Could Bernie Sanders have beaten Trump?

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Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Since Donald J. Trump beat Hillary Clinton to the Presidency on Tuesday night, various hypotheses have been put forward as to why the Democrats lost an election that so many thought they would win comfortably, against a Presidential Candidate in Donald Trump whom at first glance looked about as unelectable as it was possible to be. With President Obama’s approval rating relatively strong and on the rise, most thought that the election of Hillary Clinton to the Presidency was a foregone conclusion. Alas this was proved to be wrong, and in the days which have followed the inquest has begun into why Clinton and the Democrats failed to win, and why the Republicans managed to win the Presidency and retain control of both Houses of Congress for the first time since 2006.

One of the most popular hypotheses put forward has been that Clinton’s main rival in the Democratic Presidential Primary, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, would have defeated Donald Trump by a comfortable margin. There are many who feel that Sanders, with his own brand of left-wing populism, would have been a better candidate to take on the right-wing populism of Trump.

Indeed, this was a view espoused by Sanders and his supporters throughout the primary campaign. During an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sanders said:

“Right now in every major poll, national poll and statewide poll done in the last month, six weeks, we are defeating Trump often by big numbers, and always at a larger margin than Secretary Clinton is.”

Sanders and his supporters put this view forward many times throughout the campaign but ultimately they were unsuccessful, with the wider Democratic Party rallying around Clinton and helping her to the nomination despite Sanders running her extremely close in the Iowa Caucus, and winning the New Hampshire Primary by a very wide margin.

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Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire Primary by a large margin. 

 

Sanders supporters point to various reasons as to why he could have defeated Trump in the Presidential Election, if only the Democrats had selected him.

One key thing that supporters point to is the popularity of Sanders, who has been named the most popular United States Senator for the past two years. In an election where the two main candidates were uniquely unpopular, they suggest that this could have been a huge asset which would have propelled him to victory. Sanders supporters also point to his popularity amongst millennials, many of whom didn’t warm to Hillary Clinton, and as a result cast their votes for the likes of Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, or simply stayed at home. Mostly though, Sanders supporters point to his primary successes in the very States in which Clinton struggled most on Tuesday. During the Democratic Primary, Sanders won victories in Wisconsin and Michigan, both of which were considered Democratic strongholds prior to the election but which were ultimately won by Trump. It has been suggested that Sanders was propelled to success in these primaries by the same forces that propelled Trump to victory in these States on Tuesday, namely the forgotten men and women of the white working class. This means that, in theory, Sanders could have competed with Trump better than Clinton for the votes that ultimately decided the outcome of this presidential election.

However, would Sanders really have done better than Clinton against Donald Trump?

In the Presidential Election, although Clinton had issues gaining the support of the white working class, arguably her biggest problem was failing to energise African-American voters to turn out and vote for her in the same way that Barack Obama did four years previously. In winning the Presidency, Donald Trump actually received less votes than the 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, however the Democratic vote fell so significantly that Trump won the Presidency. In large part, this was because the African-American vote fell significantly. Around 88 percent of black voters supported Clinton, compared to around 8 percent for Trump, however turnout wasn’t high enough for this margin to make a difference, with black voters making up 12 percent of the electorate as opposed to 13 percent four years ago. Had Clinton been able to garner the same turnout among black voters as Barack Obama, she probably would have won States like Michigan, North Carolina, and Florida, and with them the Presidency.

But would Sanders really have done any better?

During the Democratic Primary, Sanders’ main difficulty was his low support with African-American voters, and in many of the primary contests he lost black voters to Clinton by around fifty points. Clinton struggled with the young and the white working class during the primary campaign, and then struggled with these groups again during the general election. Given that Sanders struggled with African-American voters during the primary, it would be expected that he would also struggle with African-American voters in a general election. Therefore, whilst Sanders may have been able to turn more white working class voters over to the Democratic cause, this would likely be counteracted with a fall in African-American support — meaning that Sanders would have probably suffered the same fate as Clinton when coming up against Donald Trump.

