In an election of immense importance, Democratic leadership and voters rejected a hugely popular candidate in favor of a deeply unpopular one and are now paying the price. Some of us will be asking why for years to come.I'm sure Sanders would have raised the enthusiasm level on the Democratic side, and he would have had a better shot at winning blue-collar white voters. On the other hand, I'm one of the people deBoer sneers at here:
Critics of Sanders were quick to poke holes in his high favorability ratings, arguing that he had never been through the bruising Republican attacks that Clinton had and that attack ads spotlighting his self-professed socialism would surely erode his advantage in favorability. Perhaps this was true: Trump surely would’ve pointed out that Sanders identified as a socialist, that he seemed at times radical, and so on. But it fundamentally meant placing a hypothetical above the direct evidence that Sanders was simply a far more popular politician.But it's not a hypothetical to say that Sanders rose in popularity while never suffering a Republican attack -- that's a simple fact. It's also a fact that he would have been viciously attacked by Republicans in a general election campaign. We know that. We just don't know what the attacks would have been like, or how effective they would have been. I actually think the "socialist" attack might have fallen flat -- people aren't wild about capitalism these days, and no one currently under the age of 45 ever lived as an adult in a world in which the Berlin Wall stood.
I always assumed that Republicans would just go after Sanders as a really big spender who believes in really big government, and wants to tax Joe and Jane Six-Pack to pay for that. I think his proposals would have been portrayed as unworkable and budget-busting.
Would that have damaged him enough for Trump to win? I don't know -- but please note that a referendum in Colorado calling for single-payer health care just lost 80%-20%. Colorado is a state Clinton won, so some liberals as well as conservatives presumably voted no on single payer.
The Huffington Post reports:
The ColoradoCare initiative faced significant political headwinds. In addition to opposition from state Republicans, business groups, the health insurance industry and the Colorado Medical Society, powerful state Democrats also lined up against it, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Michael Bennet, several U.S. representatives, Colorado House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran and a number of other state legislators....That would have been the problem with Bernie's proposals in a general election campaign: The costs would have been measured, even some estimates made in good faith would have been worrying, Republicans and vested interests would have pounced on those cost estimates, and he'd have been on the defensive. I'm not saying all that would have doomed him. I just don't know. But his high approval ratings would have taken a hit.
Even the public backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ... wasn’t enough to win over voters....
Amendment 69 called for $25 billion in payroll taxes to fund the new system, drawing from businesses and households.
The nonpartisan Colorado Health Institute estimated that ColoradoCare’s costs would exceed the payroll tax revenue and create an $8 billion deficit. Those findings were disputed by Amendment 69 supporters like the Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care. Estimates also varied about whether Coloradans would pay more or less for health coverage under ColoradoCare than they currently do.
So we can't look at the positive Sanders numbers in the spring and use that to assess how he'd have done in the fall. We'll just never know.