For all our articles on Sanders by Eric Lee, going back to October 2019, see here.
For some time now I’ve been arguing that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is the front-runner in the race to be the Democratic candidate to face off against Donald Trump in November.
A few months ago, and even a few weeks ago, that was a debatable proposition. Today, it is a view shared by nearly everyone paying careful attention to the Democratic primary.
The main competitors to Sanders are falling away one by one, their weaknesses on clear display to all. Biden, once seen as the front-runner, has no base of enthusiastic supporters and very little money left in his coffers. Warren, another early leader in the race, seems a spent force despite her very effective recent debate performance in Las Vegas.
Buttigieg, who polls showed has near-zero support among Black and Latino voters, proved in Nevada that once he leaves behind the largely white, rural states, his run for the presidency has slowed to a crawl.
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was the great hope for the Democratic party’s “moderates” – a term the media uses because no one wants to call those who oppose the party’s left wing, well, right-wingers.
But five minutes into Bloomberg’s first appearance on the debate stage, his candidacy began to tank. Arrogant, ill-informed and totally unprepared for challenges from candidates who’ve been campaigning for many months, he completely flopped. From the point of view of the Sanders campaign, that’s a pity. A contest between Sanders and Bloomberg, a democratic socialist versus a billionaire, would have been almost ideal.
If Sanders does well in the upcoming South Carolina and Super Tuesday primaries, he has a clear path to winning the Democratic nomination. But can he beat Trump?
Trump has raised more money than any of the Democratic candidates. His rallies are larger than that of most Democrats. Polls continue to show that he commands the support of at least 40% of voters, sometimes more. He can also count on the fact that incumbent presidents running when the country is not in the throes of an economic crisis are rarely defeated.
In other words, it will be a massive challenge to whoever wins the Democratic nomination to defeat Trump. But Bernie Sanders can do it for the same reason why he won Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
His victory in Nevada shows what he needs to do to defeat Trump. He did exceptionally well among Latino voters, who comprise a very large part of the American electorate. He is enormously popular among young voters, especially those under the age of 30. Unsurprisingly, he does well among independents and others who do not consider themselves to be loyal members of the Democratic party.
The only demographic where Biden and others still lead Sanders is the over 65s.
If Sanders can pull together the same coalition of forces across the country in November as he just did in Nevada, he will win the election. In fact, he will do more than that.
Some “moderate” Democrats have warned that Sanders is reprising the role of South Dakota Senator George McGovern, who also pulled the party to the left, back in 1972. McGovern went down to a historic defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon. He won only one state to Nixon’s 49. It was a catastrophe for the Democrats.
But there’s another comparison to be made to an earlier election and it took place a mere eight years before McGovern’s defeat. In the 1964 elections, the Republicans ran the most extreme right-wing candidate they could find, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.
The Democrats had Lyndon Johnson, the former Texas Senator who had been John F. Kennedy’s Vice President until Kennedy was assassinated.
Johnson was not a particularly appealing candidate, and was very much a Washington insider. But he had the strong support of Black communities and trade unions, which at the time were still a force to be reckoned with in American politics.
And he won by a landslide. His administration not only enacted voting rights laws and other civil rights measures, but initiated both a “war on poverty” and Medicare, the first serious attempt by the federal government to make health care a human right, at least for some.
The “moderates” may be right, and maybe Sanders is too left-wing to win. Maybe he is a 21st century version of McGovern, and by choosing him the Democrats are setting up the country for the nightmare of four more years of Donald Trump.
Or maybe Bernie Sanders, with the coalition we just saw in Nevada, will be more like Lyndon Johnson, and will defeat not only Trump, but the Republican party in Congress.
With majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives, and with many Democrats supporting Sanders’ progressive agenda, this could be the beginning of a new, radical era in American politics.
• Eric Lee is the convenor of “London for Bernie”, writing here in a personal capacity