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A Contrary View on Party Unity


In the scenario in which Bernie wins the Dem nomination, I think you rightly anticipate that this will so piss off some of the “people who identify with the party of Obama or Pelosi or Clinton” that they will refuse to rally around Sanders — even though that same party itself nominated him (that’s the stipulated hypo). And yet the tone of this paragraph treats this reaction as a poison attributable to Sanders, particularly if he campaigns in the general in a way designed to reach people who are not Democrat-identified b/c they are suspicious of the party system. But why (in anticipation) blame Sanders for that reaction? Why not blame the establishment Dems who are more pissed about losing control of their party than they care about beating Trump? After all, in the not-Sanders scenario, you’re not blaming the not-Sanders nominee for alienating Sanders voters by tacking to the center (even further than they are in the primary), which of course they would.

A Biden/Klobuchar/Bloomberg/Buttigieg winner would pivot in the general in a way that sacrifices the left, and Sanders would pivot in the general in a way that sacrifices the Dem establishment while energizing the left. Those are just the two different strategies for winning the general. One appeals to left/right centrism, the other appeals to anti-establishment sentiment that doesn’t track the left/right spectrum. If establishment Dems lose in the primary, they have no more entitlement not to have the nominee throw them to the wolves than the left wing of the party has when it (as usual) loses.

To the extent your piece is really meant to stimulate thought about which candidate would help us avoid both trainwrecks, I am sympathetic to the idea that Warren provides the best answer. That should be a point directed BOTH to people who prefer Sanders over Warren from the left AND to people who prefer Biden/Buttiegieg/Bloomberg/Klobuchar from the right.

Finally, the real analytical puzzle here is that there may be a tradeoff between the electoral benefits of unifying Democrats and the electoral benefits of reaching independents; here I mean those who are independents not because they are moderates in the “middle” but because they are disaffected from institutions in ways that don’t track left-right. It principle it is possible that the person who stands the best chance against Trump is NOT the person who can best unify the Democratic party. Were that to be the case, then a Democrat who cares more about the country than about their party should nominate the person most likely to defeat Trump. The combination of the low ceiling on Sanders’ support within the party and the polling that consistently shows him very strong in the general suggests that this is at least a possibility. But it is an empirical question to which we don’t know the answer. Unfortunately, it is the most important question facing Democratic primary voters.

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.