Socialist Sanders could never defeat Trump
Bernie Sanders has some of the best press in the country—not just for a politician. Every time he’s mentioned, the “he would have beaten Trump” line that has become so commonplace in after-election analysis immediately follows. Everyone and their mother seems to hold this line of thinking; it’s almost blasphemous to even mention Sanders wouldn’t have beaten Trump.
So I’m going to commit blasphemy: Trump would’ve easily beaten Bernie.
It’s really not that crazy of a theory. Just because someone is a purportedly honest, sweet old man doesn’t mean he wins automatically. He has his issues.
A bad label
The clearest and most important reason for why Bernie wouldn’t win can be summed up in one word: socialism. And yes, Bernie advocated for “democratic socialism,” which just means that people vote for socialism; it’s still socialism. Just because there is no forcible takeover doesn’t mean it’s not socialism.
(Now, a discussion on the over-praising of socialism is for a different column on a different day.)
It’s about how people would perceive “democratic socialism.” You can forget about the “democratic” part of “democratic socialism” pretty quickly. No one would remember that after the Republican marketing strategy.
The Republicans never treated Bernie as a threat in the primary season. No matter people believed that he was actually going to win the primary, he never would have. Even without the superdelegates, Sanders still lost by about 500 delegates. There was no reason for Republicans to really attack him; they focused all the money on hurting the big dog, Hillary Clinton.
If there had actually been a focused ad campaign on Bernie, it wouldn’t have ended well. Everything would revolve around socialism:“Do you want a socialist in the White House?”
Even if people hated Trump, they still wouldn’t vote for Bernie because of the socialist label. He would lose 60 percent of the country right out of the gate. And the same is true with Democrats. Sure, he would’ve initially had support, but once things got hard, they would’ve run for safer ground.
Even the Midwest working vote would’ve run for the hills. Their bread and butter is industry, and they don’t want the government taking that over.
Instead of Ohio Gov. John Kasich getting some votes, it would’ve been Hillary getting those votes from Democrats.
No foreign policy
Bernie is also really bad on foreign policy. The fact is Democrats lose on foreign policy nine times out of 10. It’s not that Republicans’ plans are necessarily better, but Republicans know how to frame those issues in a different way. Bernie does not—at all. He has his talking points, and they usually revolve around the economy and how to fix it.
He’s great at talking about the economy for hours. But foreign is not his strong suit; ask him to talk about foreign terrorism and he’ll tie it back to the 1 percent and the greed of capitalism. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham was great at tying everything back to ISIS in the Republican primary debates, and it worked for him (to an extent).
But that is not good for an actual presidential debate. There are whole sections (and sometimes entire debates) dedicated fully to foreign policy. If Bernie would have tied it back to the economy, at some point, the moderator would’ve gotten tired of it and called him out.
That’s fine in the primaries, but once you get to the real debates, you better have some real answers.
Disconnect with average voters
Lastly, Bernie can’t talk to real people. He’s good at talking those who already agree with him—namely, young, white voters—but not anyone else, especially small business owners.
Take this example from his CNN Town Hall. A small business owner questioned him on Obama-era regulatory policy. Bernie’s response engaged him in a fight with the owner who’s actually on the ground dealing with the policies Bernie was disputing. To Bernie supporters, this was a great spat; support more regulatory policy and hit the 1 percent. To everyone else, this looked like a politician telling a struggling business owner he’s not struggling.
Then there was his response to a salon owner at his debate with Ted Cruz. Whether you agree with him or not that the woman should go out of business, that’s not how anyone, especially someone running for office, should respond to someone.
So Bernie Sanders is the cute, truthful old man who birds are in love with. None of this means he’d have actually defeated Trump. He breaks down easily, and he’s not as easy to support as people make it seem. Continue with the narrative if necessary, but at least be honest: there’s no way he would’ve won.
Assistant opinion editor Jorden Smith is a political science and creative writing junior and can be reached at [email protected]