Why Bernie Sanders is our best hope

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With Super Tuesday done we’re now in a two-horse race between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination with Joe Biden now the frontrunner. Many Liberal Democrats welcome this shift which I think is short-sighted. We need Donald Trump removed from office and a clear-eyed analysis suggests that Sanders has a better shot at this than Biden.

Many US moderates believe that Sanders, as a self-described socialist in the land of the rugged individual, cannot win. But the data shows that he can. Sanders can take advantage of increasing numbers of younger voters, as well as votes lost in 2016 by Hillary Clinton to Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, in the crucial swing states of Michigan and Wisconsin to flip them back. He’s also got much greater appeal to independents than other Democrats, who will be crucial in November. So the ‘Sanders can’t win’ line is not rooted in actual evidence.

Conversely anyone who see Biden as a safe bet needs to take a much closer look. He is a legacy candidate whose success so far has been through trading on his name recognition and association with Barack Obama. Watching the Biden of just four years ago (here explaining Sanders’ appeal) underlines how much he has declined since then. Only this week he called it ‘Super Thursday’ and confused his wife with his sister at a rally. Perhaps most significantly the corruption allegations against Biden’s son Hunter – still to be fully ramped up by the Republicans- give Trump an easy reprise of the ‘Crooked Hillary’ line and will neutralise any Democrat attacks on this corrupt presidency.

Trump is more suited to a personal, vitriolic campaign against a tired establishment insider with no real agenda than a match-up with Sanders, a genuine outsider with a platform for change, and a genuinely powerful, if a bit shouty, presentational style. If coronavirus gets more serious and highlights just how much we rely on ‘big government’ to prevent disasters, then even socialism could stop sounding quite so scary.

Of course, Sanders will have every dodgy view or indiscretion from his past dredged up, and there are a few. But then, so would any Democratic candidate. In 2004 for example Karl Rove successfully smeared John Kerry’s Vietnam war record. Kerry was then seen as the safe candidate, just like Clinton in 2016, the most experienced candidate for a generation, who lost to a reality TV star with no personal redeeming features. American doesn’t go for safe. To win, you’re always better off going with the maverick with a message.

Most Lib Dems are not instinctively sympathetic to socialists. We don’t believe in grand plans or talk of revolution and some of the tribalism of Bernie supporters is uncomfortably close to Corbynism.  But I think we should honestly look at who is best placed to oust Trump and move the world away from the abyss.

* Sam Martin is a member based in Sutton, London, He is standing as a candidate in the current Social Liberal Forum council elections..

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Really, Sanders is a Democratic Socialist, like they had in the GDR

  • Yes, our best hope want four more years of Donald Trump. Americans will not vote to out a socialist in the white house. Whether the other candidate is Donald Trump or Bugs Bunny is immaterial, it will not happen.

  • Colin Paine 5th Mar '20 - 6:06pm

    Pete Buttigieg looked the most like a liberal to me.

  • The Democrats have presented the electorate with a vibrant and exciting selection.

    I lie. What a terrible selection that makes trump look attractive.

  • Sanders dropped 35 points in his home state of Vermont compared to 2016. I think that’s the lowest vote he’s ever polled in Vermont.

  • We should try a careful analysis of how the presidential campaign goes in the United States. It is very interesting that wanting healthcare for all can be called socialist, and therefore wrong. This in spite of the majority of the voters supporting it.
    We need to do our analysis because it will help to show what is likely to happen here in less than 5 years. Perhaps we won’t be as unprepared then as we recently were?

  • America elects a lot of right wing politicians but it’s twaddle thatvthe country is more conservative than most. Barely 50% vote/are allowed to vote even in presidential elections. In presidential elections the results are distorted via the electoral college which results in right wing presidents taking office despite losing the popular vote by millions. In the Senate, there is the distortion of every state (but not DC or the territories) having two senators – so Wyoming (pop 560,000 has the same weighting as California (pop 39,650,000). In the House of representatives, gerrymandering means that the right often wins a majority of seats with a minority of votes.

