Will Bernie help re-elect Trump?
The great horror among a big segment of Democratic voters and officials is a rerun of Hillary versus Bernie in 2016. Even after Clinton bagged the requisite number of delegates needed to lock up the 2016 Democratic nomination, Sanders dragged his feet on conceding. This wasn’t the worst part of it. He also continued to hammer Clinton as the consummate bought-and-paid-for corporate, beltway Washington shill. He eventually endorsed her and did a token campaign appearance or two and urged his supporters to back Clinton.
But the damage had already been done. Bernie’s broadsides hurt badly. Clinton later took the gloves off and flatly charged that Sanders damaged her White House bid. Now the swift and harsh counter was that she blew it by taking a victory lap before the first vote was cast, and that overconfidence, lackluster campaigning and being seen by many as a polarizing candidate cost her the Oval Office.
There’s some truth to that. However, that begs the question: Did Bernie damage her White House bid? He did, and surveys bore that out in the three states that put Trump in the Oval Office. In Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, a number of voters who voted for Sanders in the Democratic primary in those states crossed over and voted for Trump in the general election. They were Democrats.
Now, four years later, the likely Democratic presidential is Joe Biden. You could change the date, heading and name on the assault on Biden by Bernie and his “bros” and it would read exactly as it did on Clinton. He’s routinely ripped as a tool of billionaires and corporate interests, a warmonger, a beltway wheeler-dealer and GOP lite on everything from health care to abortion. Biden read the script from four years ago and has tried to head things off at the pass by warning Bernie about his drumbeat negative attacks. He warns that this is surefire “bloodletting” in the Democratic Party. The big victor of this will be Trump.
There are no reliable figures yet on just how much of the threat from many of Bernie’s backers that they will not vote for Biden is hot air and how much will actually translate into hard numbers on Election Day, staying home, voting for a third-party candidate or even voting for Trump. There is no data on just how many of these fervent Bernie backers are in the five Heartland states and Florida that will again decide the race.
The best guess is that the bulk of the anti-Biden Bernie supporters are on the West and East Coasts. This wouldn’t hurt Biden, since these states are mostly lock-down Democratic vote states.
What isn’t a matter of guesswork, though, is the barrage of beat-downs of Biden on social media and leftist blogs and publications. They delight in throwing up Biden’s past record at him. The four favorites are that he voted for the Iraq War, he pilloried Anita Hill, he opposed busing and that he is practically the architect of mass incarceration by cheerleading the Clinton Crime Bill. Biden’s apologies about Hill, his repeated explanations about busing, the Crime Bill and the war, have done nothing to make the issues and the opposition go away. Expect every one of these knocks against him and a slew of others to be dumped on him in the run-up to November. They won’t come from Trump and the GOP, but from other Democrats.
If Biden must spend time and energy refighting the Civil war on his past, the victor again is Trump. The wild card in all of this is Sanders. He can do one of two things if grabbing the nomination becomes an impossibility. He can continue to fight hard for it anyway, since he’s said his candidacy is not solely about winning the White House but making a “political revolution” in America — and in the process, rail at Biden as the billionaire’s guy. Or, he can gracefully fold up his tent, quickly endorse Biden, pledge to work hard for his election and most importantly, sternly demand that his most ardent backers vote for Biden. How many of them will heed his demand, no one can say for sure. What we do know is that just enough of them didn’t heed his lukewarm admonition in 2016 to back Clinton. That helped tip the presidential scales to Trump. The horror is it could happen again.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.