Members Only | February 25, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Can Black Dems Trust a Wild Card?

Some white voters will pick a real fascist over fake socialist.

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Bernie Sanders says his progressive policies and no-holds-barred campaign will bring nonvoters into the national electorate, resulting in what he dubs “a revolution.” But so far, the numbers haven’t borne that out, according to a new analysis by the Times.

“Despite a virtual tie in Iowa, a narrow victory in New Hampshire and a big triumph in Nevada, the first three nominating contests reveal a fundamental challenge for Mr. Sanders’s political revolution: He may be winning, but not because of his longstanding pledge to expand the Democratic base,” wrote Sydney Ember and Nate Cohn.

Some white voters can be expected to pick the devil they know over “the devil” they don’t.

Contrary to expectation (mine included), Sanders is making headway with Democrats, not nonvoters. He’s so far reshaping the party more than he’s reshaping the electorate.

In fairness to Sanders, most people are still tuning out. Primaries and caucuses are what partisans pay attention to, not normal people with things to do other than pay attention to politics. Attitudes and interests will be different come Election Day.

It’s still a bad omen. Sanders is asking a lot of Democrats of color in saying trust me they’ll show up. Nonvoters usually don’t show up. Young people usually don’t show up. The “working poor” usually don’t show up. People who don’t believe voting relieves their daily suffering usually don’t show up. Why should we trust such a claim?

I tend to believe the Democratic nominee will have the same coalition Hillary Clinton had in 2016. He or she is going to have the same support. He or she is going to win the same states. That’s the baseline for the party’s nominee—regardless of who it is. The nominee’s job is building up the baseline just high enough to defeat the president. For this reason, choosing among candidates is mostly academic. Vote blue no matter who.

Sanders is a wildcard, though. He’s not a real socialist, but he has indeed branded himself as such. We can expect voters to take him at his word. We can expect older white voters to equate his socialism with Godless totalitarianism. We can expect many of them to believe the Republican allegations against a scapegoat and a boogeyman.

Some voters chose Clinton over the president though they’d ordinarily vote for the Republican. They broke ranks due to Donald Trump’s overt bigotry—toward women, toward Muslims, toward pretty much everybody. As Trump appealed to the petty resentments of the petty bourgeois, he drove some Republicans into Clinton’s arms.

Sanders has potential to reverse that. His call for higher taxation—for higher material sacrifice from the affluent—is going to chase some of them away. They will, in other words, pick a real fascist over fake socialist. This isn’t cynicism. This is the way it is.

It isn’t just affluent suburban voters I’m talking about. Fact is, bigotry is so normal as to be invisible—to the white people who benefit from it. Most Americans generally have no idea what actual socialism is, either, but these are hardly the same thing. Americans, especially older white Americans, were weaned on anti-communist rhetoric. They don’t have to be affluent to be allergic to Sanders’ velvet-soft socialism.

These voters can be expected to pick the devil they know over “the devil” they don’t.

And it isn’t just swing voters I’m talking about. With Sanders, white liberals will be in play. Take seriously what The Root’s Michael Harriot said: “What a lot of white liberals fail to realize is that a lot of their skinfolk know Trump is a lying, dumb, corrupt, inept president. However, he hasn’t materially affected their lives in any way. Those people would quickly vote for a regular, run-of-the-mill moderate Democrat over Trump.

But when you talk about raising taxes, upsetting the status quo and redistribution of wealth, white America gets a little nervous, which makes black America very nervous. When white America gets a cold, black folks get the coronavirus.

So it’s not so much that Sanders can bring nonvoters into the national electorate to defeat Trump. It’s that he must. He must bring in more voters than he chases away.

And it’s not so much a question of whether Democrats of color like Bernie Sanders’ progressive ideas. (As Harriot said, black Americans have been fighting for some of the same policies for decades.) The question is whether they should trust a wild card.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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