Bernie Sanders is projected to win a runaway victory in Saturday’s Nevada Democratic caucuses. With 50% of the vote in, as of this writing, he’s won 24,122 of the 57,218 popular votes cast, and 3,563 of the 7,640 county convention delegates who’ll help select delegates to the state convention which will select delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer. Moreover, Sanders won well over twice the number of votes and delegates as Joe Biden, the first runner up in a five-person race. Which is all another way for saying that Donald Trump won the Nevada Democratic caucuses himself.
The pattern that’s emerged to date is that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, however odd a couple they appear to be, are actually American politics’s Siamese twins, joined at the hip. Sander’s probable path to victory in the Democratic presidential nomination contest will mirror Trump’s path to the Republican victory in 2016. Moreover, as Sanders’s fortune’s rise, so, too, will Trump’s.
Bernie’s greatest strengths, insofar as winning his party’s presidential election are concerned, are his authenticity and his actual ideas. He’s a self-proclaimed, unapologetic, rough-around-the-edges “democratic socialist.” His followers love him for his transparent honesty, which even sometimes wins the grudging admiration of some of his critics. Not for him or his followers are the smooth ambiguities or the rapid reversal of views which characterize too many Democratic (and Republican as well) politicians.
And Sanders’s policy proposals are enthusiastically shared by a hard core of Democratic activists all too willing to see Michael Bloomberg as a closet Republican (after all, he was elected as a Republican to be Mayor of New York City), and most of the other Democrats still in the race as too moderate (or squishy) to be trusted. Being united in their support of Sanders, Democratic leftists are enabling him to pile up primary and caucus victories while more moderate Democrats are splitting their vote among Sanders’s rivals. In short, Sanders and his supporters are pursuing a successful divide-and-conquer strategy—a strategy right out of Donald Trump’s playbook of 2016.
It’s probably been forgotten that Trump was not the choice of the majority of voters in the 2016 Republican primaries. His policy proposals did not reflect the GOP mainstream at the time. His trade protectionism and his hostility toward immigration put him out of step with most Republicans, who had once supported the free trade and more tolerant immigration policies of Ronald Reagan and the Bushes. But with sixteen more conservative rivals for the GOP nomination splitting the mainstream GOP vote among themselves, Trump was able to win the nomination with his own enthusiastic band of followers.
But at the risk of being too repetitious, I must note that what makes Sanders’s strongest among Democrats is what will make him weakest in a general election. The Democratic activists who dominate their party’s primaries and caucuses are not representative of the sort of voters most likely to go to the polls in November. The latter are typically more moderate, preferring a left-of-center moderate or a right-of-center moderate to an extremist of either the left or the right. Republicans can easily tag Bernie an extreme leftist for his policy proposals, but the Democrats can less easily convince the voters that Trump, for all his excesses and eccentricities, is a right-wing radical. After all, Trump’s policies on abortion and judges are well within the conservative mainstream. Despite his tough talk on immigration, his actual policies do not differ significantly from those once advocated by either Obama or the Clintons. And his refusal to try to reform spending on Social Security or Medicare has kept him off the third rail of American politics, which all too often electrocutes those politicians who seek to change America’s most popular (if expensive) programs. The bottom line here is that Sanders can be portrayed as a policy radical, while Trump cannot. Advantage: Trump.
So, as long as Bernie Sanders keeps winning the Democratic primaries and caucuses and, ultimately, the Democratic presidential nomination, Donald Trump will keep winning too. Sanders’s victories in 2020’s winter, spring, and summer will lead to Trump’s victory in the fall. But whether America will thereby win too is not a question on whose answer the public can agree.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.