Bernie Sanders is the liberal version of Ron Paul. As the longest-serving Independent in U.S. Congressional history and the only person in Congress who self-identifies as a socialist, Bernie Sanders is perfect for those who find Hillary Clinton too hawkish or too cozy with corporate interests. Senator Sanders has been a long-time champion of populist issues like income inequality, and has thus received a Ron Paul-esque following among young people. Many students at CC are supportive of his presidential run, and a recent post on CC Confessions asked, “how can we best help the Bernie Sanders campaign?”
In spite of all the excitement surrounding Sanders’ campaign, his bid for the Democratic nomination is futile and ultimately counterproductive.
First of all, Sanders will not win the Democratic nomination. Radical candidates who come out of left field have a pretty bad track record in the primaries. While Ron Paul was able to mobilize a dedicated fan base, he did not win a single primary in 2012.
In 2008, Democratic candidate Mike Gravel echoed many of the same sentiments as Bernie Sanders, and his bid for the Democratic nomination was a disaster. Those who are outside of the mainstream party narrative suffer two problems. First, they receive little serious media attention. Ron Paul’s share of media coverage went from 34 percent in December 2011 to 3 percent in January 2012. Mike Gravel received only 5 percent of the questions in the CNN-Youtube Presidential Debate.
Second, radical candidates are unable to raise enough money to seriously compete. Large-scale donors tend to favor those who are likely to win, and radical candidates don’t fit that description. In Bernie Sanders’ case, he has outright refused to take any money from large donors and has instead opted to stick to grassroots funding, so even if there were big donors to support him, it wouldn’t matter. While this might appeal to the idealistic voters, it is hardly a good campaign financing strategy. There is simply not enough money in grassroots fundraising to sustain a successful campaign. While Barrack Obama received more money from donations under $200 than any other successful presidential candidate, it still only amounted to 22 percent of the money he raised in the 2008 Campaign. Dennis Kucinich received 68 percent of his funds from grassroots, more than any other 2008 candidate. He also failed to receive more than 10 percent of the vote in a single primary. Campaigns are expensive (Obama and Romney raised more than $1 billion each in 2012) and small donations won’t cut it.
Even if Bernie Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination, he would never win in the general election. As mentioned above, Sanders is the only person in Congress who is a self-proclaimed socialist. Unfortunately for him, “socialism” is a dirty term in American politics, right up there with “boots on the ground” and “sex with the interns.” There is simply no way that someone as openly left wing as Bernie Sanders could win in the general election.
Many who support the Sanders campaign will point to Barack Obama as proof that Bernie Sanders can win. After all, Obama came out of nowhere and won the nomination when everyone thought Hillary Clinton would win. There are important differences between Obama and Sanders. First, Obama was willing to take money from corporate interests and was thus able to raise money like there was no tomorrow. JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs were among the top 5 donors to the 2008 Obama campaign. Furthermore, Obama towed the mainstream party line. In spite of what Fox News might say, Obama did not take any radical positions and never identified as a socialist.
Finally, Bernie Sanders is a boring old white guy. It is unlikely that he could electrify voters the way a young African-American candidate could.
Another argument in favor of Bernie Sanders’ prospects regards fundraising. Within 24 hours of his campaign announcement, Bernie Sanders was able to raise $1.5 million, which many have hailed as proof that he can win. $1.5 million is a pitiful amount of money in the era of billion-dollar campaigns. Ron Paul was able to raise four times as much in a 24-hour period, and still lost.
Some concede that even if Bernie Sanders can’t win, he will at least force mainstream candidates like Hillary Clinton to shift further left. This is unlikely, since previous candidates have failed to do so. Neither Dennis Kucinich nor Mike Gravel were able to force the mainstream Democratic candidates to take a tougher stance on big banks in 2008; the financial reform passed by the Obama administration is almost laughable. Ron Paul’s vocal opposition to drug prohibition (probably the main reason he is popular among young people) and American foreign policy did not force Mitt Romney to become more libertarian.
If anything, Sanders’ campaign will prove to be counterproductive as the Democrats try to win more than two consecutive terms for the first time since Roosevelt and Truman. Up until now, a major advantage the Democrats had is that they were united behind Hillary while the Republicans had too many candidates in the race. Bernie Sanders will certainly erode that unity. While he certainly won’t beat Hillary, he will force her to use up resources that would be better spent in the general election, while eroding enthusiasm among the Democratic base.
Even if Bernie Sanders could win, there are reasons that a Sanders presidency would not be as great as many think it would. For one thing, many of his economic proposals (higher taxes on the rich, increased spending on infrastructure) would have to go through Congress and cannot be implemented by the President through executive action. Given the fact that only three of the bills he sponsored (out of more than 300) have been signed into law, Sanders’ ability to push bills through the legislature is questionable at best.
Bernie Sanders has also been noticeably silent on foreign policy. One of his few recent statements on foreign policy is an interview in which he argued that Middle Eastern nations should do the bulk of the fighting against ISIS. How this differs from the current policy and the policy everyone else has argued is unclear, regional armies are already doing the vast majority of the fighting and the dying in the War against ISIS. Sanders has also opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a key free trade agreement that will bolster economic growth and innovation, create jobs, and counter China’s growing influence. Sanders simply lacks foreign policy experience. He does not serve on any foreign policy committees in the Senate. His only foreign policy credential is that he opposed the Iraq War. Opposing a mistake that was made over a decade ago is fine, but how would the Sanders administration deal with current issues like the rise of China or Putin’s stealth invasion of Ukraine? At the end of the day, foreign policy is the area that the President has the most control over, and Bernie Sanders seems pretty deficient. Sanders has also been outspoken in his belief that climate change is real, man-made, and threatening. However, he has also opposed nuclear energy, calling for a moratorium on licensing new plants and re-licensing existing ones. Nuclear energy is key to cutting carbon emissions (renewables alone aren’t going to cut it in a world where the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow) and it is difficult to see how Sanders would combat climate change without it.
Sanders should never have run in the first place. The 2016 election is too crucial for the Democrats to lose, and Sanders will do more harm than good. He won’t win, and even if he could, he would likely be a major disappointment. If you are serious about making sure that the Republicans don’t take the White House in 2016, then drop all support for Bernie Sanders.