Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday — with 90 percent of precincts counted, he had 26 percent of the vote, and networks declared him the victor. Sanders has won the popular vote in each of the first two contests in the Democratic primary and now has a lead in national polls. He is unquestionably the frontrunner for the nomination.
The win in New Hampshire, however, wasn't as big as many polls had predicted. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in particular drastically beat expectations, coming in at nearly 20 percent against a pre-election polling average of about 11 percent, while Pete Buttigieg also gained a couple points to 24 percent. Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden got absolutely destroyed, just like in Iowa. He came in fifth with just 9 percent, compared to a polling average of 11 percent — and a total collapse from 23 percent just a month ago. It appears there is a significant population of voters who are just looking for any kind of moderate candidate who seems halfway plausible.
But the odd thing here is that a big number of these voters are almost certainly fine with Sanders — they have just talked themselves into thinking that he can't possibly win. Hey Democrats! You can just vote for Bernie Sanders if you want. It'll be okay.
It can be hard to see this if you watch too much of the hysterically anti-Sanders coverage on supposedly-liberal MSNBC — Chris Matthews recently spoke of his fear that Sanders is a secret communist who might execute him in Central Park — but the fact is most rank-and-file Democrats like Sanders just fine. Indeed, the Morning Consult poll found that his favorability rating among that group is 74 percent — the highest of any of the candidates, even better than Biden.
This isn't hard to understand. While Sanders isn't technically a Democrat, he has been a loyal soldier for all the causes the party supports (rhetorically at least) — universal healthcare, higher wages, more and better jobs, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, criminal justice reform, and so on — for decades. Neither is he some loopy extremist. While he has always held uncompromising egalitarian views, he is a savvy legislative tactician who has negotiated dozens of compromises through Congress over the years, from community health center funding in ObamaCare to a bipartisan bill to end support for the Saudi war in Yemen. Sanders has been widely covered by the media since 2016, and most Democrats plainly like what he is saying.
The difference is that Sanders insists the Democratic compromises of the 1980s and 1990s are no longer necessary, if they ever were. In his view, the party does not have to bow to either the corporate class or to white reaction (as Bill Clinton did) to win. Instead, following the trail blazed by Jesse Jackson in the '80s, he proposes to assemble a multiracial coalition of working- and middle-class voters, united mainly on economic grounds, to defeat the oligarchs that have a hammerlock on the Republican Party and still cling to influence at the top of the Democratic establishment.
That Democratic elite has spent decades hammering their electorate with the idea that radicals always lose, and that a corporate- and big money-friendly moderate is the way to go. Every election is 1972, and everyone to the left of Jimmy Carter is George McGovern — despite the fact that 1972 is as distant from today as 1924 was from that year, and the fact that moderates lost in 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000, 2004, and 2016.
As we see with the panicked switching between Biden, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg, this argument still clearly resonates with a lot of Democratic voters. But the truth is that you just can't know with any kind of certainty who would be the best candidate.
A Sanders nomination would be a risk to be sure, but so would nominating anybody else. Trump really might win no matter who is nominated. Biden has tons of baggage and is plainly terrible at campaigning. Mike Bloomberg has even more baggage. Buttigieg has no experience. Klobuchar is infamous for abusing her staff. And even while both the corporate media and the right-wing agitprop machine attack Sanders as a deranged socialist, he still polls well ahead of Trump in general election matchups — within 1 point of Biden and ahead of everyone else. And let's not forget that in the most recent election, the moderate candidate lost to the biggest buffoon in the history of presidential politics.
America is in a terrible fix, and there is no easy way out. As Alex Pareene writes in The New Republic, the Democratic electorate must "be given license to support what it supports." A Sanders nomination would bring along his increasingly good margins among non-white voters and his zealous base of small donors and activists. And in a crisis, gritty determination and commitment are surely more useful than timid hesitation. Who knows what dirty tricks the Trump campaign might try, or how inscrutable swing voters might react? Best to just go with a clearly good candidate and gear up for an all-out general election effort.
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