    So … is America right of centre or does it have, as we do here, a broken system that benefits the right?

    In any event, I’d love to see Bernie slug it out with Trump but I think it’ll be Joe Biden instead.

  • John Smith
    The DDR had a Socialist Unity Party which was controlled by the Communists. Democratic in name only.

  • @Tom Harney: Be careful not to make the mistake Labour made regarding polling policies in isolation. The popularity of Medicare for All tends to drop when people are given a full explanation as to the nuts and bolts – the policy gets less approval under the contexts of taxes, disruption and the removal of the private insurance option. It’s like how people here in theory support the nationalisation of certain public services in isolation – but when you have a manifesto that wants to do it all at once people start to wonder how practical it is and start asking deeper questions. The framing matters a great deal, even though I think their medical system from the outside looks pretty crazy and does deserve radical reform. But people have to be convinced it’ll be done right, and the US people seem to be quite skeptical of big government. Probably justifiably.

    Thing with Sanders, is if he gets in he’s probably going to get blocked on most of his flagship policies unless the Senate situation changes. But what he can do is change the discussion. Biden is like hitting the snooze button, you’re just putting off dealing with the hard questions and trying to sell that as a good thing because ‘at least it’s not Trump’. I’m not even sure he’s compos mentis.

  • Nonconformistradical 6th Mar '20 - 7:16am

    @David Le Grice
    Are you saying you think Sanders can beat Trump?

    Are you saying you’d prefer Trump to Biden?

    Because it isn’t just a question of which candidate is preferable on policy grounds – it is also a question of which is best placed to beat Trump.

  • Sam. Please join up with the Liberal Democrats Overseas.

  • Mack: The point I was making was that the majority of Americans favour free at the point of delivery health care. I try to follow what happens in the US and the main attack is an allegation that it is “socialist” or to be fair sometimes that it is communism.
    My purpose was though to assert that we needed to follow the US election closely as I believe that we will see methods of attack developed there used here.

  • Julian Tisi 6th Mar '20 - 9:16am

    The article you link was written before Super Tuesday and reads as “Now it looks like Sanders will be the Democrat candidate don’t worry, he can win, honest!” I wonder if such an article would be written today, as we now have solid electoral evidence that points to Biden being the candidate most likely to unseat Trump, particularly in key swing states which on Tuesday Biden won by a country mile.

  • Toby Keynes 6th Mar '20 - 9:59am

    Sam Martin: “Perhaps most significantly the corruption allegations against Biden’s son Hunter – still to be fully ramped up by the Republicans- give Trump an easy reprise of the ‘Crooked Hillary’ line and will neutralise any Democrat attacks on this corrupt presidency.”

    Oh dear. These corruption allegations against Biden’s son are pure smear by Trump and his allies, and the only reason that Biden is being targetted (via his son) is that he has been seen as the most likely – and the most credible – candidate. They have gained traction only because Trump has a huge propaganda machine behind him.

    Whichever candidate looks most likely to be selected will be similarly smeared; we know they will be, because this is what Trump does.

    So to suggest that a smear directed against Biden is a reason to support the other candidate is a bit of a nonsense.

    Of course, there may be other reasons to root for one candidate or the other, but this isn’t one.

  • John Marriott 6th Mar '20 - 10:00am

    You MUST be kidding us, Mr Martin! Perhaps you’ve had too much Mexican sun, or the other stuff! Bernie Sanders is probably a very decent guy; but he’s 78, with a dodgy ticker and with an un costed programme of giveaways that make Jeremy Corbyn’s pledges look positively miserly. And all this in a country where even the term ‘liberal’ is viewed by many as as far to the left as some of us view Ghengis Khan to the right.

    It looks now, with Elizabeth Warren pulling out of the race, that the Democrat choice will be between ‘the Bern’ and ‘Sleepy Joe’, who is only one year younger. Either way, that £25 bet that a friend of my wife’s made in 2016 that Trump would be a two term President would appear to be pretty safe.

