Bernie Sanders, the junior senator for Vermont, is that rare thing in American politics – a self-described socialist. He’s also challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and doing surprisingly well.
Noah Rothman takes up the story in a fascinating piece for Commentary:
“Clinton has campaigned aggressively for a nomination that should, by rights, already be hers. She has contorted herself wildly, recanted her past policy preferences, and all but condemned her husband as a sellout to the cause; all in pursuit of the elusive support of the liberals who robbed her of the nomination once already. And, yet, that seemingly unnecessary posturing has not solidified her support among Democrats. In fact, it appears to be ebbing.”
With no mainstream challengers, Hillary Clinton’s bid for the nomination was expected to be less of a campaign than a “coronation” (an appropriate metaphor for a dynastic politician). But when Sanders started drawing bigger crowds than Clinton, it was clear that things were not going to plan. He also managed to raise $3 million in the first four days of his campaign – all of it in the form of small donations. The total now stands at a remarkable $15 million.
It makes you wonder what Elizabeth Warren might have achieved. As it is, Hillary Clinton finds herself under serious pressure from the American equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn:
“A shocking CNN/WMUR survey of New Hampshire’s Democratic primary voters… revealed that the most attractive alternative to Clinton for liberals… Bernie Sanders, is surging. In the state that Clinton’s team views as her backyard, the place where she managed to stage a comeback win after Barack Obama and John Edwards stole both first and second place finishes in Iowa in 2008, Clinton secured just 43 percent support compared with Sanders’ 35 percent… Only 13 percent of Granite State Democrats said they had planned to support Sanders as recently as May.”
New Hampshire is next door to Sanders’ home state of Vermont, but the Guardian reports that he is catching up in Iowa too:
“In Iowa, Sanders’ support has soared. A Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday found that 33% of likely Democratic primary voters prefer Sanders, which brings him within 19 points of Clinton, who is polling at 52%. In May, the same poll showed Clinton leading Sanders by 45 points.”
Does the “unkempt septuagenarian socialist” (to quote the Guardian) have any chance of winning? Noah Rothman doesn’t think so, but argues that the fact that Sanders’ is a threat at all is highly significant:
“Few believe that Clinton could lose her party’s nomination, let alone to a marginal figure like Sanders. But what once looked like a coronation has become a fight. It’s clear that Democrats are simply not that enthusiastic about Clinton’s candidacy. If this trend continues, the Democratic Party will have to confront the fact that the primary process is going to yield a battered candidate who had to lurch much farther to the left in order to secure the nomination they would probably have preferred.”
More generally, the lesson is that no politician or political party – no matter how well-established they may seem – can consider themselves to be safe from the populist tide. There’s no telling who’ll get swept up and washed away next.
Fun, isn’t it?