For most, this was the worst kept secret in US politics. People ‘felt the Bern’ in 2016 and it is fair to assume that the Democratic Party has suffered from third degree ‘Berns’ since. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign for President was unlike anything that Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party could have foreseen. The then radical issues (now commonplace in this new crowded field of 2020 Democratic contenders) of universal free college education, Medicare for all and the prospect of a Green New Deal have all arisen from Sanders’ initial ‘fringe’ candidacy. But what about this time around?
My initial issue with Bernie Sanders’ second run is that he has shot himself in the foot. My prediction was that Bernie would have passed the flame of the ‘revolution’ to his ‘younger’ protégé, Elizabeth Warren. How wrong I was. The most well-known progressives in the USA at the moment are all either running or strongly hinting towards a run. This will simply mean vote splitting: opening the door to either a credible candidacy in Joe Biden or Kamala Harris or letting in another Clinton-ite moderate who may drag the party to another defeat in the presidential election.
Polling for the 2016 election between the two put Sanders a long way ahead in states Hillary Clinton humiliatingly lost: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, I could go on. Interestingly however, Sanders polled significantly stronger in areas which only go Democrat once every landslide: Indiana, Missouri and Arizona, furthermore in Utah (which hasn’t voted Democratic since 1964), Montana and West Virginia (which Trump carried by over 50% in 2016).
Bernie Sanders has a unique appeal to three groups: the left behinds, the languished and the Left. Firstly, Sanders has a broad appeal amongst those who believe the US economy and political system has abandoned them and their interests. The former coal miners, industrial workers and farmers found solace in Sanders’ promise of economic regeneration and resonated with his empathy towards them. He acknowledged the fact that, for too long, these blue-collar Americans had been negatively affected by the pace of globalisation, trans-Pacific trade and the ‘out of touch political class’.
Secondly, Sanders owned the issue of tackling the burning injustices facing those in society. He spoke of the hardships of paying for education, healthcare and childcare all with lower wages and longer working hours. These were the emotional issues that many in America, in particularly white working-class voters in America faced and helped give Sanders the edge over Clinton.
Lastly, Sanders appealed to the Left in America; the progressives, the populists the anti-establishment wing of the Democrats who for too long had grown tired of the same old recycled policies. Hillary Clinton was the very opposite of these ideals and represented a crony capitalist, corporate neoliberal agenda which had seen the very issues previously discussed increase and thrive. All these reasons show how Sanders had such a strong showing in 2016 and provide a few pointers for his 2020 run.
If Sanders wants to win, he must consolidate support with the white working classes and white suburban women. I am not saying that Sanders must ignore the concerns of black, Latino and Asian Americans, but they are a shoe-in for the Democratic vote. Sanders needs to build a broad coalition based on economic issues, not cultural issues such as, important as they may be, transgender rights. This was the reason Hillary Clinton failed spectacularly in 2016; because she didn’t focus enough on the economic concerns of white working-class men and women, instead she barked tacky soundbites (“Pokémon Go-to-the-polls”) to college millennials on the east and west coasts. This is the reason why Bernie and Biden are doing so well in the early primary. They are economically in-tune with the blue collar ‘middle American’ population. Once Trump loses this group of moderate voters who voted for him simply for change in 2016, he loses the presidency.
I believe Bernie could win the presidency with a charismatic and moderate VP such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Sherrod Brown or Sen. Kamala Harris, a woman I have met and had a lengthy discussion with, and someone who I believe to be a strong third contender for the nomination.
The combination of a robust economic coalition of voters, with a moderate VP and an incumbent President with such a shaky hold on his swing states could see Bernie Sanders as the 46th President of the USA. However, there is still a year until the snowy plains of Iowa see the first ballots cast in the Democratic primary and a lot of game to be played. Whether Sanders can define his candidacy and regain that ‘outsider’ status in a party he has since shaped will be a risky and mammoth task, one which could potentially cost him the White House.