by Keaton Weiss
It was early 2016. Hillary Clinton was a virtual lock for the Democratic nomination, and Donald Trump was leading a crowded field of Republicans all vying for the opportunity to take her on. This was a very high stakes contest for Republican voters, who absolutely loathe Hillary Clinton. The thought of her in the Oval Office had been haunting their dreams for the past twenty-five years. Republicans dreaded a Clinton presidency exactly as much as Democrats dreaded a Trump presidency. They really, really, wanted to beat her. And lucky for them, they had a candidate who was very well positioned to do it. He was beating Hillary in all the head-to-head nationwide polls, and leading by significant margins in all of the important swing states. He was even polling well against her in traditionally blue states like Connecticut.
That candidate was John Kasich. He was a sure thing in a general election. A likable midwestern governor who was far enough to the right on social issues to appease the conservative base, but close enough to the center to win over the moderates. All of the polling data suggested that he was by far the safest bet to win in November, and stave off the mother of all Republican nightmares – a Hillary Clinton administration.
There was only one problem: Republican voters didn’t want John Kasich. As much as they despised Clinton and had been fearing, for decades, that one day she’d be president, they weren’t willing to take the “safe bet” with Kasich, because they had become disillusioned with the establishment of their own party. Kasich was an unabashed free trader who called for a somewhat humane approach to immigration and who placed importance on bipartisan pragmatism and cooperation. Republicans wanted nothing to do with that. This time, they saw an opportunity to upend their conventional party power structure and the traditional conservative orthodoxy it embraced, and instead, go all in on Donald Trump’s disruptive populist revolution.
“You can’t do that!” warned the Republican elite, “Donald Trump’s ideas are way too outside the mainstream! To nominate him would be to hand Hillary the presidency on a silver platter!”
Some Republicans formed what was called a Never Trump, or Stop Trump, movement within the party. Karl Rove hosted closed door meetings with Republican donors and officials, while Mitt Romney gave a public speech about the dangers of embracing Trumpism over conventional Republicanism. Conservative journalists, pundits, and commentators like Joe Scarborough, Steve Schmidt, Bill Kristol, Max Boot, and others, came out as ardently Never Trump, and would later leave the GOP altogether in protest.
But the voters weren’t hearing it. They were determined to vote for the guy they wanted, and let the chips fall where they may. They didn’t try to play pundit. They didn’t agonize over who the best candidate was to beat Hillary. They just voted for who they liked the best.
After all, they had tried to solve the electability riddle four years prior when they nominated Mitt Romney to challenge Barack Obama despite never fully embracing him. The 2012 primary saw several different candidates achieve “frontrunner” momentum at different points in the race. First it was Rick Perry. Then Herman Cain. Then Rick Santorum. Then Newt Gingrich. Then, briefly, back to Santorum before Mitt finally broke out. Voters tried on a lot of different candidates because they really didn’t want to pick Romney. They just thought they had to in order to beat Obama in November, and so in the end, they did. And then, in November, they lost.
So in 2016, the Republican electorate threw caution to the wind, defied the party establishment, defied the media, defied the polling data itself, and took a chance on a candidate who they believed in, even though he was seemingly the riskiest candidate against an opponent they were desperate to defeat. And, lo and behold, they won a stunning victory.
Democrats, I know a lot of you don’t want to hear this, but you need to take a page from their book. I know you’re scared. After all, you’re Democrats. But now that Bernie Sanders has emerged from Iowa and New Hampshire as the frontrunner for the nomination; now that Biden and Warren have both collapsed; now that the only other candidates with any momentum are Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, whose combined polling with voters of color is well under 5%; now that the only one who stands any chance at all to actually beat Bernie outright is a Republican mayor whose record on racial issues could actually drive black voters to Donald Trump in a general election; it’s time to quit playing pundit, stop worrying, and feel the Bern.
I know a lot of you want to vote for Bernie Sanders. We can tell by the polls (and exit polls) in Iowa and New Hampshire, which both showed that a healthy majority of Democratic primary voters support eliminating private health insurance in favor of a single-payer system. The Green New Deal was also immensely popular in the same polls. The problem is that while these policies have broad support within the party, sizable percentages of voters who personally approve of them fear that they’re too politically risky to run on in a general election. In Iowa, the Des Moines Register poll showed that 41% of the electorate supported Medicare For All, but that another 28% were personally in favor of it but feared it would cost Democrats the election in November. In other words, 69% (41+28) of the Democratic voters in Iowa were on board with the policy, but almost half of them were unwilling to actually vote for it because they feared the political consequences. This explains why, despite Bernie being consistently rated the top candidate on healthcare, and the only candidate who unequivocally supports a single-payer M4A system, he garnered a mere 25% of the popular vote in a state that overwhelmingly supports his signature policy proposal. This can only mean that there’s a huge would-be Bernie vote out there that’s just waiting for permission to pull the lever.
Those of you who fit that description, we need you, and we need you now. We need you to be as bold and resolute in your support for a humane and civilized healthcare system as Republicans were for a Muslim ban. We need you to be as strong in standing up for our climate as the Republicans were for their border wall. We need you to muster up the courage to do what’s right, and have a little faith that truth and justice can actually prevail in the end.
We need you to stop driving yourselves crazy over who’s most “electable.” If 2016 proved anything, it proved that there really aren’t any ‘good pundits’ out there. Punditry is essentially bullshit. It’s speculation about how a vast, complex, self-contradictory population of people from all different walks of life are going to behave in a voting booth, if they show up to vote at all. No one actually knows what the fuck they’re talking about – not even the people who get paid to know. That’s why The New York Times had Hillary Clinton as a 91% favorite in November 2016. A very important sounding organization called the Princeton Election Consortium had her chances at 97-99%. David Plouffe, the data-driven mastermind behind Obama’s two winning campaigns, insisted Hillary stood a 100% chance of defeating Trump. Yes, literally.
What led the Republicans to victory in 2016 is the same thing that led Democrats to victory in 2008, when we decided to roll the dice on a black man with a Muslim name whose Chicago preacher shouted “God Damn America!” We believed in Barack Obama, just as they believed in Donald Trump. And right now, the only candidate left in this primary who large swaths of the electorate actually believe in, is Bernie Sanders. Biden was never actually going to happen. Warren had her shot and blew it. Klobuchar and Buttigieg simply, and rightfully, don’t have the support of POC necessary to compete. Michael Bloomberg is a fucking Republican. And no one else is getting in the race at this point. The path forward is clear. It’s Bernie. That’s it. If too many nervous Democrats remain on the fence and split the vote and we go to a brokered convention where the DNC superdelegates choose the nominee, not only will Trump be re-elected, but the Democratic Party will be destroyed altogether.
So however frightened you are of the right wing smear campaign against “socialism” or “Soviet honeymoons” or whatever else they’ll cook up, you have to just do this. I hope you can take a deep breath, reach down into yourself, and stand strong for what you believe in. But even if you can’t quite do that, you still have to join us. Remember Harrison Ford in The Fugitive when he’s trapped at the dam and he can either be arrested or take a plunge off the ledge and hope for the best? That’s you right now. You gotta just take a leap of faith. If you do, there’s a good chance you’ll be rewarded, as the Republicans were last time around. If not, well, you get to walk back to the police car with Tommy Lee Jones, wondering what could have been if you only had the strength to jump.