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.