Electability. This is the mantra that exudes from the increasingly bitter contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, a mano a mano battle that is quite likely to go on until at least the end of March.
Between the two, Sen. Sanders is the one who challenges the traditional definition of “electable.” Starting with his own claim of being a “democratic socialist” – a moniker that not long ago would have disqualified any candidate in the United States – Sanders suffers from a series of handicaps that have become more apparent as the campaign unfolds.
First and foremost, his age. If Sanders were to be elected, he would be the oldest president in American history.
Second, the obvious hostility of the majority of the media. At the beginning, journalists like Chuck Todd, the anchor of Meet the Press, totally ignored him. When Sanders began to climb rapidly in the polls, the demolition work by the corporate information business came into the open and editorial boards, first and foremost at the Washington Post, aimed their guns at the Sanders candidacy. The purpose of their strident criticism, shared by the powers that be of the establishment media including the New York Times, was to nip in the bud the emergence of Bernie as the advocate of everyday Americans. As Iowa clearly showed, the decision of the editorial boards to throw their weight behind Hillary Clinton and the growing malign spin put onto Sanders’ words have exacerbated the polarizing effect in the Democratic field, where the young are ardently supporting Sanders while Clinton is faithfully backed by the older generations.
“Electability” has many components and Hillary certainly owns a good many of them, from her political savvy and experience in foreign affairs to the efficiency and wealth of her electoral machine that is the gift of the Democratic establishment. Such advantages play a big role in spreading a message of competence and reliability, but paradoxically her message appears out of date at a time when the world and particularly American society are rapidly changing.
Significantly, what made Hillary come out swinging to the point of being uncharacteristically shrill was the implication that she is not “progressive.” Again, this is a crucial contest in terms of “electability” since any deficiency as a “progressive” can sink a Democratic candidacy. To be sure, Sanders does not have the magnetic personality of a Bill Clinton or Barack Obama but compared to Hillary Clinton he is much more of a “real” person and a full time “progressive.”
One thing is sure: Wall Street is not “progressive.” It is the accusation of being a “part-time progressive” that infuriates Hillary, who is sensitive to the intimation that she is the Wall Street candidate. A simple fact check indeed proves that Hillary has received more than $17 million from PACs financed by the security and investment industry. Wall Street is unquestionably the top industry donating to her campaign while Sanders receives no contributions from such PACs.
The strength of Hillary’s candidacy is that a majority of Democratic voters regard her as the most electable candidate. On the other hand, a large enough number of Democrats find her untrustworthy. As for Bernie Sanders, he gets the benefit of support from those who look for a candidate who shares their values.
Finally, one conclusion stands out at the fizzling start of the electoral campaign, that the two surprising actors on the Republican and Democratic teams, Trump and Sanders, share a strong rebuke of their party establishment. Both are propelled by insurgent wings that are reshaping the outlook of American politics. Their electability remains to be seen, as Sanders has a difficult task ahead with black and Latino constituencies while Trump will have to spend more of his money to set up an electoral machine that does not rely on his flamboyant rhetoric but rather on the data analysis infrastructure of the type that his adversary Sen. Ted Cruz was able to field with great effect in Iowa. Come what may in the next primaries, however, it is quite extraordinary that a “socialist” and a maverick billionaire could be knocking at the door of the White House.