A funny thing is happening on the way to the primaries. Back in the spring, the Democratic candidate who seemed to have a lock on bridging the gap between liberals, moderates, and conservatives was centrist politician Hillary Clinton. As late as September, the former Secretary of State was calling herself a moderate. Meanwhile, the spring season saw U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Clinton’s closest challenger, being virtually ignored by the mainstream media as a wild-haired, leftist kook.
Since then, Sanders has surged and can no longer be ignored by the media. Clinton has stumbled but, since October 13, has regained her footing. Vice president Joe Biden, the man who could have divided Clinton’s legion of supporters, has decided against entering the presidential race. Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee have dropped out of the race, leaving only Martin O’Malley as the lone minor candidate. We’re in for a long slog to the primaries, with the Sanders vs. Clinton showdown growing increasingly heated.
Clinton has angered Sanders and his supporters by “stealing” his political positions and accusing Sanders of sexism. Sanders has, in exchange, dropped his “Mr. Nice Guy” persona and pointed out clear differences between their policies and past positions, implying that he has been right all along and that she is playing copycat. The gloves are coming off, and pundits and voters are waiting for the fireworks. Will Clinton go sharply negative on Sanders, attempting to “put him away” before the Christmas holidays? Will Sanders give in to the temptation to bring up Clinton’s email scandal and join the Republican chorus questioning her morals and ethics?
It could get ugly, folks.
But, even as Clinton’s resurgence in the polls has boosted her confidence and made her feel like taking direct shots at Sanders, I detect an ironic reversal in the winds. It is now Bernie Sanders, and not Hillary Clinton, who is definitely the Democrats’ best general election candidate. If Democrats want to retain the White House, they must nominate Bernie Sanders and not Hillary Clinton. Clinton, despite her resurging strength among Democrats, has grown far weaker as a general election contender. Sanders, despite some temporary setbacks among Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire, is the only Democrat who can beat the GOP.
Why? Bernie Sanders is like kryptonite to Republicans.
On the surface, Sanders appears to be an easy target for the GOP to destroy. He has long proclaimed himself to be a Democratic Socialist, after all! And socialism, heck, that was what the Soviet Union was all about! If Sanders was the Democratic nominee, his Republican opponent would be practically giddy. How hard could it be to make the old guy from Vermont look like a looney in front of good, capitalist Americans?
Well, then it starts to get tricky. Since Sanders’ past is relatively clean, the GOP would have to target his policies. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who offers the Republicans a veritable buffet of personal controversies going all the way back to the early ’90s, Sanders’ only “weaknesses” among Democrats, notably his past votes on gun control, are virtually unattackable by the GOP. Still, it’s not like attacking Sanders’ policy proposals is tough, right? I mean, it’s socialism!
Well, dadgum it, it turns out that it’s really hard to criticize Sanders’ proposals of universal health care and tuition-free public higher education. It turns out that America already offers a lot of that stuff to certain groups of citizens and that there’s tremendously widespread support for that. If the GOP tries to attack universal health care, they must also criticize the idea behind Medicare and Medicaid. If the GOP tries to attack tuition-free public higher education, they will also be criticizing the ideas behind public school itself. With more than 90 percent of parents sending their kids to public school, that’s quite a risky attack!
At least the crazy notion of a spending spree on infrastructure in order to boost America’s productivity and decrease unemployment can easily be swatted down! Well, dagnab it, it turns out there was this little thing in the 1930s called the New Deal that worked pretty well and did the same thing. It seems that most people tend to credit those programs with helping ease something called the Great Depression. Well, it’s not like there’s another recession coming around anytime soon, is there?! Oh, wait, it seems like economists are worried about another one due to problems with the global economy…
Fine, then! At least we should be able to tackle the ridiculous idea that we should spend more money on Social Security. After all, don’t all these Baby Boomers have 401(k)s, IRAs, and lots of investment portfolios? The public doesn’t want to keep boring ol’ Social Security around, does it? Oh, wait, it seems that maybe they do…personal retirement funds are underperforming and it appears that a bona fide retirement crisis is in the works, prepared to harm the elderly and bog down the job market as older workers are unable to retire. If we want young people to have jobs, we need to help older workers retire…
Well, at least we can topple the idea of raising the minimum wage! We don’t need that any more in America, do we? Gosh darn it – it turns out that most Americans support raising the federal minimum wage above its measly $7.25 per hour…and adjusting it annually for inflation!
Perhaps we can still make headway by blasting the silly idea of global warming. Surely we can, because most voters don’t believe in it! Wait, they do believe in it? Almost three-quarters? Aargh!
Bernie Sanders is like kryptonite and quicksand to the Republicans. Unable to attack his ethics, they will assault his policy proposals and the concept of Democratic Socialism…only to discover that they are on the wrong side of all the issues. The New Deal, the War on Poverty, and the mass use of public schools and other public goods makes Bernie Sanders’ proposals look like the next, rational steps needed to counter the erosion of real wages and the high probability of an upcoming recession. By trying to counter him, the GOP will shoot itself in the foot by appearing like a Gilded Age, laissez-faire fat cat.
Bernie Sanders will win the general election by attracting almost all moderates and independents, leaving the Republican nominee supported by only the most ardent conservatives. Heck, even many mainstream Republicans find stuff to like about Sanders: 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain has praised Sanders on his support of veterans’ issues.
Conversely, Hillary Clinton is loathed by the Republican Party, and they are ready and eager to pounce should she win the Democratic presidential nomination. They will have plenty of fuel to attack due to Clinton’s laundry list of quasi-scandals and her recent insistence that she considers Republicans as “enemies.” Though Clinton’s star has recently risen among Democrats, she will now have a tougher time attracting moderates and independents.
Sanders is willing to work across the aisle, and the GOP knows it. Ironically, this makes Sanders the Democratic Socialist, and not Clinton the moderate, the presidential candidate who could actually “get things done” in Washington.