Republican Jason Riley and Democrat William Galston express sharply different opinions of what is likely to happen with the Democratic nomination in the columns at the Wall Street Journal. Jason Riley says that Sanders will be the nominee and that the Democratic apparat will line up behind him:
The reality is that Democrats have been moving in Mr. Sanders’s direction for some time. What he’s offering the country is truth in advertising, and if he becomes the nominee, the media and political left will rally to his defense. Liberal commentators will explain away his past kind words for the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicaragua’s Sandinistas, who wowed him with “their intelligence and their sincerity.” Those who can’t quite bring themselves to defend Mr. Sanders directly will instead train their fire on his critics. Be prepared for the anti-anti-Bernie brigades.
The reactions may be predictable, but they don’t diminish the huge significance of a presidential race between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Mr. Trump’s defeat of Mrs. Clinton was a defeat of someone promising more of what the country had experienced under Barack Obama. As president, Mr. Trump has more or less pushed a traditional Republican agenda, from tax cuts to deregulation to increased military spending. He came to Washington vowing to upend the place, but his bark has been worse than his bite.
By contrast, we’ve no reason to believe that Mr. Sanders is bluffing. He’s 78 and has been drawing up blueprints for the revolution for most of his adult life. His Democratic opponents keep asking how he will pay for Medicare for All, student-loan forgiveness, a Green New Deal and all the rest. But they’re missing the point. These are not economic issues for Mr. Sanders. They’re moral issues. If you believe that cradle-to-grave government health care is a human right, or that tuition-free college should be an entitlement, the cost of providing it is an afterthought.
Mr. Sanders believes that wealth redistribution is more important than wealth creation. He believes that central planners are better allocators of resources than individuals making their own decisions in a capitalist economy. He believes that Michael Bloomberg got rich on the backs of America’s poor. Such views may have once distinguished Mr. Sanders on the political left, but that’s no longer the case. His Democratic challengers have quibbled with his methods but not with his vision. It may fall to Mr. Trump to explain why socialism isn’t simply unfeasible but foolhardy. As the economist Thomas Sowell has noted, the 20th century is full of examples—Mr. Sanders’s beloved Soviet Union and Cuba among them—of “countries that set out to redistribute wealth and ended up redistributing poverty.”
while William Galston is experiencing déjà vu:
A badly split political party nominates an unpopular establishment-wing presidential candidate, who proceeds to lose the general election. The other party’s equally unpopular nominee wins more than 300 electoral votes despite falling far short of a popular-vote majority. The defeated party’s insurgent wing then succeeds in rewriting the party’s rules to its advantage, and an antiestablishment candidate wins the presidential nomination—only to suffer one of the worst landslide losses in American political history.
Readers of a certain age will recognize this description of what befell the Democratic Party in the tumultuous years from 1968 to 1972. The question is whether history is in the process of repeating itself, as many center-left Democrats fear, with Sen. Bernie Sanders assuming the mantle of Sen. George McGovern, the furthest-left presidential nominee in modern history. The parallels between McGovern’s policies and political game plan and those of Mr. Sanders are striking.
I think it’s quite possible for them both to be right because they’re talking about different things. They both seem to think that Democrats will finally settle on Sanders for their nominee. But Mr. Riley thinks the party apparat will come into line behind him while Mr. Galston doesn’t even consider that aspect, preferring to consider whether, once nominated, Sen. Sanders will be elected or will be defeated as George McGovern was.
Let’s consider those two separately. Whether the “party establishment” will actually support Sanders depends on their assessment of what course of action is likely to preserve their phony baloney jobs, whether those jobs are their elective offices, roles in party leadership, with the media, in finance or what have you. As Mr. Riley notes, Sanders is not bluffing and, if elected, he will not be beholden to the party organization for his election. He’s not a team player and will show them no loyalty.
The party establishment has absolutely nothing to gain by supporting Sanders and much to lose if he fails.
As to whether Sanders will win or lose, progressives may comprise half of the Democratic Party but those affiliated with the Democratic Party are a smaller percentage of the electorate than at any time since FDR was elected. The difference resides in the unaffiliated voters who comprise more of the electorate than either Republicans or Democrats do. Will Sanders’s doctrinaire approach attract them or repel them? That will make the difference.