Somewhere near the top of the mountainous volumes of presidential campaign post mortem nay saying, arm chair quarterbacking, told you so blather, and so-called scientific political analysis of why Clinton lost is the assertion that Clinton rival, Bernie Sanders, would have handily beaten Trump. That's said because Sanders seemingly had the same message as Trump; anti-Wall Street elite, rip the big banks, and globalization for the havoc its wreaked on blue collar workers, and the Rust Belt, and a thumb his nose at the party bosses and the Beltway political crowd. This supposedly made him irresistibly appealing to the angry, alienated, less educated blue collar and rural throng that powered Trump's win. This is nothing more than bitter, after the fact wishful thinking that ignores too much.
Trump massaged, manipulated, and ultimately commandeered the media. He turned his political campaign into a three-ring traveling reality TV media circus. The result: he spent bare pennies for much of the campaign on media ink and face time while the mainstream networks crawled all over themselves to transform every Trump belch, yawn, and one line bluster into instant news, looped hour after hour. This was ratings manna from heaven and swelled the coffers of the networks. Trump as master of the one liner absurdity was their cash cow. Sanders had no such facility or appeal. In the months that he slugged it out with Clinton, he was at best at best a media afterthought, and at worst and oddity, or mostly ignored. He would have fared no better during a general election showdown with Trump in getting the massive media attention Trump got, and remember he didn't have a fraudulent email scandal to draw some network chatter.
Trump muscled his way to the top of the GOP presidential contender pack with his outrageous, unabashed, racial, Muslim, immigrant and woman baiting cracks, digs and broadsides. It worked because the less educated, white male and female blue collar and rural voters didn't simply fume at being allegedly marginalized or ignored while Democratic Party elites bowed and scraped to minorities, women and immigrants. They fumed at immigrants, Muslims and minorities for their alleged marginalization. If they were losing jobs and companies were fleeing America's shores for China, Mexico, or anywhere else, then blame those non-white countries for it.
Sanders by contrast was a progressive Independent-Democrat which made him a politician in a party that many blue-collar workers saw as bowing and scarping to those same minorities, women, and immigrants that supposedly were snatching jobs away from suffering whites. He reinforced their deep suspicion of racial pandering by left politicians like him when he railed against mass incarceration of blacks, spoke favorably of Black Lives Matter, and demanded sweeping criminal justice system reforms that too many conservative whites smacked of pro-Black, anti-law enforcement.
It's true Trump told the GOP establishment to take a hike, and at times hammered it in speaking to his idolatrous pro-Trump throngs. Sanders pretty much did the same to the Democratic establishment. But there was one major difference. Trump was a long standing known quantity among that establishment, in the corporate business world, and with legions of Americans through his media presence. Sanders did not have that built-in advantage. Before he hit the trail against Clinton, he was an obscure senator from a small state, little known outside the senate and a circle of left radicals. It's problematic at best whether Sanders could ever have gotten much of the Democratic establishment to go full throttle in ponying up the financing and resources for a big general election campaign. While it's true that the role of big money is overplayed in political campaigns, you still need at least some of it to win.
Sanders would have needed to at least match the enthusiasm that Clinton got from black voters to offset the deaf ear he would have gotten from untold numbers of conservative white blue collar and rural voters who would not have broken from Trump for a leftist, minority pandering Democrat. He was simply too much of an unknown quantity to think that black voters would stampede the polls in big numbers for him. That was in part due to their unfamiliarity with him and in greater part to the rock-solid party traditionalism of black and Hispanic voters. They hue close to the Democrat who stands on traditional and moderately framed bread and butter issues, with special emphasis on civil rights and immigration, and who is a known quantity. There was no rush to Sanders by blacks in any of the primary bouts with Clinton. Yes, he would have gotten, as any other Democrat, the majority percentage of black votes, but the big numbers almost certainly would not have been there.
Packing arenas with tens of thousands of screaming, adoring fans, as Sanders did, looked impressive and gave the feel that there was a real winning mass movement afoot for the candidate. But his big crowds came in cities that are majority minority, liberal or both, and not in the South, the Heartland of even GOP leaning suburbs.
The notion that Sanders would have beaten Trump is a nice feel good fantasy, but nothing more.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio-one. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Pacifica Radio. He is the author of How "President" Trump Will Govern (Amazon Kindle).