Elections 2020

American Gamble

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Will Bernie Sanders become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, challenging Donald Trump in November? In Nevada, the 78-year-old self-described democratic socialist–a term not very easy to explain–seized the commanding position by extending his coalition beyond his devoted Generation Z supporters. Sanders won overall voter groups in Nevada except for caucus-goers over 65, who all backed Joe Biden. Sanders has momentum, and more money than any other Democratic candidate–Bloomberg excluded–and could hypothetically close the primaries by Super Tuesday a week from now.

With his sweeping victory in Nevada, Sanders has not only solidified his position as a front runner but has also increased some Democrats’ fears of a possible electoral disaster come November. Those who still think that Sanders will be a calamity for the party are moderates and the democratic establishment that has never liked the disruptive, headstrong senator. But as the race has so far demonstrated, there’s no denying Sander’s huge appeal. Andrew L. Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union, explained:

“The party has shifted to the left, and I don’t think many of the more traditional, legacy leaders of the party got it. The good news for Bernie Sanders is, he’s like a broken clock. He’s been in the same place for 35 or 40 years in terms of his positions, and the times have found him.”

Las Vegas is a gambling destination. People visit to try their luck and throw dice. And the remaining Democrats vying for the nomination did just that. Last Wednesday, they were all lined up on stage ready to debate, giving the impression of a disciplined group of students going through their notes before class. They stood with heads bent down, their minds focused, some with lips moving soundlessly as they rehearsed their lines of attack. Among the six stood a billionaire, three-time New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who kept his head straight, a slightly ironic grin on his face.

To an outsider, the scene at the debate was ridiculous. Three of the six candidates on stage were 78-years-old, one was 70, another 59; the youngest was 39-years-old. Is this the land of the free and the home of the brave or the land of retired wealthy people, who, in their advanced age, are trying to raise their low adrenalin by playing the political game? The untouchable frontrunner onstage was Bernie Sanders, who has proposed a revolution in a country with extreme wealth inequality, the most expensive healthcare on the planet, good education exclusively for privileged children, endless army arsenal and crumbling infrastructure. Before Nevada, most of the people who had voted for Sanders were young voters–millennials, Gen Zers, and college students who are fed up with the aging and corrupt political elite but are ready to close their eyes when it comes to Grandpa Bernie, who for them represents a beacon of honesty and transparency. 

Sanders does not only promise jobs, but he also wants to save the planet. There’s something very tender about the manner in which young Americans relate to the 78year-old senator from Vermont with a heavy Brooklyn accent. They identify with him, putting their trust into the hands of a white-haired man who, four years ago, got crushed by Hillary Clinton’s war machine. In 2016, Clinton stopped Sanders from winning the nomination with the help of the Democratic National Committee. In the end, she lost the election against Donald Trump, throwing the nation under a bullying presidency. After three years of the loud, nonsensical, rude, racist and egocentric Donald Trump in the Oval Office, the younger generations have strengthened their conviction in their choice. Always a solitary fighter, Sanders hasn’t changed his political vision. He sticks firmly to the democratic values that have been crushed by authoritarian regimes around the world, the current American administration included. His firm faith in those values has only earned him stronger support from young voters, who view Sanders as the only chance for their future. The struggle and hope of the Sanders movement resemble the determination of the young Hong Kong protesters, who went into the streets ready to fight and even give their lives for autonomy from China, protecting their small island from Chinese despotism. Sanders’ supporters are similar in their fight for their future and the future of the planet. Compared to the Hong Kong protestors, young Sanders fans are in a better position as they have not (yet) been physically persecuted. They do not need to go into the streets to fight for their freedom. Young Americans are free to vote, they just want to ensure that their vote won’t be wasted, that it can secure their future. In many conversations with Bernie voters, I sensed a strong determination within them to exercise their constitutional rights and give democracy a chance. 

Another thing is certain; almost no one who belongs to this young and politically pure generation will ever vote for Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire is considered to be a corporate candidate and therefore the enemy of angry youth who feels they are stuck with a gloomy future. They will not vote for Bloomberg, even if this means losing the election to Trump. For them, Bloomberg and Trump are cut from the same cloth. Is it political suicide or just pure idealism to hope that the entire country will wake up on November 3rd and say no to Trump, massively supporting Sanders? Is the young generation ready to take to the streets if Trump wins again? Do these young voters know that, according to pollsters and analysts, Sanders has no chance of getting more than 30 percent of the delegates that can nominate the winner of the primaries and therefore the Democratic presidential nominee? Even after Sanders’ triumph in Nevada, where he earned votes across the entire electoral body, experts are declaring that someone who calls themselves a socialist will never, ever get the support of the majority of the country. If this is true, then Sanders alone cannot win the nomination and challenge Trump. The same goes for the Democratic candidates who are trailing behind Sanders. Milwaukee is therefore set to become the venue for an extremely important battle for the American future. It will also be considerably chaotic when the convention decides who to nominate as the candidate who will go on to challenge Trump. And yet, four years ago, very few of us predicted that Trump would win. We have six months to go and this time, many more voices are saying that Sanders could be a surprise nominee.

However, the debate in Las Vegas showed the level of chaos the Democrats are facing. With Sanders occupying the leading position amongst the candidates, Elizabeth Warren, whose scores have been stagnant, led the attack on Bloomberg: 

“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against: a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians,” Ms. Warren said. “And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.” 