    However, ‘the best laid schemes’ as they say, ‘gang aft a-gley’, especially if Covid-19 makes fools of us all, and particularly #45. Who, knows, perhaps ‘Sleepy Joe’, especially possibly with the Bloomberg millions behind him, may step up to the plate and, to continue the baseball analogy, hit a home run!

  • Elizabeth Warren was probably the closest to a UK Liberal Democrat approach but she has gone. Who can defeat Trump is by no means obvious. With all the messy compromises that make up the furniture of politics, rooting for Sanders seems to me right this time.

  • Not for the first time @John Marriott has come to the defence of my sanity with a well needed touch of realism and a bit of Rabbie Burns to go with it.
    What those on the left, be they Corbyn supporters, Sanders/Warren fans, or I fear, a few in our own ranks, don’t see is that (to continue the baseball analogy) its top of the ninth, you’re well behind on the scoreboard, two outs and the bases are empty – which translates as You’re Not Going To Win.

  • John Marriott 6th Mar '20 - 1:40pm

    @Chris Cory
    Thanks so much for your support. You make an old man very happy. The cheque is in the post!😀😇

  • @Tom Harney the majority of countries (ie all those in the European Union) that have free at the point of use healthcare systems do not use the “socialist” nationalised model that we do, but use a Social Insurance model.

    You can have very successful insurance-based free at the point of use healthcare systems that give better outcomes than ours, as our EU neighbours show. The American system is an anomaly.

  • @Geoff Reid. You may indeed be right about Elizabeth Warren, but is that a good thing. She played the sexism card big time and by the end of it all she couldn’t even go close in her home state. Problem is that the Democrats need to put together a grand coalition to beat Trump. We know that African Americans like Biden and he has a good chance of winning back the blue collar workers in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin who were not going to vote for Hilary. Win back those 3 states and (all other things being equal) you win the White House.

  • Nonconformistradical 6th Mar '20 - 4:49pm

    “there are strong headwinds to be faced over the coming months”

    Trump’s devaluing of science is a danger to US coronavirus response, experts warn

    President says coronavirus “will go away”

    Rude shock awaiting?

  • If I was American I would vote for Saunders. However, It is rare for a US president not to get a second term. Bush didn’t but the Republicans were already on a third term and that itself is rare. Carter had the Iran crisis and economic problems. The other thing is only Americans get a say in American elections and making too much of it is like none Catholics fretting about the who the next Pope will be. It creates a sense of cultural connection that isn’t really there and that you don’t have a say in, anyway. Whoever wins “our” doesn’t come into it because they will be the President of the USA, not Britain or the world.

  • Paul Murray 6th Mar '20 - 5:47pm

    Personally I’d have like Elizabeth Warren to be the candidate, but there you go.

    The Democrats need to win back three critical states that Clinton lost in 2016 in order to win back the White House – Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennslyvania. Obama carried all three in 2012. The total number of votes by which Clinton lost them was 78,000. Even if every other state produces exactly the same result as last time, the Democrats would win the electoral college by 273 votes to 258.

    I would hope that either Sanders and Biden should be capable of winning back those voters.

  • Laurence Cox 6th Mar '20 - 7:42pm

    @Paul Murray

    So would I, but it looks like it will now have to be Biden or Bernie to beat Trump. When you see how Bernie’s online supporters have behaved towards Elizabeth Warren and other progressives, it makes them look like the American equivalent of Momentum. From Vox:


  • Thanks for all the comments. I admit that there are questions over whether Sanders’ can build a broad enough voter coalition and/ or motivate his core vote, especially the young, to come out in sufficient numbers. But there’s time to address that. Post Super-Tuesday polling suggests that a lot of Biden’s votes came from last-minute deciders who were largely motivated by being anti-Trump. He also benefited from all the moderate endorsements & drop-outs as well. It was all timed perfectly. But the race could easily change direction once again when Biden comes under further scrutiny.

    I personally preferred Elizabeth Warren (definitely a more ‘Lib Dem’ approach to problems like wealth and power concentration ) and the behaviour of Sanders supporters to her has been distasteful and counterproductive. As a few people pointed out, this race is relevant to issues we face in the UK in terms of building progressive coalitions. The socialist label might be a turn-off but Sanders’ policies really aren’t that extreme.

