Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign on Wednesday, which caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth among his fanatical supporters but was largely overlooked by most of the country.
Once a front-runner in the Democratic primary after race after wins in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, he was largely knocked out of contention after a string of losses to former Vice President Joe Biden, and since then the primaries have been mostly postponed by the coronavirus and mostly ignored by the media, so Sanders’ departure wound up getting less press coverage than the death of a minor figure from the Lewinsky scandal way back in President Bill Clinton’s administration. There were a few think pieces about how self-described socialist Sanders’ two failed attempts to win the Democratic nomination succeed in dragging the party further to the left, but we think they overstate his influence.
Both campaigns ended with Sanders losing to severely flawed centrists from the Democratic establishment, and although such far-left acolytes as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won in the mid-terms the Democrats won back a majority of the House of Representatives mostly because of centrist candidates who did well with the college-educated suburbanites who have deserted the Republican party in droves since the election of President Donald Trump. Biden wound up winning a majority of Democratic votes because even some Democrats who liked Sanders’ policy positions worried he couldn’t win in a general election.
Our guess is that they were right, and the Democrat party dodged a bullet when Sanders faltered. Trump was eager to run against socialism and so worried about Biden that he got himself impeached trying to dig up dirt on him, and for all of his undeniable flaws Biden will be a more formidable opponent. Sanders fanatical supporters argued that he could beat Trump by bring out young voters and a multi-ethnic working class coalition that have typically abstained from voting, but they didn’t show up in the primaries and probably wouldn’t have in a general election.
Trump got a small bump in his approval rating when the coronavirus came along, but it was smaller than the rally-’round-the-flag bumps that previous presidents saw in times of national crisis. President Jimmy Carter saw a bigger bump after the American embassy workers in Iran were taken hostage after the Islamic Revolution, but by the time election day came around the the embassy staff were still in captivity it was one of the big reasons that he lost to President Ronald Reagan by a landslide. The latest polling shows Trump’s approval rating back in the low-to-mid 40s, where it’s been since the day he took office, and if the coronavirus continues to kill and keep much of the American population in captivity on Election Day it will probably be even lower.
For now Biden is unable to campaign except on the internet, and for now a lot of Sanders fanatics are vowing to sit out the election or vote for the Green Party or the Socialist Party or the Communist Party or some other option, but we expect that the Democrats’ loathing of Trump will ultimately unite the party. Trump will continue to blame President Barack Obama and certain Democratic governors and the World Health Organization and his erstwhile pal and Chinese dictator Xi Ping for the lack of testing and medical supplies that have exacerbated the toll of the coronavirus, but he’ll find it hard to blame Biden, who has been happily out of the news ever since it started.
The stock markets had a pretty good day when investors learned that Sanders wouldn’t become America’s first avowedly socialist president, but that also suggests they weren’t at all terrified that Biden might win. It’s long time between now and Election Day, and things could change, but for now Biden sees to have a very good shot at beating Trump.
— Bud Norman