Tuesday, January 14, 2020


There is a specter haunting the Democratic Party — the specter of socialism. The party looks poised to embrace the mantle going into elections season. Just weeks out from the crucial Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders looks within striking distance of the nomination. He may even qualify as the frontrunner. Former Vice President Joe Biden, for months considered the favorite, looks wobbly.

“Socialist” is not a term of abuse from mean right-wingers. Mr. Sanders embraces the label. The septuagenarian New York native turned Vermont hippie who became mayor of Burlington, a member of the House of Representatives and finally a U.S. senator, proudly calls himself a socialist. (Though he’s quick to add that he’s of the democratic variety.) Mr. Sanders has for years praised the Cuban Revolution, and he even honeymooned in the Soviet Union. Not Russia — the Soviet Union.

According to the Real Clear Politics poll averages, Mr. Sanders is in a statistical tie for first in both Iowa and New Hampshire. In the most recent Des Moines Register poll of the state, considered the gold standard, he leads outright. The number crunchers at FiveThirtyEight give Mr. Sanders a one-in-four chance of going all the way and winning the nomination. Not just Mr. Biden, but also Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, now trail in the Hawkeye State. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, for months hyped by the media, is a non-entity in the polls. Iowa is Bernie Sanders’ to lose.

There can be no doubt that a win in Iowa would give Mr. Sanders that prized quality in American politics: “Momentum.” It was Barack Obama’s shock victory there over Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in the early days of 2008 that put him on the path to winning the Democratic nomination — and the presidency. And indeed, should Mr. Sanders win Iowa and then New Hampshire back to back, he will probably have just about KO’d his opponents. One of Mr. Biden’s electoral arguments, such as it is, is that he is “electable.” Two straight losses in Iowa and New Hampshire will put paid to that fanciful notion.

Perhaps ironically given his advanced age, Mr. Sanders’ candidacy is propelled by the young. But this may be because, despite his elderly mien, Bernie still embraces the simplistic slogans of his youth. Those include a vilification of wealth and success, a deep distrust of America’s leading role in the world and the fairy tale notion that the government can provide anything for “free,” with no problem at all. But in a Democratic primary, being the party of the young is a strength. Unlike the GOP of 2020, the Democratic vote is comprised of a large percentage of young people. Mr. Sanders is also polling in a respectable portion of the African-American vote, another crucial part of the Democratic coalition.

There are still those who chortle that there is no way a self-described socialist can win the Democratic nomination. To this there are two responses; 1) He nearly already did so, in 2016. Mr. Sanders gave Hillary Clinton the electoral scare of her life during that long and contentious primary. And 2) The Democrats are no longer the Democrats of the 1990s, when Bill Clinton preached Third Way politics. The Democrats are now largely the party of the left. Centrist candidates like Ms. Klobuchar are going nowhere.

Then there are those who chortle that should Mr. Sanders win the nomination, President Trump’s re-election will be all but assured. We would caution against this overconfidence as well. After all, remember how many Democrats celebrated when Mr. Trump won the Republican nomination, reasoning there was no way he could ever win? In this period of American politics, electorally speaking, extremism is no vice.

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