DEFCON 2

The grand pooh-bahs of the DNC are about to break into full panic mode. 

When Nancy Pelosi pointed her impeachment gun at President Donald Trump she shot former Vice President Joe Biden in the heart. Unforced errors like that one, combined with a disgruntled primary electorate has put Bernie Sanders (D. Rolling Stone) in a strong position to capture the Democratic presidential nomination. And he is not even a Democrat. 

Sanders supporters (better described as a fan base) comprises somewhere between 25% to 30% of the Democratic primary electorate. Moreover they are intensely loyal and consider themselves part of a movement. Attendees do not go to Sanders rallies to be convinced; they are already convinced. That is why a Sanders rally has the look and feel of a religious revival meeting. 

The Sanders base is an odd mix of resentment and misplaced idealism. It includes blue-collar working class voters, students and young college educated voters. They are overwhelmingly white. 

Sanders working class supporters, like Trump’s, firmly believe that they have been screwed over by “elites”. His young supporters, especially students and recent college graduates are enamored by his championing “democratic socialism” largely because (1) they have no idea what socialism really is, democratic or otherwise, and (2) they would like to have their college loans forgiven. 

But the Sanders loyalist base does not include include older voters, especially those over age 65 who have displayed a good deal of hostility to the Sanders movement. Not only are these voters old enough to remember the cold war, they understand what socialism really is. They grew up reading George Orwell’s 1984; they remember Britain’s winter of discontent; they saw the depredations of Castro, Mao and Pol Pot; they saw the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, waited on gas lines and saw the Berlin Wall crumble. They did not grow up with trigger warnings or win participation trophies. Which is to say, they actually grew up. 

These factors suggest that Sanders has a strong floor of support at around 25% to 30% of the Democratic primary electorate. It also suggests that his support has a rather low ceiling that will be hard to break through. With the Democratic field splintered, a loyal support base of 25% to 30% may be enough for Sanders to win a plurality of pledged delegates to the Milwaukee convention and then the nomination. 

That’s why the DNC is headed for full fledged panic. The main mission of political parties is to win elections. That requires assembling coalitions and getting them to the polls on election day. Here, the Democrats have a structural problem that is in many ways reminiscent of the one faced by Republicans in 2016.  The nominally Republican nominee (Trump) wasn’t really a Republican, but he was able to win the nomination because his hard core of support held firm while the conventional candidates split the remaining (majority) of the vote. He was only able to win the general election (again with a minority of the vote) because (1) the distribution of the votes favored him in the electoral college by the barest of margins and (2) the Democrats succeeded in nominating the worst possible candidate (Hillary Clinton) who ran a terrible campaign and in so doing managed to unify Republicans against her. 

Now consider two possibilities. First, Bernie Sanders gets the Democratic nomination; or second, somebody else does. Under either scenario it is difficult to see how the Democratic nominee unifies the party to win the general election. 

Let’s suppose that Bernie Sanders gets the nomination. Remember, his core supporters tend to be younger, many are students or already have college degrees; they are friendly to the idea of “democratic socialism”. In addition, a lot are blue collar workers without college degrees. And they tend to be Caucasian, although that could change. The problem that the Democratic nominee faces, whether or not it is Sanders, is that the constituencies that make up the Democratic Party are at war with each other. 

Consider the left-wing obsession with race, class and gender. Older Democrats were inspired by the rhetoric of Dr. Martin Luther King who spoke of the content of man’s character as opposed to the color of his skin. Try that one now with fans of intersectionality with its elaborate rules for considering the proper pecking order for victimology. Elizabeth Warren, one of the most vocal proponents of identity politics, an outgrowth of intersectionality, promised that her choices for Education Secretary would be vetted by a “trans person”.  How do you think that will fly with middle class, midwestern families? 

Now consider all the free stuff that the party is promising to deliver. Start with forgiveness of college loans. It’s easy enough to see why college students with loans (most of them) are in favor of this. But when you look at the underlying numbers a different story emerges. That story has to do with the size and distribution of loan balances. The mean loan balance is about $32,000, which is not all that burdensome considering the difference between lifetime earnings potential of degree holders versus non degree holders. More importantly the median loan balance is only about $13,000. The wide difference between the mean and median is explained by a relatively small number of students who owe very large balances ($100,000 – $200,000). But those balances are often due to large loans taken out to finance expensive graduate and professional eduction at top institutions, like for instance, Harvard Law School. 

Which begs the question: Why is a bus driver supposed to be taxed in order to facilitate the  graduate education of somebody else’s kids at the nation’s elite universities? There is no good answer to that question.

Then there is the race question. The Democratic Party has long been home to a majority of non-white voters. In the past liberal Democrats looked for ways to expand opportunities for minority citizens. That was before the days of intersectionality which necessarily demands a constant search for victims and oppressors. The problem is that (1) the Democratic Party is home to both the alleged victims and their alleged oppressors, and (2) the gradations of victimhood and oppression are constantly changing  depending on the latest woke fashion. After all, it is reasonably difficult to form a coalition comprised of “victims” and “oppressors” when there is no such thing as shared interests. There is only identity, and that is not transferable. Any attempt to coalesce around common goals and values simply leads to cries of “co-option” and false consciousness. Similarly, attempts to integrate new customs and styles results in complaints of cultural appropriation.

The Democratic majority has little use for all this; they are grown-ups. But the party is being driven by left-wing radicals who have a very strong grip on maybe 25% of the Party’s primary voters. Further, there is a philosophical problem with modern liberalism that makes the Party’s electoral situation rather dire. The fundamental problem is that modern liberalism has no limiting principle. Whatever a “moderate” Democrat proposes, Bernie Sanders, the Squad and the rest of the progressive caucus can just do them one better and push further to the left. So we have the spectacle of moving from reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions to fundamentally restructuring the entire U.S. economy via the Green New Deal. Whereas the Democratic Party of yesterday vowed to keep abortion “safe, legal and rare” the new Democratic Party supports subsidizing abortion on demand at any time for any reason. Instead of financial aid for college students, let’s just forgive all accumulated debt and make college “free”. And while we are at it, why not increase social security benefits, even though the program is already insolvent? 

So here we are. Serious contenders for the Party’s nomination, with the possible exception of Senator Amy Klobuchar, are fundamentally unserious people. And the Party’s leaders are virtually powerless to stop the suicide march to a brokered convention in Milwaukee and an electoral disaster in November. And Bernie Sanders, the likely Presidential nominee leading the parade toward the cliff is not even a Democrat. 

And the really final results from Iowa will be in any day now. 

Nice going, guys. 

JFB

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Joe Benning

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