ANALYSIS NOT ADVOCACY: MY CURRENT THOUGHTS ON BERNIE SANDERS AS THE 2020 DEMOCRATIC FRONTRUNNER
Political science doesn’t care about your feelings.
Off the top of my head, here are ten thoughts about Sanders and his future prospects:
(1) Political campaigns are far easier to manage when you’re an outsider and running from behind. Being the frontrunner comes with a whole new crop of pressures and responsibilities. All candidates strive to steal the spotlight. However, once they get the spotlight, some meltdown in the heat. I don’t expect Sanders will melt. But he must be aware the political contest is now very different. He will have to make some adjustments to this new reality.
(2) Sanders has defied all forecasts and exceeded everyone’s expectations to this point. He and his organization deserve extraordinary credit for consolidating much of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and catapulting into the lead over established candidates like Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. Whatever one thinks of Sanders, his political strategy has been masterful. I have witnessed this firsthand here in Nevada and watched it nationwide on all forms of media.
(3) Now, Sanders faces the biggest strategic test of his campaign, one that will likely determine his fate. He can continue with the same “revolutionary” message and further solidify the Left while attracting some additional working-class support in the center…..or he can inch closer to the center and run a more conventional campaign and chip away at the undecideds. Sanders’ need not abandon progressive causes in order to appeal to more moderate voters. He simply needs to alter his tone a bit, while also stressing more common themes that will attract non-ideologues and apolitical supporters. These voters will be essential to getting the party nomination and general election victory. Sanders MUST expand his base. NOW.
(4) Accordingly, Sanders must begin to pick and choose priority issues. I suggest universal health care be his anchor. I view Sanders’ pandering to other constituencies as unfortunate and long-range disastrous. In the last month, Sanders has stressed universal health care and forgiving student debt/free college (which I oppose) as core issues….but then he’s also broadened promises to include free child care, higher pay for teachers, etc. This is fiscally reckless. Sanders has a difficult time already justifying the costs associated with M4A (it can be done, and I would love to help with his messaging, but Sanders hasn’t handled this effectively). Adding other half-dozen government programs which will cost enormous sums simply isn’t feasible nor realistic. Yes, I’m for all these things, in time. But they must be advocated in a clear and responsible manner. Overpromising what one can deliver isn’t a viable platform nor a winning political strategy (Trump’s numerous lies and broken promises, excepted).
(5) Sanders’ handling of the “60 Minutes” sit-down interview last night (watched by 15 million of the people in this country who matter) was a disaster. He’s no longer on the outside of this race. He’s on the inside with a giant target on his back. Sanders’ dismissive tone, failure to give specifics on policies, and the occasional display of anger don’t gain the confidence of the core constituency that will be essential to victory. He’s got to elevate his game. Giving the same stump speech in a sit-down interview isn’t going to broaden support.
(6) Sanders’ past comments and controversies about so-called “socialism” and regimes including the former USSR and Cuba are entirely justifiable (and for the most part accurate). Sanders has nothing to apologize for. The CEO of Coca-Cola and dozens of other companies were saying the exact same things in the 1980s when they were trying to sell Cokes and tractors in new markets like China and the Soviet Union. In fact, the friendly remarks are nearly identical. However, Sanders does need to come up with a better argument and defense that will deflect mass ignorance about this issue. Forget the old folks who somehow fear “communism” but remain complicit in supporting a Putin enabler in the White House — he won’t win over those doddering fossils anyway.
(7) I cannot stress # 6 enough. New strategy. Better messaging. Stick to the script. Any criticism of Sanders on coddling up to former communists is completely obliterated by Trump’s “love letters” to the leader of North Korea, and embrace of the world’s worst authoritarians (Saudi Arabia, Russia, The Philipines, etc.). Hammer this like a stubborn nail. It’s one thing for Sanders to appreciate some good things accomplished in Cuba 30 years ago in grainy film footage in a town hall meeting with 10 people in Burlington Vermont — It’s quite another level of shock and inhumanity for an American President to stand on the world stage and openly fellate Putin and Kim Jong Un with lavish praise. Sanders has Trump in a box here, so close him in and duct tape it shut with his own abysmal record and history.
(8) Sanders MUST make an attempt to earn the support, or at least the trust of moderate Democrats. I have serious issues with the milquetoast moderates, sure. But they are critical to the greater cause. More important, fears of Sanders’ dragging the ballot in other races are legitimate. It’s time Sanders do something to quell this rising tide of fear. Unfortunately, we can’t sweep out the corporatist Democrats. So, Sanders might be right that the DNC and “the establishment” are conspiring against him. They are! But it looks petty and is counterproductive to bitch about unfairness. This is politics. Politics at the highest level. Get in the game. Do what it takes to win, not appear like an embittered outsider who wasn’t picked first on the team.
(9) What happened to the word INFRASTRUCTURE? It didn’t come up one time in the last Democratic debate. Every American is for this. EVERYONE. So, why isn’t Sanders hammering the essential theme of democratic socialism — that instead of wasteful defense spending, tax cuts for the rich, and so on — why aren’t we building roads and bridges and high tech plants in the United States with our tax dollars? Why are we rebuilding Baghdad instead of Baltimore? I realize this is a more complex issue than simple slogans, but this is a winning campaign message. Trump lied on this. He and Republicans had two years to pass an infrastructure bill but instead, they gave huge tax cuts which did nothing for working-class people. The factory worker, the soccer mom, the single parent — everyone wants and understands the need for domestic infrastructure — good roads, clean water, bridges, airports, etc. Sanders is blowing this opportunity.
(10) Lest anyone thinks I’m now backing Sanders — I’m not. Sure, he will get my vote if he’s the eventual nominee. Anyone BLUE will get my vote. And, Sanders is entirely inside my political wheelhouse. In fact, I’m to the Left of Sanders on many issues (he’s yet to say anything about cutting defense spending, for example). What concerns me is — democratic socialism is a winning message and the ideal path forward for all societies, especially the United States. But the messenger isn’t doing a good enough job explaining it and promoting it. I fear that unless he adjusts and broadens his appeal, all the gains of the past few years on this point will be lost.
My Direct Message to Sanders:
Yeah, I know you won’t read this but…….If you want to win, start acting *presidential.” Sanders needs to morph into someone who resembles a world leader, not an insurgent demagogue from a tiny New England state rambling on with way too many promises to deliver. It’s now time for a reality check.
I have my doubts Sanders will take any of these suggestions. I think the dye has been cast. This is my analysis of where Sanders currently stands and what it will take for him to win.
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