Bernie Sanders isn’t a threat to Republican candidates

By Nicholas Pappas

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announces his candidacy for President of the United States on Monday April 13, 2015, at the Freedom Tower in Miami. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/TNS)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announces his candidacy for President of the United States on Monday April 13, 2015, at the Freedom Tower in Miami. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/TNS)

The 2016 presidential election season has been nothing short of incredible. We are now under 100 days away from the Iowa caucuses and the race is becoming clearer on each side.

A new top tier has finally emerged in the Republican contest following the fall of Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and other candidates who were once thought of as favorites. The race now seems to be between Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and perhaps Ben Carson.

Similarly, the Democratic field has gone through a large consolidation as well. What used to be a five or six-person race has narrowed down to just three. Hillary Clinton’s biggest threat was neutralized when Joe Biden decided not to run, and she is left contending almost exclusively with Bernie Sanders.

But Democratic base voters need to realize Sanders is no more than a protest candidate for the hard left. He is limited to the support of coastal and Midwest progressive diehards, in particular a new generation of young people looking to voice their desire for a socially democratic America. This is particularly apparent here at the University of Massachusetts, where support for the Vermont senator is wide and energetic. UMass students seem to want Sanders more than any other candidate in the field.

In the same way Cruz is the pure incarnation of conservative ideology, Sanders is a pure progressive who is unwilling to compromise on virtually any issue. If Sanders were to win the Democratic Party’s nomination, the results of the 2016 general election would look a lot like 1964, 1972 or 1984. In all three election years, disgruntled base voters elected hardliners (Barry Goldwater, George McGovern and Walter Mondale, respectively) to their party’s nominations. And in all three elections, the opposing parties won in massive landslides by being perceived as the more reasonable choice.

Yes, today’s electoral map is very different from what it was decades ago. Yes, the Democratic Party has what has been dubbed a “blue wall,” meaning the safe democratic states collectively have more electoral votes than safe red states. But none of this matters if you don’t have a candidate that can seal the deal with multiple swing states to push your ticket over 270.

It is looking increasingly likely that Rubio will ultimately win the Republican nomination. The talented Florida senator is steadily rising in the polls, becoming a pundit favorite, winning more endorsements from sitting Republicans at the state and federal levels almost daily, taking more big donors from the likes of Bush, Scott Walker and others. Finally, he is also where people are putting their money in the online political betting markets.

If Sanders is the Democratic Party’s choice to face off against Rubio, it would be the closest thing to a landslide we could see in today’s political environment. The Democrats wouldn’t just risk losing swing states, they would easily see Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and other blue-leaning states go red on election night. The blue wall would come crumbling down.

Because the U.S. has a two-party system, our parties function more like large coalitions than ones in other nations. Libertarians and social traditionalists are often forced into the same party in the U.S. Those who care most deeply about environmental impact and those who want more social welfare spending are put in a similar situation. The key to winning a U.S. presidential election is therefore coalition building, and Sanders is not in the same position as Clinton to do this. Alienating working class moderates, gun-owning swing voters and other individuals who could be persuaded to vote for a centrist Democrat is a recipe for disaster. Clinton is already drifting to the left in this primary, but ignoring that and going with Sanders instead would be throwing away an election that many experts have thought for years should be easily winnable for Democrats.

As a Republican, I won’t be bothered if young leftists nominate Sanders in 2016. The contrast between a very old, more extreme, less skilled communicator and Rubio would be fantastic for the conservative party. Clinton is by no means a perfect candidate, given her corruption and trust issues, but even she would perform better than Sanders in what will be a close general election if she gets nominated.

Voters need to realize the executive branch is more influential than almost ever before. A Republican president can and will reverse many key initiatives of the Obama years unilaterally if he or she wins the White House. Perhaps young Democrats need to learn this lesson the hard way, as their party did decades ago before settling for the moderate New Democrat Bill Clinton. If so, Marco Rubio would be happy to instruct this lesson.

Nicholas Pappas is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon as hardliners. It has since been changed to the correct names.