As well as this, although it seems a fair argument that Sanders’ left-wing populism could have matched the right-wing populism of Trump, the results around the United States seem to provide little evidence for this. In Colorado, one of the key battleground States which Clinton won, on the ballot alongside the Presidential Election was a referendum on a single-payer healthcare system. The introduction of a single-payer healthcare system was one of the key planks of Sanders’ candidacy, yet in Colorado it was defeated comfortably. In Wisconsin, former Senator Russ Feingold, who is an ally of Sanders, was attempting to win back his old Senate seat. He lost to Republican Tea Party incumbent Ron Johnson — by a bigger margin than Clinton lost Wisconsin by. Therefore, there seems little concrete evidence that Sanders’ policies would have played better with the electorate than Clinton’s policies.

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Russ Feingold (left) lost his Senate race in Wisconsin to Ron Johnson (right) by a larger margin than Hillary Clinton. 

 

As well as this, Sanders was a regular surrogate on the campaign trail for the Clinton campaign, consistently telling voters that they had to vote for Clinton lest they get a Donald Trump Presidency. However, this didn’t turn the tide, with Trump still emerging victorious. So perhaps Sanders’ popularity with the white working class is indeed being overstated, and he wouldn’t have gained much more support for the Democrats in a contest between him and Donald Trump.

Also, Bernie Sanders’ policies were scrutinised during the Democratic Primary but not in the same way as they would be during the general election. During the primaries, Donald Trump dismissively referred to Sanders as “Crazy Bernie”. Facing him in the general election would have allowed Trump the opportunity to paint Sanders as a radical socialist, which in all likelihood would have torpedoed his candidacy.

In addition, the presence of two populist candidates on the ticket, could well have precipitated a major third-party candidacy. In January, there was a lot of speculation that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would enter the Presidential Race as an independent candidate.

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If Bernie Sanders had won the Democratic nomination then he would have probably faced a well-funded independent candidate in the shape of former Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.

 

Bloomberg’s candidacy would be unlike most third-party or independent candidacies in that it would have been extremely well funded and able to compete around the country, much like the candidacy of Ross Perot in 1992 and, if you think about it, the candidacy of Donald Trump this time around.

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Bloomberg’s campaign would have been able to appeal in many of the same ways that Trump’s did. Namely the likely self-funded nature, and Bloomberg not being a part of the Washington D.C. establishment. 

 

Indeed, Bloomberg had already set up campaign offices and conducted polling all around the country. It was only when Hillary Clinton took a commanding lead in the Democratic Primary that he announced that he would not be running. Following this, it was reported that his advisers had said that if Sanders and Trump were at the top of each of the tickets, Bloomberg would have run. The candidacy of Bloomberg would have meant that even if Sanders’ candidacy had won back the voters who Clinton lost to Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, and those who stayed at home, he would have lost voters on the right of Clinton’s coalition, meaning that the result could well have been the same for the Democrats.

Ultimately, it is hard to see where Sanders could have done better than Clinton. Although he may have lessened Trump’s support amongst the white working class, his candidacy would likely have further reduced turnout amongst the African-American community. And although Sanders is able to pitch himself as a more anti-establishment politician than Clinton, he is still a career politician who has been a Senator working in Washington D.C. for almost ten years. Trump would have been able to tap into exactly the same level of anti-politics feeling against Sanders as he could against Clinton. More than anything, this result was a vote for change and a vote against the Washington establishment. Although Sanders is arguably not an establishment politician, I think that Trump would probably have still been able to paint him that way, and what’s more he would also have been able to deride him as a radical socialist.

Overall, although it makes for a nice and easy conclusion, the reason that the Democrats lost was not because they didn’t choose Sanders as their candidate, he would in fact have probably have suffered the same fate as Clinton. If the Democrats come to this conclusion, and choose to shift to the left as a result, then they would be hugely mistaken. Just look at what has happened to the Labour Party in the UK, where after losing in the 2015 General Election running on Ed Miliband’s centre-left platform, they then chose to elect as leader the arch left-winger Jeremy Corbyn after concluding that the reason for their loss to David Cameron’s Conservative Party was that they were not left-wing enough. However, unsurprisingly, Corbyn is languishing in the polls and shows no sign of being able to compete for power in the UK.

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Jeremy Corbyn should provide ample warning to the Democrats of the electoral dangers of turning to populist left-wing policies. 

 

Although Bernie Sanders is clearly a very gifted politician and it would be remiss of me not to praise his excellent primary campaign, it would be a huge mistake for Democrats to conclude that their failure to nominate him for the Presidency caused their loss. To do so could confine them to the electoral wilderness for an extended period of time. Instead, they should concentrate on re-building the party (and although he is not suited as a Presidential candidate, Sanders should certainly have a role in this rebuilding job) and finding another centrist candidate who can challenge Trump in 2020. Because in the 2020 Presidential Election, the Democrats will have a very real chance to regain presidential power, and they will need to be prepared for this.

 

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Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. 

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of Momentum.

If you have been keeping up with UK politics over the last year, then it’s likely that you are familiar with the organisation Momentum. It is a left-wing organisation which was founded in October 2015 in order to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.

Given that the organisation was set up in support of Corbyn (someone who is completely unelectable and therefore has no chance of becoming Prime Minister), the temptation is to simply dismiss the organisation as a bunch of left-wing fantasists who will have no real influence on UK politics in the years to come. However, this would be an error.

Momentum’s membership now stands at 17,000. In isolation this may not seem like much but, it is growing rapidly. In June, the membership was just 4,000; and it looks set to increase exponentially in the coming months.

This is a group which was formed by people passionate about changing the current political system. At the time, they saw Corbyn as the person to do this. These people are willing to put in hours and hours of time in order to achieve this change, and they will keep campaigning until they do.

Whether the next general election is in 2020, or earlier than that, Corbyn won’t be elected, we can say that for certain. However, the huge support that he has built up within his party is not insignificant. Momentum has an membership of 17,000, whilst the Labour Party is the largest political party in Europe with a membership of half a million. Corbyn’s failure to be elected should give many of the membership of Momentum and the wider party a reality check of sorts (particularly given how big the scale of his defeat could be). This could allow the moderate wing of the party to be successful in putting forward a candidate who is electable as Prime Minister, and is perhaps the reason for the party’s moderates choosing to remain in the party following Corbyn’s reelection, despite rumours to the contrary several months earlier.

Although some of the membership will leave and join the likes of the Green Party and the Socialist Workers Party, the expectation would be that the vast majority will stay — given their support of Corbyn’s brand of left-wing politics it is hardly likely that they will go off and support one of the other main parties.

This mass membership can then be galvanised into supporting a moderate candidate who is leading the party.

Remember that by this time, the Conservatives will have won the last three general elections. It is very rare for parties to win more consecutive elections than this. The Conservatives did it in the 1980s and early 90s with Thatcher and then Major, but it is rare. Many at the Conservative Party conference this week have been suggesting that a Conservative government until 2035 is a certainty. However, it is a fact of political life that all governments become unpopular, and this one isn’t especially popular now. Therefore, to suggest that power until 2035 is certain, seems optimistic to say the least. In short, whilst the next election is a probably foregone conclusion, the one after that is an opportunity for one of the opposition parties to make a mark.

If the membership of Momentum can be harnessed by the moderate (read: electable) wing of the Labour Party, then there is little doubt that it can have a huge impact. The only problem with Momentum is that in Corbyn, they are backing the wrong horse, a candidate who is completely unelectable. Once they get the reality check of a severe electoral loss, then the moderate wing would hope for a swing towards an electable candidate. If this happens, Momentum will be an organisation with a huge amount of power.

Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the Labour Party Conference was oddly similar to the speech Donald Trump gave at the Republican National Convention.

Examining the similarities between the rise of Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn.

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Jeremy Corbyn at the Labour Party Conference. Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention. 

On Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn gave his keynote address at the 2016 Labour Party Conference. Generally it was quite well received, the consensus being that it was a stark improvement on the speech he gave this time last year. However, what struck me most was the similarities between Corbyn’s speech on Wednesday, and the speech given by Donald Trump after his acceptance of the Republican nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.

Given that Corbyn is ostensibly left-wing, and Trump ostensibly right-wing, this is rather weird. But, oddly it does seem to be the case, and just adds to the list of similarities between the two.

Take these two passages for example:

“…a conviction that the old way of running the economy and the country, isn’t delivering for more and more people.

It’s not about me of course, or unique to Britain but across Europe, North America and elsewhere, people are fed up with a so-called free market system, that has produced grotesque inequality stagnating living standards for the many calamitous foreign wars without end and a political stitch-up which leaves the vast majority of people shut out of power.”


“I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals. These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice.

I AM YOUR VOICE.

I have embraced crying mothers who have lost their children because our politicians put their personal agendas before the national good. I have no patience for injustice, no tolerance for government incompetence, no sympathy for leaders who fail their citizens.”


