DANIEL VAUGHAN: The electability bubble elevating Bernie Sanders

Watching the Democratic primary continue to hurtle down its path with all the precision one would expect from a party with a geriatric Soviet-communism sympathizer at the wheel, I keep coming back to one point. RealClearPolitics elections analyst Sean Trende made it, and I’ve found no other line stick with me more.

He said: “It’s one thing to have a Republican attack ad run against you. It’s another thing entirely to run on a Republican attack ad.”

The difference is this: at the time, Republicans could argue that some of Barack Obama’s policies were socialist or more progressive than any prior president’s, but it was hard to make the argument that he was an actual socialist. Nothing in Obama’s past or demeanor pointed toward him actually being who the Republican caricatures made of him in attack ads.

With someone like Bernie Sanders, the exact opposite is true. Bernie is a true-believing socialist, who was there throughout the rise of the USSR, Fidel Castro, and the Chinese Communist Party — and Bernie had kind words for them all.

A Republican attack ad on Obama worked with planning and strategy. A Republican “attack” ad on Bernie Sanders requires merely hitting the play button on one of Bernie’s speeches, either from the past or present.

And it’s not just Bernie Sanders. Mike Bloomberg fits this bill, too, as the wealthy tycoon who wants power for the sake of power and will buy off or bury anyone in his path.

Trende’s remarks came in reaction to a piece by the liberal opinion journalist Jonathan Chait, who had just published an article calling the prospect of Democrats nominating Bernie Sanders “insane.” Chait pointed to several radical ideas from Bernie that anyone sane would call extreme and radical:

Sanders has gleefully discarded the party’s conventional wisdom that it has to pick and choose where to push public opinion leftward, adopting a comprehensive left-wing agenda, some of which is popular, and some of which is decidedly not. Positions in the latter category include replacing all private health insurance with a government plan, banning fracking, letting prisoners vote, decriminalizing the border, giving free health care to undocumented immigrants, and eliminating ICE.

Bernie Sanders isn’t just a socialist — he might as well have gotten dreamed up in some Republican attack ad consultant’s imagination. “Feeling the Bern” means open borders, eliminating everyone’s health insurance plan, raising taxes on everyone, and banning all sorts of things that make America a better place to live. The revolution socialists are pursuing, while they can point to some popular ideas, has some clunkers.

So why, then, are Democratic voters so tied up in knots and looking at nominating guy who looks like a straw-man version of a socialist? It’s about electability and beating Donald Trump. Michael Cohen made an interesting point on this in the Boston Globe, arguing that voters have gotten too caught up in trying to determine which candidate is the most electable:

Anecdotally, when you talk to voters, ridding the country of Trump — and finding a potential nominee for whom other people will vote — is often front and center. How will the Democratic nominee play in the Upper Midwest? Can she or he win over white working-class voters? In an era of omnipresent media coverage of the 2020 horse race, every voter has become a political analyst — speaking in the vernacular of their favorite MSNBC or CNN talking head.

We saw a version of this in 2012 when Republicans seemed myopically focused on who would beat Obama in the debates. Barack Obama was one of the most eloquent and charismatic presidents in modern history, and Republican voters focused on which candidate could match that speaking talent with voters. (Mitt Romney was somehow the answer there.)

In the 2020 race, Democrats are focused on beating Trump. The question they seem to be answering isn’t who they’d like to vote for, but rather, who they think others will vote for. And so you have these bubbles that are inflating and popping for each candidate among different voting groups over whether or not they are actually electable.

Pete Buttigieg has been the only true out-performer in this process so far. But polls looking to future states show him falling short with voters who don’t match the demographics of Iowa and New Hampshire. Amy Klobuchar also looks like a viable candidate all of a sudden, even if she hadn’t been on anyone’s radar before the New Hampshire debate and subsequent primary.

That suggests we could see more ups and downs for the candidates going into Super Tuesday as Democratic voters are thinking themselves into circles trying to figure out who another person will vote for in November. Everyone is an election analyst now — even at the ballot box.

And if you believe in the wisdom of crowds, the thing that could pop your faith in that is that Bernie Sanders has currently won the most votes so far. Sanders, the old-school communist who can be seen in tapes praising the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and communist China.

When you’ve gotten wrapped up in cable news’ version of the race, you might end up picking the person who represents some more like a Republican attack ad than a sane human.

It’s just another way in which Democrats, who spent the last four years lecturing Republicans on losing control of their party, are finding they have little control over their own faculties these days. All the problems they said were unique to Republicans in 2016 are now staring them right in the face.