According to people at the Big Board and with 100 delegates of the 2376 required distributed, Bernie Sanders is going to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020. Personally, I’d like to wait until at least Super Tuesday to concede that point, but with all this conventional wisdom flying around, I had to sit with the idea for a couple of days. There are other candidates I like less than Bernie (and would also vote for in the general) but a Sanders nomination makes me the most uneasy.
Why is that? I agree with most of his platform. I love that he inspires so many people to embrace the progressive ideals that so many of us have fought for over over the years. I even occasionally find his crotchety frankness appealing. So what would be so bad about a Sanders presidency?
The answer is nothing. He would be fine. In fact, the best-case scenario is pretty enticing: Bernie beats Trump, helps the House stay Blue and flips the Senate — including Mitch McConnell’s seat (critical) — and rides the Blue Wave to advance as much of his agenda as he can. If he is truly better than the “establishment” Democrats, he will fight for his agenda in the first midterms. As head of the Democratic Party, which he, as president, would be (unless there’s some other goddamned thing I have to worry about) he will need to work with the party to support candidates down-ballot in 2022.
Of course, this is true for any Democratic candidate. It has been a longstanding failure of the Democratic Party to keep up the fight after a presidential election, and if these are the elites Bernie is railing against, I am with him. Republican elites are great at it and have been for decades. They work hard all the livelong day taking over state houses and governorships, using right-wing think tanks to create legislative templates for GOP legislatures to enact, handpicking young rightwing ideologues for lifetime judicial appointments, and coordinating voter suppression efforts nationwide. ALL candidates need to explain how they will #BeBetter at this.
Question 1: Does Bernie support all the Democrats running for House and Senate in 2020?
The next-best scenario for a Sanders candidacy is that he beats Trump and holds only one branch of government or McConnell keeps his seat, blue Senate or no. Very little changes legislatively, but Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg (87) and Stephen Bryer (82) can retire and be replaced by jurists who care about maintaining civil, reproductive, and voting rights in this country.
Question 2: Does Bernie have a plan to restore the judiciary post-Trump?
Another sort of not-apocalyptic scenario is that even if Bernie loses the presidency, we succeed with a Blue Wave at the local level — as we did in 2018 — and stymie Trump with Democratic Senate and House. But Trump continues to radically reshape the judiciary for a generation, pardon more creeps and grifters, and run out the statute of limitations.
But that leaves us with the worst possibility of all: we lose it all. The campaign unleashed against Sanders depresses turnout down-ticket.
Question 3: Is Bernie ready to combat the inevitable attacks on his character, philosophy, and record?
This is why Bernie Sanders makes me so nervous. What others are calling “consistency of message” I see as an inability to even entertain another way to get a message across. When his more strident supporters accuse those of us not feeling the Bern of tacitly supporting corporate corruption or ignoring racism, poverty, and the struggle of the common man, I am reminded of how poorly this rhetorical stance went over in 2008 with California’s Proposition 8.
As soon as same-sex marriage became legal in California in May 2008, conservative groups rallied to get an initiative on the November ballot amending California’s constitution to recognize marriages only between men and women as valid. This was Proposition 8. Supporters of the measure saturated the state with ads that ran the gamut from “GAY MARRIAGE WILL TURN YOUR KIDS GAY AAAAAAGGGHHH!” to “We love our gay neighbors Bob and Ted, but they already have domestic partnerships and we have strong feelings about marriage as an institution.” Theirs was an organized, motivated base that tailored its message to anyone who might be receptive.
The opposition launched an expensive, celebrity-rich “NoH8” campaign that basically called everyone who supported Prop 8 homophobic idiots. There was no other lane. While I agree that proponents of Prop 8 were homophobic idiots, I’m not sure it’s true of all the people who voted for it and it’s even less likely of the people who didn’t vote at all. But Prop 8 passed, putting me and about 18,000 other recently married same-sex couples in legal limbo for years. Turns out calling people who simply don’t understand the stakes of a given issue bigots and haters does not persuade them to your point of view.
Question 4: Does Bernie have another lane?!
To recap, if Bernie is to succeed as the Democratic nominee he will have to:
- Prepare for to the onslaught of attacks from a Republican opposition that has been poised and ready to drop ads (mis)using and using Bernie’s own words to scare suburbanites and Fox viewers who might not otherwise vote into keeping “communism” at bay. They’re already doing it. He has not been attacked in any real way by his primary opponents either now or in 2016. He has a good line in “we already have corporate socialism,” but he needs more arrows in that quiver.
- Help Democrats down-ballot, even if they are moderate. Not all of us live in Blue states or have similar approaches to solving America’s problems. Problems, p.s., that all Democrats agree are problems: accessible, affordable healthcare; criminal justice reform; reproductive freedom; free, quality education through at least community college; fair taxation; massive infrastructure improvements, immigration reform; protections for LGBT citizens; fighting systemic racism.
If Bernie is to succeed as president he will have to:
- Work with Democrats in office. Like “established” in office, some of whom might be called “the Establishment.” At the very least, he will have to disambiguate who those people are for his current supporters. Is the Congressional Black Caucus “the Establishment?” I know he walked it back, kinda, but does he still think that about Planned Parenthood? Who is everyone supposed to be mad at?
- Work with Republicans. Frankly, I am less worried about Bernie in this regard. His legislative accomplishments during his time in Congress have been almost exclusively through collaboration. On measures he’s sponsored, the record is less impressive: in the House only one of the 256 bills he initiated became law and in the Senate, only two of 678 bills Bernie sponsored were signed into law. This is not a slam on Bernie, it is a fact of government:
Bernie Sanders has enjoyed the “outsider” brand after roughly thirty years in government service. He has railed against the establishment of both parties, but would be the head of one of them if he becomes president. What does Bernie Sanders look like as Commander in Chief and Leader of the Free World?
Who are we supposed to stick it to if Bernie becomes “the Man?”