Effectively, these two passages are pushing the same message: that the old way of doing things is no longer working for the common man, with the current system involving the privileged few making all the decisions and then sharing out the wealth between them. In short, the central message running through both extracts is something along the line of: “the world is broken”. This is how both Corbyn and Trump have gained most of their support, by using people’s mistrust of the political elite and capitalising on it, by putting themselves forward as a voice of those who are ignored by the political elite. Both push the message of inequality caused by the perceived inequities of the free-market economic system.

As well as this speech, there are a great many more shared characteristics between the pair.

Both rose to the helm of their respective parties against the wishes of most of the party grandees, doing so after their parties had electorally imploded.

Both have built their success upon a group of supporters which are more of a social movement than a political party.

Both rely upon populist sentiment.

Perhaps most similar, is the tendency of both to diagnose the problems faced by their respective nations, but to not put forward any real solutions.

Trump did this throughout his first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton on Monday, constantly talking about what was wrong with the economy, trade deals, and foreign policy; but not really putting forward any realistic policies with which to solve these problems. Despite this, Trump continues to garner huge support. His supporters don’t seem to care whether he offers any realistic policy.

The same is true of Corbyn and his supporters. Corbyn regularly talks about the problems with the policy of the current government, the previous Cameron government, and the policy of the Blair and Brown governments; but, he never really puts forward real solutions to the problems which he has identified. Despite this his supporters continue to support him, seemingly caring little about the electability (or lack of electability) of their party leader.

These similarities between Corbyn and Trump are evidence of a growing trend in politics all around the world, the trend for populist candidates who are seen to be speaking for the common man. We saw this properly begin with the election of Syriza in Greece, whilst the trend continued to manifest itself with many other events: Trump, Corbyn, Brexit, UKIP, Le Pen, Sanders, and many more. Whether on the left or the right, there is a trend for populist leaders who are seen to speak for the common man rather than corporate interests.

Ultimately, it is difficult to see many of these populist leaders winning elections outright. However, whether they win or lose, what is clear is that they are changing world politics exponentially. With the vote for Brexit we have already seen that these populist forces can shock the political establishment, and we may yet see it again with Trump, and with Corbyn (although this seems very unlikely to me).

Whatever the results in their respective elections, the similarities between Corbyn and Trump show just how much politics has changed in the years since the banking crisis, particularly in the last couple of years. With populism bedding itself in on both the left and right of the political spectrum, it seems unlikely to go away any time soon.

Could this be the Presidential election where the political map is totally redrawn?

During Presidential elections, the states of Arizona and Georgia have come to be seen as Republican strongholds. In the last fifty years, Arizona has only voted Democrat once, when Bill Clinton won the state during the 1996 Presidential election. In Georgia, only three Presidential elections have been won by Democrats since 1960, Bill Clinton won in 1996, whilst Jimmy Carter won in 1976 and 1980 (which was mostly because he had previously served as the Governor of Georgia). In the most recent presidential elections, both states have been dominated by the Republican candidates. In 2008, Republican nominee John McCain won Arizona by almost nine per cent, and won Georgia by over five per cent. Whilst in 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney won Arizona by almost nine per cent, and won Georgia by almost eight per cent.

Given these figures, it is not hard to see why Arizona and Georgia tend to be seen as Republican strongholds, and therefore states that you would expect Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump to win with ease in the upcoming presidential election.

However, opinion polling figures suggest that Donald Trump is falling behind in these states which, given their status as Republican strongholds, are absolutely critical to his chances of success in the upcoming Presidential election. The latest polling in Arizona by CBS News and YouGov gives Trump a lead of just two percentage points. In Georgia the picture is even more dire for Trump with the latest polling indicating that Clinton holds a lead of seven percentage points. Nearly all of the analysis on the upcoming election suggests that if Trump is to have any chance of winning, he must win all of the states won by Mitt Romney during the 2012 Presidential Election as well as winning states such as Ohio and Virginia which were both won by President Obama. This data suggests that he is a long way from doing that.

