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Seven Questions and Seven Answers: a Sandernista Makes Reasonable Predictions About the 2016 Contest for the Democratic Presidential Nomination

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Question One: Is Hillary Clinton likely to drop out of the race?

Highly unlikely regardless of how bad the E-mail Scandal gets or whether Joe Biden enters the race. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have incredible staying power. Even if you do not like their brand of Corporate Democrat (I do not), you have to give them credit for perseverance. Leaving to one side their remarkable, hard fought victory during the impeachment period of Bill’s presidency, Hillary’s nomination struggle against Barack Obama in 2008 was one of remarkable persistence. She fought through primaries, caucuses and super-delegate disputes. Hillary is a tough person who has superb lawyers. She has been through worse scandals than the E-mail Scandal, so no one should expect Hillary Clinton to fold. Bernie Sanders shows no indications of thinking Hillary might fold either, and he has made no effort so far to exploit the e-mail controversy.

Question Two: What is the likely outcome of Joe Biden entering the race?

As Bernie Sanders recently said, “Who knows?” Still, we know that Joe Biden entered two earlier presidential nomination contests (1988 and 2008) only to withdraw each time in disarray within a few months. This is not to disparage Joe Biden, but it is a fact that he had two total false starts running for President, and if the past predicts the future (it often does), his presence in the 2016 contest may not be permanent. Polling shows he is much more likely to draw away Hillary supporter than Bernie supporters. Joe also has some skeletons in the closet that we will not describe at present. (OK, his lifelong plagiarism problem is the major one.) Bottom line: given two dogged campaigners like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden’s presence in the campaign is likely to be temporary. Frankly, both Hillary and Bernie have the hardcore support and personal grit to outlast Joe Biden.

Question Three: What’s the issue with Bernie and African Americans?  

This is the hot button issue. So we start out with Bernie being an old white guy from a very white state. This leads us to the unfamiliarity of African American voters with Bernie Sanders. Bernie also impresses many people (not just some African Americans) as being rather stiff and ideology-driven, which does not make it easy for many people who are at some distance from him in terms of geography, culture and age to warm up to him. There is a certain hard to define personal “coolness” factor. Bill Clinton has it, and Bernie Sanders does not. Beneath the surface is the long and tragic history of African Americans being lied to by white politicians, used by white politician for their own purposes. Ideologically and in terms of policy matters, Bernie advocates for positions that would reduce racial disparities and enhance African Americans materially. Will Bernie Sanders be able to overcome the lack of familiarity, lack of personal coolness and the longstanding (and in many respects deserved) historical distrust of African Americans of white politicians? Bernie is a really dogged campaigner, is highly adaptable and is likely to appeal as time goes on to larger and larger elements of African American voters. Is there enough time for Bernie to turn the tide and unleash real enthusiasm in a majority of African American voters? Going to have to borrow a Bernie-ism here. “Who knows?”

Question Four: What about the “Elizabeth Warren factor”?

Elizabeth Warren is very popular with political Progressives. Her support base and the Bernie Sanders support base overlap a great deal. Warren’s options are very limited, however, by her original decision not to enter race and Bernie Sanders having done better than anyone expected up to this point in time. If Warren came into the race as either a Presidential candidate or a VP in waiting, she would cancel out a large part of the advantage Hillary has among women. The major problem with Elizabeth Warren is that she has little actual political experience. She has lived her meritorious and courageous life as a professor and a bureaucrat. Hillary, Bernie and Joe are professional politicians with vast experience. Warren’s inexperience was on display in her 2012 Senatorial campaign. People who followed that campaign generally give Warren credit for being an excellent fundraiser but not much of a political tactician. But she is almost certainly savvy enough to not position herself directly against Bernie Sanders in the 2016 nomination contest. The bad feelings that would likely result from such a late entry into the race might permanently preclude her running for President. She has the luxury of seeing Bernie Sanders warm up the progressives. Should Bernie win the nomination or the presidency, Elizabeth Warren would be his likely political heir. Since we give Elizabeth Warren credit for lots of intelligence, it is more than likely she will sit out 2016. In the best scenario for Warren, Sanders literally paves the way to her Presidency.

