Yes, Bernie Sanders Can Win

If he manages to carve out a spot on the presidential ballot, Sanders could present himself as the one who can take on the elites and who can’t be bought by financial interests. And he could claim a part of the populist appeal of Trump.

After Sen. Bernie Sanders’ victory in the New Hampshire primary, which follows his semivictory in the Iowa caucuses last week, there are some who seem to want to minimize Sanders’ success. Will the bigwigs of the Democratic Party never, ever allow the 70-something, self-declared socialist from Vermont to secure the party’s nomination?

And if something as improbable as this were to come about, Donald Trump could automatically sign a new, four-year lease on the White House with an assured reelection. Could Sanders never, ever win a general election?

This point of view is not only simplistic—it is erroneous.

He Can Win the Democratic Nomination

First of all, the advantages of Sanders in the Democratic race cannot be ignored. He has a more solid core of supporters than anyone else. The other side of this coin, however, is evident: Sanders seems to display a certain difficulty expanding his coalition and his already convinced constituency. With so many candidates still in the race, it is a dynamic that may prove more beneficial than problematic for Sanders.

Let us keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the primaries is to gather a majority of proportionally attributed delegates based upon the results of the popular vote in each state. Let us also keep in mind the rule set in place by the Democratic Party, which states that each candidate must attain a minimum of 15% of the popular vote in each district to be eligible to win delegates. In other words, the awarding of delegates is limited to the candidates who win 15% or more of the vote.

Sanders’ base is solid enough that he can, at present, expect to capture the minimum of 15% in practically every state, which is not the case for any other candidate. So, the states where Sanders could be shut out are very few. He can expect to accumulate delegates just about everywhere.

Then, even winning a state with a relatively small percentage of the vote, as in New Hampshire, where Sanders finished first with a little more than a quarter of the vote, the percentage of the delegates won could be considerably higher. Let’s imagine a completely plausible scenario in which Sanders wins 30% in one state, his closest rival takes 20%, and all the rest less than 15%. In this scenario, only the two top candidates would qualify to win delegates, and Sanders gets 60% of those up for grabs.

It is easy, in this context, to see Sanders building a lead in terms of delegates looking ahead to the Democratic National Convention, which takes place in July. If he should reach the convention in first place, even without an absolute majority of delegates, the risk to the unity of the party of not awarding the nomination to Sanders would be enormous.

He Can Win the Presidency

If Sanders were to emerge as the Democratic candidate, he would enter the general election with gaping vulnerabilities. For a long time as the only one of the 535 elected officials to the U.S. Congress to define himself as a socialist, he will defend positions that would constitute easy targets for Trump—from his proposal to abolish all forms of private health insurance, to protecting the right to vote for domestic terrorists like the Boston marathon bomber. His personal history, as colorful as Sanders himself, including his honeymoon in the Soviet Union in the Cold War era, risks becoming a liability both for Sanders and the rest of the Democratic Party.

That said, Sanders also comes with advantages that few other hopefuls can claim: He can present himself, credibly, as a candidate taking on the elites; one who can’t be bought by financial interests, propelled by a record number of small donations from ordinary citizens. Some of Trump’s populist appeal could equally be claimed by Sanders.

And then, let us not lose sight of the fact that elections in which a sitting president is on the ballot serve fundamentally as referendums on that president’s performance while in office. In other words, even if Sanders is not the strongest candidate to oppose Trump, if the popularity of the latter is lagging on Election Day, he certainly risks being vulnerable.

Yes, such a turn of events would be remarkable; no, it is not a given. But, in the end, have we learned nothing from the election of 2016? The order of things can sometimes change.

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About Reg Moss 122 Articles
Reg is a writer, teacher, and translator with an interest in social issues especially as pertains to education and matters of race, class, gender, immigration, etc.

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