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March 2, 2020

Why Bernie Can Win Bigger Than You Think.

*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.

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Update: Pete Buttigieg Drops Out of Democratic Presidential Race.

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And why Democrats will benefit up and down the ballot.

It is difficult to imagine a more striking contrast.

Whereas Trump constantly contradicts himself, Sanders is, if anything, consistent. Whereas Trump lies to maintain control, Sanders speaks truth to power. Whereas Trump mobilizes the mob in defense of the powerful, Sanders empowers the masses to mobilize change. 

If he is a polarizing figure, it is all the better for the difference is devastating, and in every contrast, Sanders comes out on top.

Whereas the one directs ressentiment at marginalized minorities, the other redirects it toward transforming the conditions that have beaten them down. Whereas the one revels in destructive rage, the other tempers it in the service of higher ends. The idea that they are some sort of mirror opposites mistakes the effort to overcome injustice with the injustices themselves. In the process, it trivializes suffering, fosters unfairness, and diverts attention from the issues that matter most.

But real people see the difference, and it shows in the polls.

Whereas Buttigieg, Warren, and Klobuchar typically lose against Trump as much as they win, Sanders has trounced him in the vast majority of the last several dozen polls. But he polls quite well in the big swing states of the Northeast and Upper Midwest, like Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, along with the more conservative Ohio as well. These are former industrial states, where voters tend to be drawn to progressive economic policies, but repelled by identity politics, leaving him ideally suited to bring them back in the fold.

They consist of tightly clustered population centers, like Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Springfield, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Dayton, Youngstown, and Kalamazoo. They are old cities that rarely come up these days, because they have been hollowed out and broken, victims of automation and globalization alike. Their suffering is deep and real, and there is no better place to take on the lies and fantasies of a demagogue like Trump.

These towns share a lot in common and are already receptive to Sanders’ message. So, he will be able to refine and target it, moving not so much to the center but to the neglected working class, which spans the political spectrum and the racial divide. He can burn through these districts, leapfrogging across several cities a day, then traveling a couple of hours to the next cluster, day after day for months on end, until the whole region is set alight.

Possessing a unique capacity to bolster support when he can take the time to campaign in a single place, he may be able to garner astounding leads in these districts, which will translate into Democratic victories in city councils, state legislatures, governorships, and congress alike. It is not the suburban soccer moms whose votes centrists seek, but they are the very same people who swing elections, and they will finally be able to vote for someone who truly feels their pain.

The idea that Bernie will harm Democrats further down the ticket is rooted in a failed electoral strategy that has repeatedly produced uninspiring centrist candidates who lose, like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, and Hubert Humphrey. They may have been decent and capable people, but they lacked the charisma and inspiration that lay behind the victories of leaders like Obama, Carter, Kennedy, and Roosevelt.

But it is precisely here where Bernie is strongest. He has amassed a passionate army of volunteers, who will be knocking on doors, making calls, commenting, posting, sharing, and liking. They are dedicated and inspired, and their commitment is unwavering. They will bring students and minorities out to vote. They will dominate social media. And with a rival like Trump, for the first time ever, the liberal media can be expected to finally have his back.

While they have been tearing him down for the last five years, they will begin to bolster him up. While they have been trembling in fear over the prospect of his candidacy, they will have no choice left but to support him or bear the brunt of a collapsing republic. Pundits will be driven from the woodwork to talk about how we can best overcome inequality and special interests. And those who do not like it will bite their tongues, just as progressives have been forced to do for the last two generations.

Meanwhile, Trump’s lies will divert attention from Bernie’s real deficiencies. Instead of discussing his troubles with coalition building, we will be mocking the fears about hanging billionaires in the street. Instead of discussing the pros and cons of his consistency, we will be talking about why socialist Denmark is the happiest and most democratic state in the world. The charges will not impact his popularity, because Republicans have been calling Democrats socialists for decades. And Trump is distrusted by all but his most fanatic cult followers. Moreover, the liberal press could barely dent his popularity after weeks of working him over with the same material. If they could not do it, the far less trusted conservative press will be useless. 

Far from possessing authoritarian tendencies, Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who can take on fascism and oligarchy alike. And he is the only candidate discussing how we might do it globally. 

Trump will fall apart in the face of these arguments, not in spite of the polarization but precisely because of it. For in being forced to choose sides, an easy majority will choose truth over lies, good over evil, right over wrong, and hope over fear. Meanwhile, all of their biggest bugbears, from the smugness of liberal elites to their petty focus on identity fetishes, will crumble in the face of the real concerns of his candidacy.

Bernie focuses on the issues that matter most, and most importantly the kind of kitchen table matters that liberals tend to ignore. And in contrast to the broken down clown mobile running rampant over this country, he will possess more than enough of the gravitas needed for him to win bigger than you can possibly imagine.

No coach tells their team they cannot win; no campaigner believes that change is not possible. Rather, they inspire our hopes and give us the courage to make our dreams come true. And only Bernie possesses that kind of audacity this time around.

It is the audacity of hope that won Obama two terms in office, adapted for hard times. And Bernie can use it to win bigger than you think. 

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~ Theo Horesh, author of Convergence: The Globalization of Mind.

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