February 25, 2020

I Still Like Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and I wish he had won the nomination even though I didn't think much of his chances of prevailing in the general election. Four years later, I was not thrilled with those suggesting he run again in 2020. That was mostly because I hoped the Democrats would find some younger candidates that could appeal to a wider swath of voters. They didn't, and Bernie ended up running again.

Just because he is not my first choice of candidate this time around does not mean I don't still like him. If he wins the nomination, he'll have my support. I'm not one of the #NeverBernie crowd, and I could support him in the general election without feeling disappointed about it. Bernie is still a good match with me on many issues, and he's putting all the other candidates to shame when it comes to the enthusiasm of his base.

But can he win a general election against Trump? I'm skeptical about his chances, but I am beginning to think that he has at least as good a chance of any of the other candidates and a much better one than some. All the candidates still running have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. While Sanders may have trouble expanding his appeal to the establishment/centrist Democrats who seem terrified by the prospect of him winning the nomination, not to mention independent and moderate Republican voters who might be tiring of the current shitshow, his strengths may help to offset some of this.

There are other candidates in the race who would probably have a broader appeal to less liberal voters, but none of them can match the enthusiastic support Sanders has. I'm also not sure they have nearly as effective a "ground game" as his campaign has put together. That means that they are in danger of appealing to moderate voters while failing to excite the base and generate the necessary voter turnout where it matters. Sanders has many strengths, but it seems like his primary ones with respect to competing in a general election are his consistency/authenticity, his enthusiastic base of supporters, and the effective campaign infrastructure he has built.

We know that Sanders can excite his base, and it looks like he may be having some success expanding it. If he can continue to expand ahead of the general election by bringing voters who supported other candidates in the primary on board and inspire high voter turnout, he could be more competitive than his competitors in a general election. I think this is why it is critical that he find a way to reign in some of his current supporters: they risk alienating the very voters he will need in a general election.

Personally, I don't think it is fair to blame Sanders for how a small number of his supporters are behaving on social media. He's spoken out against this sort of thing multiple times, and he's right that some of it may reflect Russian efforts to sow division. At the same time, it is not hard to understand why those who have been on the receiving end of some of the worst of what the "Bernie Bros" have to dish out may have second thoughts about supporting Sanders.

Update: As the 2020 Democratic primary contest has narrowed and my state's primary approaches, my assessment of the candidates has changed a bit (see Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden: Decision Time) although I do still like Sanders.