Bernie and the Donald

teleSur English, September 12, 2015

United States voters could provide bases for more than the nation’s two reigning state-capitalist political organizations – the Republicans and the Democrats – if the country moved to a multiparty political and elections system. Imagine an expansion to four relevant parties, including one to the democratic-socialist left of the Democrats and one to the proto-fascist right of the Republicans. For the people who would stay with the Democrats, look at presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s backers and those who might support Joe Biden. For the people who would stay with the Republicans, look at those who support establishment Republican candidates Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie.

For many who would join the new Left party, look at the very liberal and left-leaning Democrats who are turning out for Bernie Sanders’ big rallies against the wealth and rule of “the billionaire class” in the U.S. They would be joined by others to their left, including many people of color, under a system in which the leftmost party could break (as the Democratic Party and Sanders today cannot) from support for U.S. military empire and white privilege deeply understood.

As for the imaginary new right party, it would include many of those who back arch-reactionary contenders like Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum. But the best place to see this ugly base in action is a Donald Trump rally. There you behold thousands of angry middle and working class whites cheering a militaristic, misogynist, eco-cidal, and proudly anti-intellectual brute who claims he will “make America great again” by facing down “our enemies” and building a giant wall to protect “real Americans” from murderous “illegal immigrants” and their nationally illegitimate “anchor babies.” The Trump sensation carries a serious whiff of neo-fascistic white-nationalism.

But back to the really existing U.S. party system. Sanders’ hopey-changey enthusiasts like to cite polls showing that Bernie trumps “The Donald” in mock head-to-head elections. Of course he does: Sanders’ positions and rhetoric are consistent with longstanding majority-progressive, left-leaning public opinion in the U.S. The loutish billionaire Trump has a remarkable 60 percent plus “unfavorable” rating among registered voters (Sanders’ favorable rating is unusually high, by contrast).

But so what? Sanders and Trump won’t be facing off in November of 2016. Neither of the two big “outsider” stories of the U.S. presidential campaign at this early stage can win their party’s nomination. At first blush, Trump’s chances might seem better than Sanders’. The Donald is leading the Republican candidate pack in the polls, while Hillary Clinton maintains a considerable polling margin over Sanders (most of the latest polls have Hillary besting Bernie 50 to 25 among likely Democratic voters). The Republican establishment candidate field is split between a large number of candidates, with none of the top three (Bush, Walker, and Rubio) showing much popularity, whereas the Democratic establishment and money congealed around Hillary some time ago (though there is admittedly now some apparently serious talk about a late entry by Vice President Biden, who polls at 15%). And of course, the nation’s corporate media predictably hangs on media celebrity Trump’s every idiotic and random word and gesture while it goes to remarkable lengths to ignore and downplay the significance of Sanders’ carefully constructed progressive campaign.

In reality, however, Trump’s chances of becoming the GOP nominee are slim to none. Polling data in the summer prior to U.S. election years is notoriously non-predictive regarding major party nominations. Projecting a presidential candidate’s viability in 2016 on the basis of their polls in August 2015 is a bit like trying to base a young pitcher’s likelihood of making it to the major leagues on their earned run average in high school. Things get serious after Thanksgiving and peak in the late winter and early spring of the election year. Imagine that Trump managers to semi-miraculously get past coming steep barriers – increased critical scrutiny, heightened attention to other candidates, actual primary contests (where organization plays a critical role), candidate winnowing, and convention delegate selections – to remain to remain a major contender through the Republican Convention in the summer of 2016.

As the unmatched presidential election prognosticator Nate Silver (of the famed 538 blog) notes: “the Republican Party would go to extraordinary lengths to avoid nominating him…. [The GOP is]basically looking for two things from their nominees: They want them to be reliable (meaning, they can be counted on to enact the Republican agenda once in office), and they want them to be electable…It’s hard to think of a candidate who does worse on those two measures than Trump. He’s exceptionally unpopular among independent voters. But he also has a checkered political past that includes once having supported abortion rights and universal health care. For the Republican Party, he’s the worst of all possible worlds.”

The electability question is critical. The GOP has reason to think it may triumph next year. The sitting Democratic U.S. president’s favorability ratings are in the low 40s, something that correlates historically with a Republican victory in 2016. The Republican elite is hardly going to want to blow their big chance to complete their takeover of all three branches of the federal government by putting up a candidate with “enormous, historic, breathtaking unfavorable ratings.”

Silver gives Trump and at best 2% chance of getting his party’s nomination. So don’t (apologies to Blue Oyster Cult) fear The Donald: he’s (in his own parlance) a loser.

But Sanders’ odds are slightly better (Silver puts him at 5%), thanks to the possibilities of a Hillary implosion, but still quite small.. The Democrats’ process is similarly structured to weed out those who lack proper servility to the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money. Glassy-eyed progressive Democrats who make hopeful analogies between Barack Obama in the summer of 2007 and Bernie Sanders in the summer of 2015 betray shocking ignorance of key differences between the former and fake-progressive non-Hillary candidate and the latter, actually progressive non-Hillary candidate. Candidate Obama enjoyed remarkable corporate media approval. He began accumulating what would be a record setting Wall Street-funded campaign war chest more than five years prior to the 2008 presidential election. He wore the deceptive but popular (with the Democratic primary base) mantle of being the “antiwar candidate” at a time when George Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a key issue for primary voters. Sanders is far less favorably situated, to say the least.

Despite the fact that he in line with public opinion on numerous key issue, Sanders, no less than the spectacularly unpopular Trump, is a warm-up act for the real concert – electorally speaking at least

Would Sanders have a better shot against a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio in the general election than Trump would against a Hillary Clinton or Biden? Perhaps, but let’s be serious. The two major parties, the corporate-media-elections complex, and the broader system of empire and inequality that they serve are not about to let a “socialist” – even a merely nominal one who backs the U.S. imperial project like Bernie Sanders – become President of the United States. In the meantime, as Sanders himself seems to partly realize, the essential task for left activists will remain the same after as before the prolonged quadrennial presidential election spectacle, whatever its outcome: to develop militant grassroots popular movements strong enough to move the nation’s policies and political culture in a more progressive and democratic direction and ultimately to overthrow the nation’s racist, imperialist, eco-cidal, sexist, and capitalist plutocracy.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

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By | 2015-10-31T15:14:47+00:00 October 31st, 2015|Articles|