Would Bernie have won?

A lot of Bernie backers are reacting to Donald Trump’s victory by blaming the victim — Hillary Clinton — and asserting that Bernie Sanders would have won this thing.

Which, first of all, is absolutely unknowable.

Second, the odds would have been longer for Bernie.

There are a couple of layers to this. First, the belief that if the DNC hadn’t had its thumb on the scale, Bernie would have won the primary. And second, as the nominee he would have been a more effective opponent to Trump.

Let’s take the first. Bernieacs are fond of blaming the superdelegates for Clinton’s victory. But the fact is, Hillary clinched the nomination without the superdelegates. Throughout the primary season, she ran ahead of Bernie. Slightly ahead, but ahead.

Bernie never showed that his progressive agenda could attract voters beyond his core support. He racked up a lot of his victories in caucus states, where a small but enthusiastic base could carry a candidate. He was never able to consistently beat Clinton in actual primaries.

Bernie never solved his problems with black and Hispanic voters, who nearly carried Clinton over the finish line despite solid Trump support from people like me — white, cis, college-educated males.

(Which makes me ashamed of my race, gender, and orientation to no end.)

(And also belies the right’s constant complaining about liberal academia. Truth is, white college-educated voters are reliably Republican — even when the nominee is a racist, misogynist fraudster. If our institutions of higher education are secretly devoted to turning out brainwashed liberals, they’re doing a horrible job of it.)

Sanders supporters argue that he could have tapped into the white/working class disaffection that buoyed Trump’s campaign. Well, maybe, but I doubt it. Trump’s populism was* of the Father Coughlin/Mussolini variety, dog whistles blowing constantly. Bernie’s populism was more the Bob LaFollette/Jeremy Corbyn brand, appealing to educated liberals (mostly) and the disaffected working class (sort of).

*I say “was” because Trump’s dropping his populist positions like so many hot potatoes since he won. The corporate agenda is winning out. 

The problem with that kind of populism is that it’s never been an electoral winner. There are a lot of authentically conservative and moderate people in the U.S., who are disinclined to opt for a radically new approach to the economy and the budget.

The other thing is that Bernie never had to go through the conservative mud barrage that was perpetually aimed at Clinton. The conservative machine would have had a field day with a Democratic Socialist. They would have fired up the Rothschild references a lot earlier if they’d been running against a New York Jew.

It is possible that Bernie could have done better than Hillary in spite of the facts:

— He was less popular during the primary

— He never showed the ability to grow his appeal

— The Republicans would have been all over him like a pack of hyenas.

If we look state-by-state, Bernie might have done better in the Rust Belt. Would he have done as well in the purple states that Hillary carried? To me, that’s a dubious proposition.

It’s possible that Bernie could have beaten Trump. (Which, actually, Clinton did too. It just didn’t count because of our archaic system.) I see abundant reason to believe that he would have been more of a longshot, and no reason to believe he’d be a shoo-in.


9 thoughts on “Would Bernie have won?

  1. Adam Maxwell

    I’m not sure I agree with you on this one, John (which is definitely a rarity). I’ve been hearing a lot of reports, interviews, etc. of Drumpf voters in swing states that voted for Obama in 2008 hoping he would “change” the corrupt corporate-Wall Street-DC nexus of doom. They were quite disaffected. So much so that they told themselves that Drumpf didn’t really mean all of his racist, misogynistic, biogoted, mouth slime.

    I think Bernie would have carried a lot of the rust states that mattered and would have attracted just as much of the black and latino vote in the general as Hillary did.

    One thing I do agree with you on: feels pretty gross to be a white cis-gendered male right now….

    1. KB

      I’ve been seeing a lot of blaming and shaming of white women as well, based on the exit polls/final Trump vote breakdown. I refuse to take on any kind of proxy shame based on demographics. That’s the kind of electorate-balkanizing identity politics that did its part to make this campaign so toxic in the first place. Both sides otherized each other to a gross degree.

  2. Faith King

    He consistently polled better than Clinton did in match ups with Trump. Consistently. And he didn’t have the horrendous baggage she’s been saddled with by the likes of Breitbart, et al. I’ve been having a lot (ok. too much) contact with Trump-ites lately, and what I hear is that they BELIEVED that Clinton was a dark, alarming woman; stealing money; possibly killing people and, oh, ‘advocating late term abortion’. Yeah. Really.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Kinda my point. Bernie wasn’t saddled with “horrendous baggage” because the Trump campaign never targeted him. Indeed, they propped him up as a convenient anti-Clinton foil. If Bernie had won the nomination, things would have been VERY different.

      As for the polls, how’d those work out last week?

  3. Robert Haskins

    So the Constitution is archaic and you’re shamed to be who you are…and you wonder why your ideology got crushed from coast-to-coast.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. kevin kelley

    Just a factual thing:
    Clinton beat Trump among white, college-educated women 51-45, according to CBS News exit polling. Trump trounced her among white, college-educated men 54-39 (same source). Gender gap was quite wide in this segment of the electorate.

  5. Roger Hill

    Climate Change…pretty words and blowing sunshine up the electoral butt which the Democrats do in Vermont, with inaction, and especially the national Party all but makes the Dems and Republicans on the exactly the same team, one BS’ing, the other overtly denying the problem – (which is actually worse is questionable?) The history is there — nothing much environmentally statewide since the Kunin Administration — you need to chat with Bill McKibbon for the truthiness, and its not pretty. But I would argue on this subject and many more that Bernie Sanders is the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. When we see the next drought, flood or extreme Climate Event — and you sure will sooner than you think, you will need actual leadership and not just pretty words. Now all of the heavy lifting is being done in the western states such California Oregon, Washington and many major cities. Vermont has now chosen to be an environmental backwater in terms of leadership with Phil Scott who claims her’s no denier but is indifferent to it which = business as usual.

  6. JK

    The straight-up, head-to-head battle between Bernie and Trump ignores the likelihood that Michael Bloomberg won likely have run as an independent hand Bernie won the primary.

    Three New Yorkers! It woulda be a blast.


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