Democrats’ Main Concern With Sanders: He’s Unelectable

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Sep 20, 2015 6:35 PM
Democrats’ Main Concern With Sanders: He’s Unelectable

Progressives are feeling the Bern. They’ve helped self-identified democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders take the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire–and his lead in the polls in those respective states is quite significant. He’s beating Clinton by 22 points in New Hampshire. Yet, Sanders’ support with members of his own party is quite low. In fact, it’s almost non-existent. The reason is what many of you could already guess: they think he’s unelectable. His fellow Democrats may respect him immensely–and what he brings to the debate table regarding policy (policy is apparently not the issue)–but he’s simply not able to clinch the voters needed to win a national election:

"No matter how well you think of Bernie — and all of us do — … when the politics of it all hits the road, I don't feel — and I feel most members don't feel — that he can be elected," said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.).

The doubts have nothing to do with policy.

Indeed, Sanders' career-long advocacy for economic and social justice — a vision of wider safety nets, higher wages, universal healthcare and corporate policing — overlaps almost directly with the policy priorities of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her liberal-leaning Democratic Caucus on Capitol Hill.

It's a convergence the Democrats have been quick to hail.

"I'm proud of what Bernie is saying out there, and it's a reflection of what we fight for here," Pelosi said last week.

And yet there remains a lingering sense among many Democrats that a Sanders' nomination would spell doom for the party in 2016 — a sentiment highlighted by the fact that not a single Democrat in either chamber has endorsed the No. 2 primary contender.

"Bernie Sanders is raising some issues that are important," Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip and a Clinton supporter, told reporters last week. "But I don't think there's an expectation that's he's going to be president of the United States."

The dynamics surrounding Sanders' campaign present Democrats with an uncomfortable question: If the candidate trumpeting the party's agenda most loudly and clearly is unelectable, what does it say about the agenda, itself?

The article added that Rep. Hastings supports Sanders’ economic agenda, but is aware of other liberal (or in Sanders’ case … far left) candidates who got decimated for their views on such matters. George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, and Ralph Nader were the examples Hastings cited, with the latter being blamed for the Democratic defeat in the 2000 presidential election. Yet, in that case, it was all policy. Nader didn’t cost Gore the election, it was his record on the Second Amendment that deprived him of winning Arkansas, West Virginia, and Tennessee–three states that would have guaranteed Al the presidency, even with Bush winning Florida.

Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Alan Grayson (D-FL), and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) were more receptive to Sanders’ candidacy. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) even said that he might throw some of his support Sanders’ way, even though he’s endorsed Clinton.

Then again, unless Sanders does better with nonwhite Democrats, with whom he’s virtually unknown, this surge could stop very quickly after New Hampshire.