Question Five: Are there any reasonable scenarios in which Bernie Sanders could win the Democratic Party nomination for President?

There are such scenarios, but they are far from certainties. Bernie’s chances for the nomination increase depending on the unfolding of the following hard to predict eventualities. (A.) If the economy goes into a serious tailspin (as in 2008 or even something somewhat less drastic) Bernie is well-positioned to affix responsibility on the oligarchs of Wall Street and their willing accomplices in Washington. (B.) If Hillary’s E-mail Scandal turns even uglier and lasts through the entire primary season, she will likely appear unelectable and will be abandoned even by many long-term Clinton supporters. (C.) If Bernie starts to catch fire in either the African American or Hispanic populations (or both), he would become essentially unstoppable given his already excellent position among white Progressives. (D.) Bernie may be the recipient of a major rally to his cause by his fellow Jewish Americans. Many Jews are among Bernie’s current Progressive supporters, but very influential elements among American Jews are at more than arms length from Bernie Sanders due to his radical egalitarianism, his secularism, and his willingness to distance himself from the political positions of Netanyahu’s Israel. But the prospect of Bernie Sanders becoming the first Jew to be elected President of the United States has the understandable potential of stirring ethnic and religious pride, just as John Kennedy was propelled in 1960 by a rallying of American Catholics, especially Irish Catholics, to his cause. (E.) Bernie and the American press are going to decide whether they love or hate each other. Bernie’s crusty honesty has the major media folks thrown off balance at present. He lectures them about sticking to the issues and shows no fear of them or desire to ingratiate himself with them. He actually treats members of the press like regular members of the public. No better, no worse. This dynamic could go either way. The press could start to really dig his crusty honesty or they could just go on a collective hate campaign., Bottom line: If at least four of these factors fall Bernie’s way, he wins the nomination. If only three fall his way, it is a toss-up. If only two fall his way, Bernie will not be the nominee.

Question Six: If he is nominated for President by the Democrats, could Bernie Sanders be elected President of the United States?  

Bernie is a much stronger political campaigner than all but a few have recognized until quite recently. He is the Energizer Bunny of American politics. He is a person of strong convictions who turns obstacles into opportunities. His remarkable personal probity and decency impress even his opponents. Bernie’s problem is more getting the nomination than winning the Presidential election. Although the Republican candidate will almost certainly have vast campaign monetary advantages (due to the large group of mega-donors on whom Republicans rely) in the final Presidential election, Democratic voter turnout is high during presidential election years and the Republican baiting of Hispanics and other immigrants is creating a toxic environment for the eventual nominee. The Republican candidate will have gone through such a vastly costly and damaging nomination gauntlet as to create true un-electability, especially given the toxicity of the immigration issue for the Republicans in a general election. Even Jeb Bush has recently gone toxic over “anchor babies.” Bernie has, by the way, largely neutralized the potentially scary “socialism factor” by using it as an opportunity to educate people and not shying away from the label. All things considered, if nominated, Bernie has a real shot at winning the election.

Question Seven: If Bernie Sanders loses either the nomination or the election, what will the long-term effect be of his campaign?

If Bernie Sanders went up in a puff of smoke tomorrow and was never seen or heard from again, he will still have made political history for effectively raising high and effectively the banner of the American Left at a time when the Left was supposed to be politically irrelevant according to practically all mainstream academicians, pollsters and pundits. The fact that even thirty percent of Democratic Party voters would endorse a transformative political program from the Left is a shock to these “experts,” whether they admit it or not. Some of them are clearly in disbelief. The Bernie Sanders movement is larger and more activated than any left-of-center movement since World War II, except for the Civil Rights movement. The Wallace Progressives of 1948 and the antiwar movement of the 1960s and 1970s showed a lack of staying power. It is possible that the Sanders movement will also peter out in the face of a defeat for the nomination or the election. More likely, Bernie Sanders will maintain a large element of his national prominence, and his movement will exert significant influence electorally and in policy for a decade or more. At the very least, Bernie Sanders has pushed the limits of the American Left’s imagination and restored a fair amount of its courage and belief in its ongoing relevance.

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Jim Connolly can be reached at: jjconnollyjdphd@mac.com.

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