[update below] [2nd update below]
I originally wrote this as an update to my previous post but am posting it separately. There was somewhat of a contradiction in my argument on Hillary and Trump—which I was well aware of while writing it and that the zealous Hillary-hater I quoted in the first paragraph indeed picked up on, expressing it in a comment on social media—which was my asserting that there is no way Donald Trump can possibly be elected president, period, but then going on to argue that Hillary would be the stronger candidate against him than Bernie. Well, if Trump’s a sure-fire loser, then it stands to reason, one may retort, that Bernie would also beat him handily, no? To push this further, one could argue that any Democratic candidate this November would beat any Republican, as in a high turnout election—i.e. high for America, meaning some 60% of the eligible electorate (≈140 million voters) going to the polls—which is almost certain this year, the Democrat will win, period, and which lucid conservatives understand; on this, see writer-pundit Mark Steyn’s analysis of the GOP’s predicament in presidential elections, “The Math and the Map.”
My response: Sure, Bernie would no doubt defeat Trump—this is what the polls, for what they’re worth at this stage, have been saying all along—but here’s my thing: A general election pitting Bernie Sanders—a self-proclaimed socialist—against a Donald Trump is so improbable, so beyond any understanding I have of American politics and history, that I cannot intellectually wrap my head around the prospect. It would be one thing to have one of the two major political parties appropriated or hijacked by an insurgent candidate who has not historically been identified with that party, but for such to happen to both parties in the same cycle just seems crazy to me. Not that I’m equating Bernie and Trump, don’t get me wrong; there is no comparison whatever between the two in terms of what they represent or on anything. But the fact is, Bernie is not a Democrat and enjoys even less institutional support in that party than Trump does in the GOP (though it is indeed the case that there is far more alarm over Trump and rejection of him inside the GOP than there is toward Sanders in the Democratic party).
Institutional support is important. Now Bernie has been in Congress for twenty-five years and, aligning with the Democratic party caucus, has made a reputation for himself as an active legislator, and who has productively worked with Republicans on issues of common concern, as the NYT’s Jennifer Steinhauer and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote this week. When it comes to political experience and accomplishments, Bernie is ten thousand times more qualified than Trump to be president of the United States. But still, the fact that he’s been an independent—not a Democrat—for his entire political career means that he knows few Democratic office holders and party officials outside Congress and his home state (the 49th most populous). As Michael Tomasky argued in a column back in January, the fact that Bernie has no roots in the party under whose label he is running—and which he is doing for reasons of pure opportunity (as one can go so much further as a Democrat than an independent)—could be a serious liability in the general election campaign, and particularly if he were to run into difficulty, as the party would not go to the mat for him. He would be bereft of institutional support. And this is not a minor matter. Facing a crazy demagogue like Trump would be one thing. But if Bernie were to arrive at the convention in Philadelphia with the nomination locked up but the Republicans in Cleveland the previous week having brokered Paul Ryan as their candidate, I would be exceedingly nervous, even anxiety-ridden, about the general election campaign in the fall. When I said in my previous post that a Bernie general election candidacy would be risky, this is what I had in mind.
And then there’s the not minor matter of the seriousness of Bernie’s candidacy—of his pretensions of actually trying to win the Democratic party nomination and being the person to square off against the Republican in November—which, I am sorry to say, I have a hard time taking seriously (I know I’ll be dragged through the mud for this and otherwise drawn and quartered, but so be it). Pour moi, Bernie is a protest candidate, who is running to make a point and influence the debate, not to actually be nominated and then elected POTUS. Bernie Sanders in the White House? I’m sorry but I simply do not see it. Hillary Clinton? Yes, I do. Totally. On this, see the column dated January 18th by The Boston Globe’s Michael A. Cohen, who expresses my qualms about Bernie better than I can.
But don’t get me wrong here. I do like Bernie, as I’ve said countless times, think his candidacy is salutary, and that he should stay in the race for as long as his money holds out, as the Hillary campaign needs his presence, so that she is not tempted to tack right in her discourse or choice of running mate. That’s Bernie’s function, IMO, and I wish him well in it.
UPDATE: Peter Dreier, who teaches politics at Occidental College, has an article (March 17th) in The American Prospect, “Paul Ryan: The GOP’s Next Presidential Nominee?” The lede: “The House speaker has said he’s not interested in the presidency, but he’s united his bickering party once before, and may do so again.”
I say that Ryan will do so again. To repeat: If Trump does not have a majority of delegates going in to Cleveland, he won’t get the nomination. Ryan will be the man. And the nature of the race will change. If it’s Clinton-Ryan, Clinton will very likely win. But if it’s Sanders-Ryan, I don’t know. I don’t want to contemplate it. It could end in disaster for the Dems, even if Trump launches an independent candidacy (which he may or may not do). The hugely funded Republican attack machine would shred Bernie into pieces and, for reasons spelled out above and in the previous post, it is doubtful he would respond in kind (even if he had the means to do so, which he won’t). So let’s not go there.
2nd UPDATE: Paul Ryan has declared (April 12th) that he will not accept the GOP nomination if offered. His announcement sounds categorical and definitive. This makes sense, one supposes, as accepting the nomination in a chaotic, brokered convention would be a fool’s errand and likely tarnish his reputation among many Republicans. He is likely counting on the GOP holding the House even with a landslide Trump defeat and has thus decided to bide his time for 2020. Voilà.