One of the issues for Trump in Arizona is the state’s high Hispanic population. Gallup polling during the Republican primary campaign indicated that Trump had a net-favourability rating amongst Hispanic voters of -65%, and this has only got worse in recent months. With voter registration amongst Arizona’s Hispanic population soaring, it is fast becoming a state which will be extremely difficult for Donald Trump to win. Trump’s problems in Georgia stem from the changing demographics of the state, with a growing constituency of educated suburban voters who aren’t enamoured with Trump’s divisive policies and rhetoric. This could allow Clinton to swoop in and claim the state for the Democrats.

Recent polling has also put Trump and Clinton neck-and-neck in Utah, a state won with ease by Mormon Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential Election. This creates another headache for Trump. In the 2012 Presidential Election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney won 206 electoral college votes, 64 away from the 270 required to win the Presidency. This means that Trump already ostensibly has 64 votes to make up over the Republicans 2012 performance. However, if he were to also lose Arizona (11 electoral college votes), Georgia (16), and Utah (6); then this would give him a total of 97 electoral college votes that he would have to gain from the states won by Obama in 2012. Surely this is an insurmountable task?

Trump has long been outspoken about how he believes he can win states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and even Democratic stronghold New York. However, the polling does not reflect his optimism. In PennsylvaniaTrump is 11% behind Clinton. In Ohio Trump is now 5% behind Clinton. InMichigan Trump is 10% behind Clinton; and in New York, perhaps the least likely of these four states to break for Trump, the deficit is even worse, with Clinton leading Trump by 12% in the latest polling, and even as high as 23% in some polls. This doesn’t paint a picture of this being an election that Trump is likely able to win. For starters, Ohio is considered a state that must be won if a candidate is to win the Presidency. For Trump, he wasn’t even able to win the state during the primary campaign (losing to Governor John Kasich) and so it is difficult to see how he will be able to turn around his deficit and win the state in November.

With Trump unable to win these key swing states, he starts to get to the point where he needs to win states which are as solidly blue as California, which hasn’t voted Republican in a Presidential election since 1988. This just doesn’t look likely, meaning a probable victory for Hillary Clinton in November. But actually it potentially means a lot more than that, a complete redrawing of the political map.

This is something which perhaps began with the ascendency of the Tea Party faction in the Republican Party around 2008 and 2009. This loud minority ended up setting the national tone for the Republican Party, which became more interested in arguing within themselves as to who was more pro-gun or more anti-abortion than actually winning power. This erosion of the traditional values of the Republican Party (small government, strong national defence, free market capitalism, family values) to instead focus on peripheral social issues which are considered settled by the vast majority of swing voters, is what led to Donald Trump being capable of winning the Republican nomination, and is what will lead to the Republicans ceasing to become a credible party of government for the foreseeable future.

This election gives the Democratic Party the chance to steal the march on the Republicans and claim states like Arizona, Georgia, and Ohio as their own for the foreseeable future. The damage that has been done to the Republican brand amongst swing voters in these states following the candidacy of Donald Trump will surely put the Republicans out of Presidential office for a number of years.

It is no surprise that some Republican congressman facing reelection havereleased advertising promising to stand up to Trump. Whilst other Republicans have refused to endorse Trump, of even said that they will be supporting Clinton instead. For some Republicans facing reelection, their only way to survive is to distance themselves from Trump to as great an extent as possible. Take Republican Senator for Illinois Mark Kirk for instance. Kirk faces an extremely tough reelection fight against Democratic member of the House of Representatives Tammy Duckworth, in a state that strongly leans Democrat — current polls show Hillary leading Trump by 25% in Illinois. Therefore, it is no surprise that Kirk has been vocal about not supporting Trump, as this is really the only chance he has of re-election. Indeed, the most recent polling shows Duckworth leading Kirk by 7%. This illustrates the extent to which Trump is harming the electability of the Republican Party, potentially for decades to come.

So although this election will end in November, it seems sure to have ramifications that will be felt long afterwards, and may end up defining electoral politics in the United States for the near future. If this election leads to states like Ohio becoming Democratic strongholds, with Arizona and Georgia moving from Republican strongholds to swing states, then it is difficult to see how the Republicans can win any future Presidential election, at least without undergoing a dramatic alteration of the platform upon which they stand. In any case it will surely be interesting to see what happens, but I have a suspicion that senior Republicans will seriously regret not taking Trump more seriously during the early stages of the primary campaign. This was an election that they were surely capable of winning given that Hillary Clinton is not universally loved, but instead it has resulted in the Republican Party potentially becoming unelectable at Presidential level for a generation.