    The points about the economy and coronavirus are well-made, it’s very hard to unseat an incumbent POTUS- arguably it’s Trump’s to lose, Trump Vs Events. It’s debatable whether at this point people go for a safe pair of hands or a change candidate, problem with Biden is that he is neither. His candidacy carries huge risks. Perhaps we’d could have a different conversation if one of the other moderates was still in the race, but they aren’t.

  • John Marriott 7th Mar '20 - 8:42am

    @Sam Martin
    You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, as are all those ardent ‘liberals’ who continue to compare politics in the USA (and we could include Canada here as well) with what claim to be politics over here. To paraphrase Churchill, we are actually separated from our erstwhile colonies by more than just our language and this has more to do with geography than many are prepared to admit. Canada and the USA are just damn big and, in the case of the latter, with a population to match.

    Politics in the USA in particular are about money, who can spend the most and, in the case of Trump and co, how you can keep what you’ve got. With Districts and Precincts gerrymandered into no go areas for opposition parties, where a tiny state such as Wyoming has the number of senators as mightily California, where the idea of health care for all free at the point of delivery is an alien concept for many people, it is a wholly different ball game over there.

    Yes, the USA is changing, demographically and linguistically; but, when push comes to shove, it’s still a melting pot relying on a creaking Constitution designed for an east coast collection of colonies with a population of around 2.5 million made up largely of Brits and Dutch, and not a coast to coast nation of nearly 330 million today, drawn from all over the world (a bit like the EU in some ways). Heck, says Trump, it’s the greatest god damn country on earth, folks!

    Unless I am very much mistaken – and, quite frankly I often am – Bernie Sanders would most likely go the way of George McGovern against Nixon in 1972 or Hubert Humphrey four years earlier. If Joe Biden (and it’s a big ‘if’) can arouse himself and avoid being tarnished by any scandal that might emanate from the Ukraine, he might stand a chance of giving Trump a good run for his money. However, “events”, as the late Lord Stockton was supposed to have blamed, can always upset the apple cart. Covid 19 may have a part to play over there as over here. After all, Trump reckons it’s nothing, doesn’t he, just another hoax, like man made climate change? We shall see. By their deeds shall they be judged, or something like that.

  • John Marriott – “Covid 19 may have a part to play over there as over here. After all, Trump reckons it’s nothing, doesn’t he, just another hoax, like man made climate change? We shall see. By their deeds shall they be judged, or something like that.” – different, because Covid19 will likely have direct impact on GDP growth this year, and it is GDP growth that matters. If the economy goes into a recession, Trump loses, that’s it.

    TCO – “the majority of countries (ie all those in the European Union) that have free at the point of use healthcare systems do not use the “socialist” nationalised model that we do, but use a Social Insurance model.” – the Democrats decided to adopt single-payer system because the social insurance system will require a very comprehensive regulatory framework that will require bipartisan support and cooperation, and don’t get me start on Republicans’ obstructionist records. I mean, the GOP basically no longer considers the Dems as legitimate, and just refuses to deal with them – you can look at their behaviour during the Obama Adminstration. In fact, M4A resembles the Canadian system more than the NHS.

  • I know it is the way the American system works and you can’t really stop states voting in primaries but it almost feels silly/counterproductive if states like Alabama and Oklahoma get a say in who is nominated for the Democrats since even their Democrats are rather conservative and if everyone is honest those states are not going to be voting Democrat in the election.

    So all the Southern States are doing is contributing to a more conservative Democrat getting the nomination, and they as a state will not be voting for that Democrat.

    It is basically like Massachusetts making a really nice soup, but then Alabama decides they want to add Vinegar to it. Alabama was not going to eat the soup anyway, and now all they have done is ruin it so Massachusetts no longer wants to eat it either.

  • Democrat Man

  • John Armah – Biden seems to have become senile. I don’t think he can survive a Trump debate.

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