After impressive performances in the first two contests to decide who will face Trump in this year’s presidential election, Bernie Sanders is now the frontrunner in the closely fought race. This is ruffling feathers amongst the more centrist Democrats, who perceive Sanders as a dangerous radical who could cripple their party’s chance at defeating Trump, and could catastrophically divide the Democrats for the foreseeable future.
Bernie Sanders was the thorn in Hillary Clinton’s side throughout the 2016 presidential election process, a populist, grassroots-backed socialist firebrand that had the youth of America behind him. He exposed Clinton as the establishment figure she was when voters were tired of Washington elites, as evidenced by Trump’s shock victory. Despite a recent heart attack, Sanders has proved that he is here to stay, and intends to upend the Democratic establishment with his bold calls for a European-style, nationalised healthcare system.
However, many Democrats remain unconvinced that America is ready for such a left-wing candidate, and are looking nervously across the Atlantic to Britain, where Jeremy Corbyn soared to power on a wave of optimistic goodwill, only to come crashing down with Labour’s worst general election defeat since 1935. Just three days ago, Joe Biden was voicing his worries about the possibility of winning back the Senate from Republicans if Bernie Sanders heads the party as a self-described “democratic socialist.”
The risky prospect, and it is a definite risk, of electing Sanders to face Trump is increasingly raising alarm not only in the financial world (see former Goldman Sachs CEO claiming Sanders would “ruin the economy”) but amongst unions, with Nevada’s biggest union warning its members that Sanders’ health plan would “end” their healthcare.
Given Trump’s likely victory in the upcoming election, however, could it be time to fight fire with fire? The disaster of Clinton’s campaign in 2016 has shown that a moderate candidate is cannon fodder for Trump’s highly effective name-calling and smear campaigns, and Biden, as a fellow relic of Obama’s administration, has already been stuck with the nickname “Sleepy Joe”.
In this case, the Democrats seem to have two options. The first would be to field a suitably safe candidate like Biden or Buttigieg to be comfortably defeated by Trump, and focus instead on reclaiming the Senate. The other is somewhat of a Hail Mary; take a gamble with Sanders and either achieve the most shocking election result since, well, 2016, or watch as the Democrats descend into a Corbyn-esque tailspin as their leader flounders in a polarised party. The choice is, nail-bitingly, down to the voters.
Written by Labour writer, Max Ingleby