This week, Vermont US Senator Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary. While I will not outright predict that he will win the Democratic presidential nomination, he definitely is now the frontrunner, with the most plausible path to the nomination of all the candidates.
The major factor propelling Sanders at this particular, post Iowa, post-New Hampshire moment, is the hemorrhaging of former Vice President Joe Biden’s African-American base. The perception is spreading in the African-American community that Biden is a loser, resulting in Black voters increasingly considering other candidates. Accordingly, Monday’s released Quinnipiac Poll revealed that support from Black Democratic voters for the former Vice President’s candidacy has dropped to 27% in February from 51% in December.
During that same time period, African-American support for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has jumped to 22% from 4%, and for Sanders to 19% from 13%.
Yet as I have said in recent columns, I believe that Bloomberg’s policy as mayor regarding “stop and frisk” will result in the African-American vote moving overwhelmingly to Sanders and defecting almost entirely from Bloomberg.
Sanders obtained the political silver bullet on this issue with the publication Monday night on the mediaite.com website of leaked audio tapes from the 2015 Aspen Conference, in which Bloomberg defended “stop and frisk” in downright offensive terms, speaking of “ throw them (minority youth) up against the walls and frisk them.” The following is a link to the leaked audio tapes:
I have no doubt that Sanders will use these tapes in his commercials and absolutely eviscerate Bloomberg with this information in forthcoming debates.
In New Jersey counties with large African-American populations, such as Hudson and Essex, the Aspen tapes will be disastrous for the Bloomberg campaign.
The African-American vote may well enable Sanders to win the forthcoming primary in South Carolina. If he wins in the Palmetto State, Sanders will win the primary in every state thereafter with a large African-American population. Sanders would then roll to the nomination in the July Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee and then face Donald Trump in the November presidential election.
Currently, as shown by yesterday’s Quinnipiac Poll, Sanders leads Trump nationally by a wide margin, 51 to 43. The impeachment proceedings have left Trump a deeply unpopular president.
Yet in spite of this, the current conventional wisdom is that due to the Sanders identification as a Socialist, Trump will defeat him by a landslide margin nationally, similar to Richard’s Nixon’s landslide victory over former South Dakota US Senator George McGovern in 1972.
The conventional wisdom in this case isn’t very wise. The political year of Trump disaster of 2020 in no way resembles the political year of 1972, in which Richard Nixon reached his apogee of career popularity due to his historic foreign policy triumphs. And folks, Bernie Sanders is NOT George McGovern.
In 1972, Richard Nixon enjoyed one of the most triumphal foreign policy years in the history of the American presidency. In February, 1972, he ended decades of diplomatic isolation by visiting the People’s Republic of China and establishing a communication channel with the Chinese Communist government. In May, 1972, he visited Moscow and achieved landmark agreements with the former Soviet Union, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) and first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT 1). He continued to reduce American troop levels in South Vietnam and engage in the negotiations that resulted in the treaty ending the war in January, 1973. All this happened before the revelations in 1973 of Nixon’s Watergate criminality.
These foreign policy accomplishments laid the foundation for the Nixon landslide of 1972, which Nixon would have won over any opponent. George McGovern’s political flaws widened the extent of the landslide.
For Donald Trump, the year 2020 thus far has been a period of typical Trump incompetence and mendacity. In January, Trump did direct the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani, for which he deserves credit. When the Iranians responded by launching a missile attack against a base in Iraq, however, over 100 American troops incurred traumatic brain injuries. Trump lied about these injuries, saying he “heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things” It is quite obvious that unlike Nixon in 1972, Donald Trump does not have a winning foreign policy record on which to run.
While I disagreed fundamentally with George McGovern on a number of issues, foreign and domestic, I always had a soft spot for him. He and I both studied American foreign policy at Northwestern University under the tutelage of Dr. Richard Leopold, considered to be America’s leading professor of American foreign policy history during the years 1960 through 1980.
McGovern and Sanders exemplify two entirely different candidate styles. McGovern was always very much the self-controlled academic, whether on television talk shows or at the candidate’s rostrum. By contrast, Bernie Sanders is the ultimate populist, with a remarkable ability to arouse the political passions of crowds, large and small.
Furthermore, unlike McGovern in 1972, who was a rather singular figure, Bernie Sanders commands a mass movement, with a solid core base and extended base.
And it is most interesting to compare the Sanders core base. with the Trump core base. The Trump core base is a coalition of “haves”, while the Sanders core base is a coalition of “have-nots.”
The “haves” in the Trump coalition feel that their economic security is threatened by immigrants. In order to attract and maintain this coalition, Trump conducted a campaign of unsurpassed xenophobia in 2016 and once elected, proceeded to implement a policy of unrestrained cruelty towards immigrants, particularly on our southern border.
Because Trump has delivered on immigration, he has been able to maintain intact his core base. His extended base, which is comprised basically of the rest of the Republican rank-and-file, also remains intact because of their feelings of political impotency and inability to resist the core base.
The “have nots” in the Sanders core base are motivated largely by the healthcare issue. Medicaid recipients in the Sanders coalition have concerns that their benefits will be reduced. The “working poor” Sanders supporters are concerned that their employers will reduce their coverage or cut it off altogether. Since healthcare is a universal concern, the extended Sanders base, consisting of Progressive Left Democrats, stays loyal to the cause.
Conclusion: The extended Sanders base is larger than the extended Trump base.
The major electability problem Sanders has is his identification as a Socialist. A recent Gallup Poll found that 53 percent of all Americans would not vote for a Socialist. This is the most serious obstacle to the election of Sanders.
Sanders cannot eliminate this obstacle altogether. He can, however, reduce its potency by emphasizing that the Sanders brand of Socialism is that which has often prevailed in the form of democratic social welfare states in Western Europe, rather than the “Socialism” of the Communist totalitarian former Soviet Union.
Full disclosure: I am NOT a Sanders supporter. As a committed Zionist, I find many of his positions on Israel highly objectionable. In forecasting an election, however, I try to avoid allowing my values and issue positions to cloud my analysis. And my current view is that while Trump should be the betting favorite over Sanders, a Bernie upset is far from impossible.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission