' net favorability was +18.6 (plus 18.6). That means the spread between Bernie and Hillary was 32.6 points. (Bernie was hugely more popular than Hillary.) Or compare that with Trump's current net favorability of -13.8. The spread between Sanders and Trump would be 32.4, another enormous difference.

As I have said, the numbers I have put forward for Bernie are from 2016, while the numbers for Trump are current. So let's go back to Novermber 5, 2016 and see the spread between Bernie and Trump on that date. At that time the spread was even greater: a whopping 37.6% in Bernie's favor!

Can anyone believe that being overwhelmingly better liked will not affect election outcomes? If there are just two candidates, one you like and the other you don't, whom will you vote for? Is it any wonder that Bernie did so much better than Trump in the 2016 head-to-head match-ups? And so much better in their current match-ups, as described above?

The handwriting is on the wall. Bernie will trounce Trump in a way that Hillary could not have hoped to do.

6. If not Bernie, who? The question is: Would Biden, Warren, Harris or Buttigieg fare better against Trump than Bernie Sanders?

Of the group, Biden is touted as being the most electable. But is it true? I mentioned above Trump's remarkable success in taking down the most powerful Republicans in the country as well as Hillary Clinton, the heiress apparent in the 2016 election. And I also stressed that he was aided in that effort by the weaknesses of the candidates he defeated. Trump's skill in this must be taken very seriously. It may be deplorable, but it is wickedly effective. And so we must look at the vulnerabilities of each candidate who might go up against him and consider how well each might hold his/her own in the situation.

Conventional wisdom has portrayed Biden as the most likely to succeed. Yet I would suggest that, in spite of polls which admittedly show him defeating Trump by numbers even higher than Bernie's, we may be receiving a false impression.

Having cited Bernie's consistent superiority to Trump in these same head-to-head match-ups as an indication of his likelihood to win, it may seem inconsistent of me to doubt similar results in a Biden-Trump contest. Yet I do believe there is good reason to question the meaning of these results.

Biden and Sanders are virtually equal in terms of name recognition. This is a great advantage both men share. Both men are also very popular. But there is a crucial difference in this popularity. Biden is known mostly for his association with Barack Obama, who remains an extremely popular ex-president. He is also known for the death of his son, Beau, a humanizing fact, but hardly indicative of what kind of president Biden would make. In fact, the public doesn't know much at all about Joe Biden. Contrast that with Bernie Sanders, who emerged seemingly from nowhere, and thrust himself into the heart of the highest levels of political action and discourse. He has been active, vocal and inspiring for years now and people have a sense of who he is and what he stands for. If you look at the graphic trajectory of his favorability ratings during the last election cycle (figures for this season are not available), you see something remarkable. While the two lines (favorability and unfavorability) start at about equal levels, over a period of time they get farther and farther apart; his favorability just keeps on growing as more and more people get to see him and know him.

But Biden's favorability (which there are current numbers for) does the opposite. As more and more is seen of Biden—his gaffes, his fumbling with facts, his inability to effectively defend himself, his general lack of dynamism, as well as the exposure of very unfortunate positions from the past and lackluster responses to present crises—the more people realize they never knew much about him at all; they had assumed a lot that wasn't true. Predictably, his favorability ratings have gone down. In fact, Biden may be the perfect candidate from Trump's perspective, because there is so very much about Biden Trump has to work with. With so many vulnerabilities to attack, and new ones constantly arising, it is not hard to picture a bloody scene on the debate stage.

So when we see Biden beating Trump so handily in the head-to-head polls, we must remember that what Biden supporters are so confident in is their imagined Joe Biden, not the Joe Biden they will come to know as more and more is revealed. Will his support continue as time goes on? Is he likely to inspire the masses—including new voters—to come out and vote for him? I think the polls may be showing a fantasy: an idealized but highly inaccurate picture of Biden vs. Trump.  Can the real Biden compete? Unlike other candidates, Joe Biden's greatest asset is his supposed electability. If that has been exaggerated, there is little else remarkable about him to fight for.

As for Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, these are two candidates who, along with Biden, are corporate-driven. Theirs is the compromised position of the vast majority of politicians and it is quite normal from that point of view. But such a position means, by definition, that one can not be single mindedly dedicated to the well-being of one's constituents, since one can not afford to threaten the loyalty of one's big-moneyed donors.  As I've mentioned, Buttigieg has 23 billionaires supporting him and Kamala has 17 (according to an August 5 article in Forbes). Of course their motivation in taking the big dollars in this way is to help them win, not lose. But the hypocrisy of this position does make them vulnerable to Trump's attacks.

Harris has plenty more of her own personal hypocrisy to deal with. We watched Tulsi Gabbard dramatically expose her over the fact that having locked up nearly 2,000 people on marijuana-related offenses, she later joked about her own marijuana use. This revelation and others resulted in an immediate drop in Harris's poll numbers. And it is this kind of dishonesty that Trump can use so effectively against a competing candidate (or anyone else he happens to be angry with at a given moment).

Pete Buttigieg has so little experience that it is actually strange that he is presenting himself as the best qualified to be president. Nor does the experience he does have, as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, provide the picture of an executive of superlative qualities. I'm not sure that closer and more ruthless scrutiny by the president would result in greater electability. He has not even been doing very well in the primary race.

Elizabeth Warren is the closest to Bernie in policy, though she is far from him in vision. She is supported by a lot of people but does not poll as well as Sanders against Trump. Out of the last 11 polls, she has beaten Trump 8 times, tied twice, and lost once. When she wins, it is by lesser margins than Bernie's. Trump has already embarrassed her over her claims of native American ancestry. He offered to pay a million dollars to her favorite charity if she could prove through a DNA test her native American genealogy. She took the test, which showed the presence of a Native American ancestor some 6-10 generations ago. When she asked Trump to pony up the promised donation, he claimed he'd never made such a promise. While this is typical of the kind of dishonest behavior we have come to expect from our president, the incident caused great embarrassment to Warren, since some members of the Cherokee tribe were offended by her using a DNA test to determine tribal ancestry. Warren was obliged to apologize for having done so.

But the real significance of the event was summed up by a question posed to Warren by an attendee at a 2019 Sioux City event: “Why did you undergo the DNA testing and give Donald Trump more fodder to be a bully?” Warren apologized again for her behavior, but she did not answer the question. In other words: Why did she permit herself to fall into Trump's trap?

I do not believe she did anything particularly “wrong.” It is just that she didn't have the wherewithal to avoid the debacle in the first place. She tried to beat Trump on his own terms rather than rise to a level where she could not be touched by him. That, I think, points to a vulnerability she might certainly face again and again in a rivalry with him.

We have to win in 2020. That is a goal most Democrats share. But it is time to turn conventional wisdom on its head. Biden is not the most electable candidate. Bernie Sanders is. We must not fall for the excuses and the illogic that try to paint less desirable candidates as more electable. The mainstream media and the Democratic establishment detest Bernie and want him to lose. They are very powerful because of their sweeping access to the eyes and ears of the population. We must not be gullible. They are not on our side. If Bernie gets the nomination he will beat Trump by a landslide. With anyone else—all bets are off. your social media marketing partner
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