Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) caused quite a stir in Democratic circles when he voiced support for a Bernie Sanders 2020 run on Sunday. “I might be the first member of Congress to say it, but Bernie should absolutely run again in 2020,” Khanna wrote, “He has vision, stamina, and trust at a time when people don’t trust anyone in politics.”
His position drew predictable ire from Centrist Democrats, many of whom still argue it was Sanders’ attacks from the left that lost Clinton the 2016 election. Some Bernie supporters were also upset with the statement, arguing Democrats need to be focusing on stopping the Trump agenda and winning the House in 2018 before they begin discussing plans for the Presidency.
Should Sanders run?
If Bernie were to run in 2020, he would ostensibly be the democratic frontrunner. He has campaign infrastructure set up in all 50 states, an army of grassroots fundraisers, and the highest approval rating of any politician in the country. A recent poll by Harvard-Harris Survey showed 57 percent of Americans view the Senator favorably, including 80 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of women, and 73 percent of African Americans.
Some other names that have been floated for the nomination are Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand. All would be formidable opponents, but none would start with the wide base of support that Senator Sanders created in a 2016 election that saw him go from 2 percent in the polls to winning 43 percent of delegates. All this despite what is now irrefutable evidence that the DNC favored Clinton during the primaries.
Taking on Trump
In addition the aforementioned advantages Sanders would have coming out of the gate, he would appear to be an ideal candidate to take on President Trump.
Despite changing Demographics, white voters still make up the majority. Hillary Clinton lost white voters to Trump by 21 points. Bernie Sanders polls strong with white voters, especially working class whites. During the 2016 primaries, the Senator won 60% percent of 1,129 rural white counties.
Furthermore, Hillary Clinton struggled with young voters. In 2012, Obama had a 60%-36% advantage over Romney amount voters 18-29. In 2008, Obama won those voters 66%-32%. Clinton’s showing was much weaker, winning just 55% of the 18-29 vote. This is Bernie Sanders’ biggest strength, as he won 71.6% of the 18-29 vote against Clinton in the 2016 primaries. In contrast, a recent Quinnipiac poll showed that just 19 percent of 18-34 year olds approve of President Trump. Sanders’ would almost surely win in a landslide amongst this cohort.
Bernie’s advantages among these important voting blocs would give him a great chance to beat Donald Trump, who currently holds an abysmal 39% approval rating, 18 points below the Senators. Sanders can match Trump’s populist approach to politics, something Clinton struggled with during the primaries.
Maybe most importantly, Sanders doesn’t have political baggage. Even with the Clinton campaign working to dig up Sanders’ past, the most damaging thing they came up with was a 1985 video of the Senator praising Fidel Castro and the Sandinistas for instituting social programs in Cuba. While not a great look for Sanders, if that’s the worst skeleton in the closet, he would win the election in a landslide.
Progressive Policy is broadly popular
It’s been said in the past that America is a center right country, and that’s largely true if you look at policy outcomes. With a market healthcare system, unsubsidized education, and a tax system that favors the wealthy, we lag behind most of the industrialized world in providing social benefits to our people.
If you look at policy preferences, on the other hand, we’re a center left country and arguably a solidly left country. 60 percent of Americans support expanding Medicare to provide universal coverage, 62 percent say public college tuition should be free, 61 percent say the rich pay too little in taxes, and 75 percent support spending more money on infrastructure.
While many in Washington see Bernie’s agenda as radical, the reality is it’s largely popular with the American public. Add in Sanders’ noninterventionist foreign policy approach, and it becomes pretty clear why his approval rating remains so high.
The biggest issue for Mr. Sanders is age. Sanders is currently 75, which would make him 79 when he took office. If the Senator was a two term President, he would leave office at the ripe age of 87. The oldest President in American history was Ronald Reagan, who left office at 77, 10 years younger than a two term President Sanders.
That being said, President Trump isn’t lagging far behind Mr. Sanders. Trump is 70 years old, just 5 years younger than the Senator. If he were to be reelected to another term, he would supersede Reagan as the oldest President in history.
If Bernie were to run, it will seemingly be a tough decision for voters to determine if he is simply too old to be President. Sanders certainly doesn’t act his age, as we saw during the 2016 election where Sanders hardly took a single day off from campaigning. From debates to TV appearances to packed rallies, the Senator never showed any signs of fatigue.
The next best thing for the Bernie wing
If Sanders decides not to run in 2020 because of his age, he will nonetheless play a major role in the election. He’s going to work to push the Democratic Party to the left, and he would likely spend time on the campaign trail for the most progressive candidate. This in and of itself is going to fundamentally shape the primary, which is likely why we’ve seen Democrats of all stripe being much quicker to praise standards than they were in the primaries.
Two candidates to look out for are Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkely. Both were early endorsers of Sanders during the primaries, and both have largely made their names as prominent progressives because of it. Sanders would certainly be willing to work with both to transfer his massive e-mail lists of small dollar donors. Tulsi Gabbard could be another dark horse, but her age and inexperience would be tough to sell to the American people.
The Senator, who scolds reporters for asking about 2020 with the Trump agenda and the 2018 midterm’s right in front of us, has an extremely difficult decision to make. Whether you believe he’s the best choice for the Democrats to defeat Trump in 2020 or not, he certainly thinks so. He hasn’t been shy in arguing his agenda is what Americans want and has politely stated its “likely” he would have beaten Trump in 2016.
This is the dilemma the Senator finds himself in. On one hand, he believes he’s the best candidate to defeat a President he thinks is an imminent danger to the country and the planet. On the other, he knows that his age is going to be an enormous liability. What will he decide?