Hillary Clinton is in trouble. Will history repeat itself? Will we see her passed again on the left? The signs are pretty encouraging.
Donald Trump dominates the media like no other American politician has for a long time – even though it’s admittedly arguable whether he’s really a politician. All the details of his campaign – from the bizarre to the fascistic – that spill over to us naturally play right into our latent contempt-for-America hands (which continue to be paired naturally with our rapt fascination with all things American) with the result that more important developments in U.S. politics scarcely receive notice here in Germany. Such as the fact that Bernie Sanders, self-declared social democrat, actually has a realistic chance to beat Hillary Clinton this November and therewith leave whichever Republican he faces lying thoroughly trounced on the right.
Before the 74-year-old senator from Vermont got into the race for the Democratic nomination, the candidate most liberal Democrats preferred was Elizabeth Warren, who made it clear early on that she wasn’t interested. After Independent Sen. Sanders declared his candidacy he became a sort of stopgap solution for those who wanted to avoid a Clinton nomination because she was too conservative, too close to the big banks and/or was tainted with the “dynasty” tag. And although she has led in the opinion polls by wide margins right from the start of her campaign, she generates little excitement and is generally considered cold, calculating and part of the establishment.
Sanders, on the other hand, rails against the banks, wants to increase taxes on the rich, make college education free for all, reform the American health care system along European lines and wants to end the uncontrolled influence big money has on business, banking and the political process. He wants no less than – and he says this in every one of his campaign appearances – a political revolution. Perhaps too big a word from our point of view, but he’s in the United States where there is no universal health care, where students graduate from college having incurred a six-figure education debt unless their families are independently wealthy, where there is no parental leave, where individual companies can actually buy members of Congress and governors; in this world of runaway capitalism at its purest, Sanders’ election manifesto truly reads like a revolution. That such a “radical” oddball now threatens to overtake Hillary Clinton is the best news out of the United States we’ve gotten since the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, maybe even since Jimmy Carter.
In New Hampshire, the second state to hold a primary election, Sanders has meanwhile left Hillary far behind, Hillary is trailing him by 27 percentage points. In Iowa, there are conflicting polls: Several show Sanders close behind Hillary and one has seen him already on the victor’s podium. Nationwide, Sanders still trails Clinton but the distance between them varies from survey to survey. The IBD/TIPP* has Sanders behind Clinton by 4 percent, in the CBS/New York Times poll he trails by 7 percent and according to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll they are separated by some 25 percentage points. Thus, it’s very difficult to estimate how high Sanders’ chances really are of beating the “inevitable” candidate who has already lost once.
But the fact that he is already so close is not only encouraging, it’s actually consequential.
It’s no coincidence that both political parties are represented by outsiders who are attracting the crowds into stadiums and gymnasiums all across America. Americans are sick and tired of the sort of politics that constantly boxes their ears.
The term “Washington establishment” has become an expletive and Congress currently has an approval rating of about 11 percent, up from 7 percent just a few months ago. In comparison, around 50 percent of Americans had a positive view of Congress back in the 1990s. Now, two weirdos have gotten into the act who won’t allow their campaigns to be beholden to the Super PACs – Trump because he doesn’t need their money and Sanders because of principle. Sanders depends on small donations, a tactic that works quite well. Both men are oddballs who talk outside the usual political-speak world and both are authentic in their own separate ways.
That the reality show populist Trump — who is not above making exclusionary fascistic statements — scores points with Republican voters should not come as any surprise. Constantly changing U.S. demographics make it tough for the reactionary segment of the far-right to operate effectively. Trump insults women and Mexican immigrants, advocates barring Muslims from entering the country and uses such crude and ridiculous language that racists fearful of losing their pre-eminence at the top of the heap raise their clenched fists to the skies while chanting “USA! USA!” It’s frightening to witness one of Trump’s appearances where blacks, Latinos, Muslims or just plain people who aren’t Trump fans are thrown out on their ears, often after Trump’s fans first attack them and beat them senseless.
But the fact that jovial socialist granddad Sanders, with his plans to make America more European, also plans to upset Hillary Clinton’s cast-in-concrete candidacy is pretty amazing. The way the curves laid out in the surveys look after straightening, it’s not only possible but probable that it would be a Bernie Sanders vs. Donald Trump contest. That would be nothing short of sensational. Sanders would not only win that contest, the United States would have a socialist commander in chief.
Once in office, he would probably get more headwind from Congress than even Obama has gotten, but one can’t rule out the possibility that his popularity could help the Democrats regain control of both congressional houses. We can only hope. As much as the would-be messiah Obama disappointed the world and his country, it could have been far worse (provided you temporarily ignore his criminal drone war) but it also could have turned out much better and Sanders has the potential to make that happen. We will have to wait to see whether he gets the chance to put his plans into action and has the capability and the absolute will to see them through.
*Editor’s note: IBD/TIPP stands for Investor’s Business Daily with TIPP being the polling unit of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, a national research firm.