Millions of Democrats will need to seriously prepare for what a Bernie Sanders nomination will look like.
Are there any moderate Democrats left standing? Of course there are. In fact, if you wanted to perform a redundant task, you could add up the support of moderates vs progressive and see who comes out of top. But there will be tough decisions ahead for them. Believe me, I’ve been there.
It was September 2015 and the British Labour Party were about to announce the newly elected leader of their party. Earlier that year the outgoing leader, Ed Miliband, had lost a general election, giving the opposition an unexpected majority for the first time since 1992 (this was a majority of only four seats, albeit).
After experiencing another defeat, many in the Labour party felt the winds of change were on their side. Not incremental, small-scale, slow change, though; but massive, wide-ranging, visible change — a sentiment that will resonate with many Democrats now; a feeling that it is their time.
Before all the leadership candidates took the stage for the formal announcement (kind of live a National Convention), various media sources caught wind of a Corbyn win and it was apparent that the future of the Labour party would be changing for the foreseeable future. To his credit, Corbyn won the support of the Members, the MPs, and the trade unions, and was re-elected as leader a year later when he was challenged by Owen Smith, but this just cemented his power even more.
Over the course of three and a half years, be under no illusion at just how much the Labour party has changed under Corbyn. Almost everywhere, the Corbyn-led party has been successful in implementing the change they wished. They are virtually unrecognisable to the party they were five years ago, let alone two decades ago when they used to win elections.
Looking at Corbyn’s election and Sanders’ potential nomination is, of course, an imperfect comparison. Not least because the Democrats (thankfully, perhaps) don’t elect a direct leader of their party for an indefinite amount of time and the means by which they are elected is different, too. For example, I would propose that if Bernie did win the nomination, he would become the de facto leader of the Democrat party only until November 4 where he loses in a landslide to Donald Trump.
Nonetheless, the election of Corbyn in the Labour party should make the moderates in the Democrat party worried about what could come. A by-product of a Sanders nomination will ultimately mean millions of Democrats face an excruciating choice next year.
For full disclosure, and if it wasn’t yet apparent, I am not a fan of Corbyn’s Labour and myself faced that excruciatingly difficult decision during the General Election of 2017 when deciding whether I could, in full conscience, vote to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister.
Apart from the procedural differences that come with the respective elections of a British party leader and the Presidential nominee of a major US party, the greatest difference is that no one really saw Corbyn’s election coming. Even his most passionate supports would not have expected him to win in 2015 — he was 100–1. To contextualise, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson are all knocking around those odds.
The field of the Labour leadership has always attracted a candidate from the far-left, it is part of the party’s fabric, so Corbyn’s inclusion in 2015 was not that surprising. His inclusion alone was not nearly enough get people thinking he would actually win the thing.
The Democrats simply do not have that excuse this time.
In 2016, Sanders ran Hilary genuinely close. Apart from Obama/Clinton 2008, there wasn’t a closer ran Democratic primary in recent history. The difference being, while this was Clinton’s last roll of the dice, Sanders’ political capital actually increased and he is stomping towards the nomination this time around.
If we take Biden out of the equation, then Bernie wins the polls hands down, and he has done for a while. If Biden doesn’t run, or even if he does and sh*ts the bed during his campaign like he is already doing, then perhaps Biden’s more moderate base might spill over to someone like Harris of O’Rourke or Pete and they could challenge Sanders in a more conventional primary race.
My feeling, however, is that Sanders’ position as the nominee-elect is now — in April 2019 — unassailable.
There is an argument to say the impending nomination of someone like Sanders has been in pipeline for years and that it was the fault of the ‘mainstream media’ for failing to accurately reflect the feelings of party members.
Indeed when Tony Blair re-branded the Labour party they achieved truly brilliant things (there is a huge list of accomplishments here and I am deeply passionate about the things New Labour did), they did however take the county into Iraq against the will of huge portions of the electorate and Corbyn can quite fairly be seen as a partial backlash of this. Blair’s exercise in re-branding was Clinton-esque and carried forward almost unchallenged by Obama. Sanders’ nomination might be well as a result of a similar backlash; using his vote against the Iraq War as the greatest manifestation of that.
The crux of Corbyn/Sanders’ support is that they create movements, not just campaigns. As such, Sanders has been effortlessly able to carry over the momentum of his 2016 defeat into this cycle. Movements — rather than campaigns — are hard to break down. For their supports, of course, this is brilliant.
Despite candidates in the Democrat field seemingly trying to out-Bern, Bernie, most explicitly by adopting policies Sanders would have liked to have enjoyed a monopoly on, there will remain millions of moderate Democrat voters who do not know what to do next year.
They will face similar questions to what they asked their opponents in 2016. Will they (the ‘moderates’) support the Democrat candidate whoever that may be, even if it is someone who they deeply disagree with and who they do not view as fit to occupy high office?
That form of tribal, all or nothing politics, is common on the left of both British and American politics. For example, voters were dismissing Kamala Harris in 2018 because of her past experience as a prosecutor, and they will not change their mind! You’re either with ‘us’ or against ‘us’ etc.
Democrat moderates should brace themselves for a barrage of questioning along those lines. They should also brace themselves for an incoming feeling of being expelled from the party that they will have voted for all their life. The most emotive feeling, however, comes when you realise just how deeply the party can change under a far-left leader and how likely they feel a Sanders led party will lose to another four years of Trump.
A saving grace for Democrats comes from the fact that the relationship between the party and the Presidential nominee is much looser and the impact he/she can have on the deep mechanisms of the party is lesser to that of the UK. Although Trump’s take-over of the RNC has been comprehensive, I cannot see any Democrat candidate attempting the same thing. However, back across the pond, the Labour NEC (their equivalent to the DNC) has been re-built in the image of Corbyn.
This could mean that even if Sanders is the candidate, in four years time the ideological composition of the party may have changed again and the party will be able to nominate someone else, this time inspired by two defeats to Donald Trump.
The Labour party have gone too deep for this to happen and enacted too much reform to allow it to happen. There could be a long road ahead for moderate Democrats and some dark days too, but to paraphrase the ‘moderate’ Prime Minister who took millions out of poverty, provided tens of thousands of jobs to police, nurses, and teachers, gave the UK a statutory minimum wage, increased health conditions, improved housing conditions and made the UK an international leader in tackling climate change…
…things can only get better. How radical is that.