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Sanders would've beat Trump in 2016 — just ask Trump pollsters

Sanders would've beat Trump in 2016 — just ask Trump pollsters
© Greg Nash

As Democratic leaders and strategists consider how they should campaign in the crucial midterm elections of 2018, they would be wise to consider why so many polls throughout 2016 showed that Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee 2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states After Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward MORE (I-Vt.) would have decisively defeated Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE in a general election contest.

My view, stated throughout the 2016 campaign, was that whether one supported Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWoman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Trump: CNN, MSNBC 'got scammed' into covering Russian-organized rally Pennsylvania Democrats set to win big with new district map MORE or Bernie Sanders in the presidential primaries, it was vital that all Democrats fully understand why Sanders ran so far ahead of Trump in polling — usually by double digits — and markedly stronger than Clinton in match-up polling against Trump.

As reported recently in The Hill, Trump’s own pollster, Tony Fabrizio, stated flatly at a recent Harvard University Institute of Politics event that Sanders would have beaten Trump. He said Sanders would have run stronger than Clinton with lower-educated and lower-income white voters. I could not agree more, on both counts.

The real working-class hero candidate was always Sanders, not Trump, who has always been a crony capitalist pretending to be a populist.

Watching Trump’s approval rating fall steadily throughout 2017 to numbers that are alarming to GOP leaders and strategists, it is increasingly obvious that the Trump base is locked into a number lower than 40 percent and that it has continued to decline as the voters Fabrizio spoke of began to peel away from Trump’s base.

There are two fundamental lessons from the strong Sanders performance throughout 2016 and his continuing favorable ratings in polls that tower over Trump’s. First, Sanders genuinely fights for the economic interests of poor and working-class voters with a sincerity and passion that voters know is real.  

If Trump bears false witness on a regular basis, Sanders tells the truth as a matter of habit. As Sanders fights for lower insurance premiums and better health care with passion and conviction, the various health-care plans from Trump and Republicans were an epic political disaster that were widely detested and disapproved by voters.

While Sanders fights for workers and consumers, Trump is seeking to systematically destroy the wise regulations of Wall Street that were created under President Obama after the great financial catastrophe that plagued the nation under the previous Republican president.

The second important lesson of the strong Sanders approval ratings is that the next realigning majority in American politics will be a progressive majority, with policies that will bear strong resemblance to the policies offered by Sanders — not the crony capitalist vision of government offered by Trump and his GOP allies in Congress.

This is why Sanders leads Trump by large margins in public approval. This is why Democrats lead Republicans by large margins in generic polling ahead of the 2018 midterms.

This is why the Democratic platform ratified during the Democratic National Convention in 2016, which was forged with support from Clinton and Sanders, offers an ideal guide to Democrats running in the 2018 midterms, in red and blue states alike.

Fabrizio was right that white voters with lower income and lower education, who were fooled into voting for Trump in 2016, would have voted for Sanders and will support Democrats for the House and Senate in 2018.

America is a far more progressive nation than most pundits understand. They are waiting for the next great progressive Democratic president, whoever he or she may be. That person will lift the nation after the Trump nightmare ends and the post-Trump America begins in earnest in 2018 and 2020.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.