Three recent reputable post presidential election surveys tell a horrible reality. That is that Bernie Sanders’ backers helped elect Trump. According to the surveys, from 6 to 12 percent of Bernie Sanders’ voters voted for Trump. This made the difference in his razor thin election victory.
Many scream foul. They counter with five arguments to this. Let’s debunk them. One, Trump got almost 10 percent of the black vote, so why not blame them? Those votes were in heavily black, and traditionally heavily Democratic areas. Clinton handily won the vote in those areas. Trump’s black vote there was inconsequential.
Two, Democrats stayed home in large numbers. They did in comparison to their turnout for former President Obama in 2008 and 2012. However, Clinton still handily won the popular vote. This was proof that more than enough Democrats went to the polls to elect her. The problem was not their lackluster turnout, but where their votes were concentrated. They weren’t in the three states, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that ultimately tipped the election to him.
Three, eligible voters didn’t vote. True, millions of eligible voters don’t vote. But the assumption is that the bulk of the non-voters if they did vote would vote Democrat. There’s no proof of that. So, in effect their stay at home was a wash for both the GOP and the Democrats.
Four, the Sanders voting Democrats were not loyal Democrats but voted for Bernie solely because of his appeal on jobs, slamming Wall Street, and single payer health care. This is pure sophistry to say they weren’t Democrats and then leap to the claim that they somehow instantly converted to Trump’s banner. The fact is they voted for Sanders as registered Democrats, period.
Five, Clinton ran an arrogant, muddled campaign, especially in the battleground states. This is Monday Morning quarterbacking. Clinton practically camped in Pennsylvania, and as far as Wisconsin and Michigan, it was the job of state Democratic party committees to put boots on the ground there to mobilize, energize, and get Democrats to the polls on Election Day. That’s exactly what the Republican committees in those states did. The blame for that failure lay with the Democratic state committees, not just with Clinton’s campaign.
The signs were certainly there that a lot of Sanders’ backers would vote third party, write his name in, or simply stay home on Election Day. They made that amply clear with their relentless hector and harangue of Clinton as a war mongering, corporate shill, and rock-solid beltway politician. Clinton even got hit with protests by the Sanders diehards at some of her campaign stops.
However, not voting, writing in Sanders’ name, or voting third party is one thing, but voting for Trump is something far different. Some of them undoubtedly voted for him because they couldn’t stomach Clinton no matter how great the danger of putting Trump in the Oval Office. Many more voted for him because they saw some kinship between his pitch to bring jobs back to America, and his phony populist sounding talk about dredging the beltway swamp. Or, just because he looked and sounded different than the standard bunch of Democrats and Republicans. Even more, they were angered at a system that routinely dismissed, ignored, or thumbed their noses, and turned a tin ear toward increasingly strapped and put upon lower-income, workers.
Whatever the reason, it added up to a Trump win. Now the real question is did Democrats learn lessons from the Sanders’ backer’s defection to Trump? One lesson is that as rotten as Trump has been in the Oval Office, this is not enough to wipe away the anger, dissatisfaction, and fed-up with corporate dominated politics as usual from Trump’s Sanders’ voters. Those voters still must be mobilized to believe that a Democratic presidential candidate will fight to extend Sanders’ program.
That means a Democrat who will crack down on Wall Street, reinstate the Glass-Steagall firewall on the banks, fight for hard-nosed regulations on the financial industry, and even demand, as Sanders did, that the big banks be broken up. The Democrats must convince them that its candidate will fight to slap a hefty tax bill on the wealthy and major corporations and call for a single payer health care plan.
The second lesson is that the Democrats must figure out a way to duplicate the passion and fervor that Sanders instilled in his backers by moving close to his positions on Wall Street, the banks, and health care to give them enough of a reason to show up on Election Day in 2018 and 2020.
Trump and Sanders showed in their own way that a presidential candidate can have a seemingly radical program or no program at all and still fire up millions and get them to go to the polls and vote for them. The brutal reality is that many pf Sander’ backers to the eternal embarrassment of Sanders and the Democrats did help put Trump in the Oval Office. And it could happen again, if the lessons from that aren’t learned.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His forthcoming book, The Trump Challenge to Black America (Middle Passage Press) will be released in August. 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 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.