Opinion by: Krystal Ball
Well Saagar, as you were just discussing, The New York Times just ran a big article on their swing state general election head to head polling. And here’s the headline: “One year from election, Trump trails Biden but leads Warren in battlegrounds” missing, as usual, is any mention of the candidate with the most donors and the biggest rallies, one Bernard Sanders.
Now, if you read the article, you would find that according to that New York Times polling, Bernie is even with Trump nationally, beats him in Michigan and is essentially tied in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Bernie outperforms fellow progressive Warren in every swing state save Arizona. Now, you might think, that the fact that the guy who confidently embraces the term Democratic socialist, a term which we have been assured for decades is certain electoral death, is doing better than media darling Warren and is not far behind Mr. Electability himself Joe Biden, would be fairly headline worthy. But of course, the remarkable fact that everything we have been led to believe about electability is wrong did not work with the simplistic narrative the times was selling that Warren was unelectable because she’s too far left.
Or, you could take this Texas general election head to head poll. Now, this one doesn’t have great news for Democrats overall. It finds all of them falling short of Trump. But the one who comes closest is Green New Deal loving Medicare for All pushing Bernie Sanders. He even outperforms native son Beto O’Rourke. These polls are especially noteworthy since there’s reason to believe Bernie’s coalition is particularly hard to poll. His whole strategy hinges on turning out new young voters and working class infrequent voters. Those folks aren’t likely to show up in a pollsters likely voter model and may not even be registered yet. Kind of sits awkwardly with the narrative we are always, always hearing that to win you have to run to the center so again, rather than deal with that it’s easier just to press ignore.
Now, the conventional wisdom axiom of electability is simply that the further left a candidate is the less electable. This is just obviously incorrect. Just look at Sanders, certainly the furthest left candidate we have had in recent history polling quite well against Trump. Or alternatively, consider Hillary Clinton or Al Gore or John Kerry, all paragons of centrist virtue, none president of these United States.
So, what then is a new working theory of electability? First of all, humans are really quite bad at analyzing facts and data. Plans and math and rationality are just simply not our strong point though Yang gang I certainly appreciate your commitment to such things! We do however have a highly attuned bullshit detector. That’s why breaking the cardinal rule of politics and admitting that you will in fact raise middle-class taxes a la Bernie Sanders is forgivable and weaseling around before finally settling on a plan that gets you off the hook of having to say those unpalatable words is really not. Better to say something that voters don’t like than to say some bullshit. This is frankly part of Trump’s appeal. He says all kinds of crazy stuff no one would tell you to say but people read that as being honest simply because of the fact that you shouldn’t say it. It’s kind of like the socialist label. Every political consultant would tell you to take the Warren route and call it economic patriotism or capitalism for those who want it or whatever just as long as you don’t use the s-word. Bernie’s authentic embrace of it is appealing because it reads as honest rather than typical politician weaseling.
So that’s one element, but I will say ideology is not irrelevant. And this is the part where the media and the Democratic establishment are particularly confused. Meet Mr. Leon Cooperman. He’s a billionaire who’s been in a weird ongoing fight with Elizabeth Warren because she believes in taxation but I can assure you, he also has no use for Bernie Sanders. Just listen to his latest comments explaining how wonderful and great and productive billionaires are such that they most certainly deserve the rewards of having more money than one could spend in a lifetime while working class Americans are treated as inhuman disposable cogs who apparently deserve misery, struggle, and addiction.
Let me be clear, there is no amount of leftist bashing of this man and his ilk, which would not be popular. You could not possibly be too radically aggressively opposed to this man and everything he stands for. It is all justified, needed and, by the way, it’s electoral gold. This translates both into policies that help the working class obtain some modicum of the dignity that he believes they are unworthy of and policies that are directly punitive of him. Like a wealth tax for an example. Is a wealth tax feasible? Probably if properly implemented but that’s really not the point. The electoral point is that it is a delightful part of a populist soak the rich agenda that garners mass support across the ideological spectrum. As part of Pelosi’s clueless comments deriding Medicare for All and other progressive priorities, she specifically commented that while a wealth tax may be popular in a liberal enclave like San Francisco, she found it hard to believe it would go over well in the rust belt. Wrong wrong wrong. The wealth tax is a class focused policy and as such will be far more popular in working class strongholds like the Midwest than in the wealthy liberal enclaves where Pelosi resides.
More electorally challenging are the liberal cultural issues that wealthy liberals like Pelosi are much more comfortable with. These are the types of policies which won’t affect the bottom line of the wealthy and their allies in the striving upper middle class. Now I’m not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t be in the right place on these issues, but if you lead with them or if your liberalism is the Beto O’Rourke model of basically virtue signaling plus letting the rich continue to win their class war unabated, you will fail just as hard and as fast as Beto did. Or think about Kamala announcing her gender pronouns at a CNN town hall and embracing a plastic straw ban, while failing to prosecute Steve Mnuchin’s bank for foreclosure fraud. On the other hand, everyone knows, well everyone who isn’t an obnoxious hater knows, that Bernie Sanders supports the LGBTQ community, but I’d fall over if I heard him announce his gender pronouns. He simply doesn’t go through the motions of performative elite woke signaling. Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, has her pronouns in her Twitter profile. So look, there’s no exact formula to any of this, but in general my rules of thumb for electability are this: Listen to your B.S. detector, embrace class war, and tread lightly with the woke signaling. Something tells me I’m not going to see that in a New York Times headline any time soon.