Her words were a blow for everyone on stage and in the audience. They came fast and unexpected. At first, it appeared as if Warren had simply lost it, that her outburst was out of control. It later became clear that her attack–still very unpleasant–was a calculated attempt to dominate the debate. According to the vast majority of pundits, Warren had won the game, forcing other Democrats to contribute to the burning of Bloomberg the intruder. Even Sanders, who in theory could have just sat back and watched the massacre, spoke out against Bloomberg:

“Mayor Bloomberg, with all his money, will not create the kind of excitement and energy we need to have the voter turnout we must have to defeat Donald Trump,” he said.

“We will not create the energy and excitement we need to defeat Donald Trump if that candidate pursued, advocated for, and enacted, racist policies like stop-and-frisk, which caused communities of color in his city to live in fear.”

Sanders thinks that energy and excitement are essential for victory. That passion is the opposite of the cold calculation of Michael Bloomberg. All attacks against Bloomberg, who kept quiet for most of the debate and went wrong whenever he opened his mouth, were about his record and not to his presidential plan. Bloomberg is not Sanders. As my friend said, ”Considering that Bloomberg was commanding other people for most of his life, it’s good that he got a lesson on the open stage.” So is Bloomberg out? Did he learn his lesson? We don’t know right now. We may have a clearer picture on March 3rd, with Super Tuesday, where primaries in 12 different states could show where Bloomberg and everybody else stands.

Until then, the final outcome will remain uncertain despite the fact that we now know all the players. We analyzed Sanders, who is currently enjoying his momentum. But it is still not clear if he can push other Democrats out of the game in order to get the nomination. The Democratic party bureaucrats are still not very hot about the old man. Some people hold the opinion that people like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and other key Democratic figures should step behind Sanders and endorse him soon. 

Then there’s James Carville, an old age political hawk, who, after the Iowa caucus screamed from the bottom of his lungs:  

“The only thing, the only thing between the United States and the abyss is the Democratic Party. That’s it. If we go the way of the British Labour Party, if we nominate Jeremy Corbyn, it’s going to be the end of days. So I am scared to death, I really am.” 

It sounded dramatic and exaggerated. But it is also true. The problem is that we already live in a world that Donald Trump defines as “post-true,” a world in which “alternative facts” and lies are as good as the facts, principles, and values. Carville is the Democrat and campaign strategist who put Bill Clinton in the Oval office. He too was convinced that Clinton would change America into a more righteous country and perhaps, for this reason, missed seeing Barack Obama surfacing. We do not know what cards the 75-year-old political analyst is playing in this game, but one thing is certain, without mentioning his name, Carville made space for Michael Bloomberg with his outcry: 

“We have one moral imperative, and that’s to beat Donald Trump. The fate of the world depends on the Democrats getting their shit together and winning in November. We have to beat Trump. And so far, I don’t like what I see. And a lot of people I talk to feel the same way.” 

Compared to Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar, Bloomberg is not an orthodox choice. But with Biden sundowning, Warren being obsessively aggressive, Klobuchar running out of ideas and money and letting young Buttigieg get under her skin, there are at the time being only two candidates on both extreme ends of the party: Sanders and Bloomberg. The two 78 year-olds could not be more different from each other. In contrast to Sanders, Bloomberg is cold, cynical and knows how to hit. Bloomberg stands for no ideology, he simply knows how to manage power. He supports climate change and promises to bring America back to the Paris agreement. He stands for strong gun control and has been fighting the National Rifle Association for years. He wants to rebuild infrastructure, improve Obamacare and perhaps do more. We do not know, as so far he has only spoken with $400 million worth of advertising. Bloomberg can be as equally rude as Trump. He can win. So could Sanders, with his long liberal wish list that starts with the Green New Deal to combat climate change, wiping out student debt and paying for it by taxing Wall Street, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, reforming immigration laws to protect the undocumented, nominating liberals to the Supreme Court, protecting abortion rights, and, of course, his signature healthcare idea, Medicare-for-all, which has become a rallying cry on the left. 

But does it really matter? 

What if, -as Rachel Bitecofer, part of a new generation of political analysts, says,  “Everything you think you know about politics is wrong? What if there aren’t really American swing voters—or not enough, anyway, to pick the next president? What if it doesn’t matter much who the Democratic nominee is? What if there is no such thing as “the center,” and the party in power can govern however it wants for two years, because the results of that first midterm are going to be bad regardless? What if the Democrats’ big 41-seat midterm victory in 2018 didn’t happen because candidates focused on health care and kitchen-table issues, but simply because they were running against the party in the White House? What if the outcome in 2020 is pretty much foreordained, too?”

Bitecofer says that it’s obsolete to claim that the pool of American voters is basically fixed: that about 55 percent of eligible voters are likely to go to the polls and the winner is determined by the 15 or so percent of “swing voters” who flit between parties. And that the general election campaign amounts to a long effort to pull those voters to your side.

It is now true, claims Bitecofer, that with the polarization in America that began with the appearance of the Tea Party in 2010, the concept of negative partisanship has evolved. Today, voters are more motivated by defeating the other side than by any particular policy goals. Bitecofer explains:

“In the polarized era, the outcome isn’t really about the candidates. What matters is what percentage of the electorate is Republican and Republican leaners, and what percentage is Democratic and Democratic leaners, and how they get activated,” 

According to some calculations, millennials and Gen Zers could make up 116 million potential Bernie Sanders voters. Or will they instead vote for Bloomberg? Someone else? They are all leaning towards the Democrats. If only these young, well-educated individuals would get their asses up and go vote on November 3rd.  

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