In a years’ time, several books will come out chronicling the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, asking several key questions: what went right, what went wrong, what policy succeeded and what failed?
Among the core contenders, Bernie Sanders stands out as someone who is at once authentic and passionate about his beliefs. A cursory glance at his record (on YouTube and elsewhere) produces dozens of videos stretching back over three decades where he says essentially the same thing: inequality is growing and the young and disadvantaged are increasingly missing out. The middle class is shrinking, he says, and the top 1% are to blame.
The message is not surprising. Some of the biggest U.S. companies including Amazon and Apple routinely pay $0 in taxes, in elaborate schemes (Dutch sandwiches, and others) that help them to avoid paying what they otherwise owe. The result: the benefits of new technology, from computers and the internet to AI are and will continue to exclusively be felt by those on the top of society, with everyone else losing out. An increasing small band of oligarchs will make all of the decisions, while everyone else continues working the same 40 hour + weeks, for less money than ever before.
Bernie Sanders’ remedies – raising taxes, infrastructure spending, universal healthcare, free tuition – are basically standard policies in most other Western countries. In a country like Australia, he would likely be considered center-left rather than far left, unlike the situation in America.
But can Bernie win the election?
This time around, he starts with a few key advantages. The first is name recognition. Having come in in second place in the 2016 Democratic Primaries, he has built a personal brand and recognition across the country. This seems to give politicians an inbuilt advantage when it comes to polling. Politicians with high name recognition start with that advantage, but can lose it over time (due to gaffes and other mishaps, as may happen to, for instance, Joe Biden).
The second advantage he has is a massive voter database. Collected in 2016, he has raised a massive amount of money from small dollar donors, who seem primed to give him money throughout the election cycle. To put it simply, he isn’t going to run out of money.
On the other hand, he faces a bigger field of competitors this time round. He isn’t the only progressive candidate and he faces challenges from his left (which the media are loving playing up), such as Elizabeth Warren. In the long run however, Warren is more likely to help Sanders than cost him. She is already attacking Joe Biden for corporate fundraising, something which Sanders is loathe to do (he seems to hate negative campaigning). Sanders also was ‘there first,’ so to speak, with many of the core issues he champions. This makes it harder for other candidates to steal his message.
One of the other impediments to his candidacy is the traditional Democratic establishment. Insiders met a few months ago at a “Stop Sanders” meeting, according to the New York Times. In attendance were various high profile DNC politicians, along with presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
The matter of What To Do About Bernie and the larger imperative of party unity has, for example, hovered over a series of previously undisclosed Democratic dinners in New York and Washington organized by the longtime party financier Bernard Schwartz. The gatherings have included scores from the moderate or center-left wing of the party, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California; Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader; former Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., himself a presidential candidate; and the president of the Center for American Progress, Neera Tanden.
Whether Bernie can get past a second, prolonged, effort to dismantle one of his campaigns is yet to be seen. This time, however, any effort to outwardly rig the election is likely to be monitored by third party groups and the media – who are keen to revive stories of internal conflict and division.
At the moment, all we can do is look to the polls. Bernie is leading in various polls currently and seems to be doing well in attracting new fans. This time next year he has a shot at making it to the White House. And then America can drift closer to the actual center, as defined by other Western countries.
Last month Sanders attended a town hall on Fox News where he skillfully fielded questions from a hostile audience.