Bad news for things that will inevitably happen anyway: Bernie Sanders is beating Hillary Clinton among primary voters in New Hampshire, according to a Boston Herald poll. Sanders led Clinton 44% to 37% last week, in a poll that had her leading him 44% to 8% back in March. If these trends continue, Sanders will roar into the November general with 119% of the vote. Then a 25 year-old will hijack his victory speech to promote her hashtag. But that’s all fancy, of course. Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee, and any criticism of her—to say nothing of support for Sanders or, please God, Joe Biden—is tantamount to voting Republican. You don’t want Scott Walker to be president, do you? Clinton 2016: Don’t Fuck This Up, America.
At Vox, Ezra Klein makes a pretty compelling argument that Sanders voters are a lot more enthusiastic than Clinton voters. While 51% said they could support Clinton and only 35% said they were excited about her candidacy, 44% said they were excited about a Sanders candidacy, and 36% said they liked his ideas but didn’t think he could beat a Republican in the general.
Winning that general is the important thing, of course. The Democratic nominee should not merely be an expression of what Democrats like; that’s how Republicans lose general elections. But nor should she be (editorial content ahead) a joyless triangulation of least bad outcomes whose primary appeal is her marriage to a president we remember fondly. That kind of president would be a bummer—almost as much of a bummer as a Republican.
Herein lies Clinton’s appeal: she has convinced the Democratic electorate that their choice is between her and a Republican. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, in many ways, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Bernie Sanders, avowed socialist, could be a bridge too far for the unaffiliated American voter. But let us consider, for a moment, how the GOP has responded to candidates far from the center.
The short answer is they love ’em. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but the current Republican front-runner is Donald Trump, who has responded the right-left divide in America by going way, way under it. But perhaps he somehow will not win, in which case you can take your pick from among Marco Rubio (supports giving 13th Amendment rights to fetuses), Ted Cruz (shut down federal government during his first term in office), Scott Walker (compared teacher’s union to ISIS), and Rand Paul (same political philosophy as stoned fraternity treasurer.)
The last election cycle looked much the same. In 2012, the GOP briefly loved Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and, for a few giddy days, Rick Santorum. All these people were comparably far from center to Sanders. Unlike Democrats, however, Republicans consider their extreme candidates very promising—even though they, too, wound up nominating safe choices the party wasn’t very excited about.
And they lost. Mitt Romney was the candidate fewest Republicans objected to in 2012, and he got trounced by a black man. I submit that is a bigger handicap among non-Democratic voters than being a socialist, when the socialist has a (D) after his name. But I digress. The point is that A) electability doesn’t seem as important to Republicans as to Democrats at this stage in the process, and B) hoping your nominee will have more appeal outside the party than in it proved a poor strategy in the last election, and arguably in 2008.
Hillary might be Democrats’ Mitt Romney. Her connections are the Democratic equivalent of wealth.1 Her centrist positions and career in politics promises more of the same—a dubious offer not just for the party faithful but also for the general public.
The Democratic Party is not a red-hot brand right now. Its policies appeal to many more people than the Republican platform, though. Why blunt the policy message with a centrist candidate and try to sell the Democratic brand? If we present voters with a bland Republican and a bland Democrat, they might easily go Republican because it’s a more exciting operation. Bland Republican versus wild-haired socialist, on the other hand, might be just the kind of choice America needs to make us pursue the change we keep saying we want.
Mostly, though, I don’t want a president’s wife to become president—just like I don’t want another president’s son to, either. Sanders 2016: This Isn’t the Philippines.