In the latest chapter of the 2016 presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders appears to be picking up steam again. Though Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton enjoyed a tremendous month between October 13, the evening of the first Democratic debate, and November 13, the day before the second Democratic debate, she has since encountered new problems. On November 14, during the debate, Clinton flubbered when trying to justify her millions of dollars in political donations from Wall Street firms and brokers. She also irked many pundits by advocating a foreign policy more aggressive than Barack Obama’s, increasing concerns that she would be prone to embarking on a disastrous Middle Eastern war, this time against ISIS instead of Saddam Hussein.
Though Clinton remains stable in the polls, especially in Iowa, where the first Democratic caucus will be held on February 1, she is still unable to connect with voters. Recent polls indicate that, although more Democrats feel that she can win the general election against the eventual Republican nominee, most Democrats personally prefer Bernie Sanders. Clinton receives higher marks in electability and foreign policy, but Sanders receives higher marks in economic policy, which is voters’ number one concern, and in shared values and empathy.
The New York Times surmises that Hillary Clinton has won voters’ heads, but Bernie Sanders has won their hearts.
This is good news for Sanders and bad news for Clinton. As the primaries draw nearer and autumn turns to winter, the GOP will likely sharpen its attacks on Clinton as its own field of many candidates gets whittled down. As a true GOP frontrunner emerges, he will cease attacking his ailing challengers and instead focus on the Democratic frontrunner. Clinton’s support has held steady this autumn…while she was faced with muted criticism from intra-party challengers and biased debate moderators. How will she fare when faced with forceful criticism from a new Republican frontrunner?
Without having won voters’ hearts, the bulk of Clinton’s support is tepid at best. When her faults are exposed by a galvanized GOP, many of these fair-weather supporters may jump ship, no longer certain of her general election abilities.
Bernie Sanders, by contrast, is relatively immune from Republican assault. His background is clean, forcing the GOP to focus on his policy proposals. These proposals, widely supported by the general public, will survive any conservative challenges. The American public wants universal health care, tuition-free public higher education, healthy infrastructure investment, and an avoidance of another unwinnable war in the Middle East. While Republicans may view Sanders’ democratic socialism as an easy liability for them to exploit, they will find that attacking it is akin to wading through quicksand. Though we praise unbridled capitalism in public, it turns out that we love democratic socialism in practice. Confronted with this fact, the Republicans will be handily thwarted.
Even if the GOP is able to find an angle of attack with some staying power, Bernie Sanders has won true loyalty from his supporters. They support him for his honesty, his values, and his lifelong support of the average American worker and average American family. Even if the Republicans land a few blows against him, Sanders’ supporters will not flee. They will not sit out next November. Every single Bernie Sanders supporter will show up at the ballot box during the general election if he is the Democratic nominee. In fact, by the point, he will have undoubtedly inspired millions of non-voters to cast their first ballots in a presidential election. Due to the high rate of voter apathy in the United States, it makes sense to run a candidate who can inspire traditional non-voters to cast ballots.
If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, she risks losing many supporters every time the GOP attacks one of her many liabilities, ranging from her Clinton-era conservatism to Benghazi to her many flip-flops on policy. By the time election day rolls around, she may bring only a minority of Democrats to the ballot box, allowing for a Republican victory. Democratic Party insiders should be aware of this. Looking inside the basic polls reveals dangerous concerns about their chosen candidate, and they should switch to Bernie Sanders.