Could Bernie Sanders Have Beaten Trump?

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My pal Josh Harkinson tweets:

That’s certainly possible. But I think it suffers from a lack of imagination about the counterfactual.

It’s obvious that Hillary Clinton’s biggest weakness during the election was Emailgate. Republicans successfully took a fairly minor bit of misjudgment and turned it into the world’s greatest crime—and kept it alive by shrewdly dribbling out new information regularly. Aided and abetted by Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, a last-minute assist from James Comey, and a press corps that played along gleefully, this turned into a huge millstone around Clinton’s neck that Donald Trump hammered on relentlessly. He also kept up a drumbeat of criticism on TPP, NAFTA, and other economic concerns of the working class.

Plainly Bernie Sanders wouldn’t have suffered from either one of these problems. So does that mean he could have beaten Trump?

Sure, maybe. But it probably just means Trump would have attacked him in a different way. Most likely, he would have hammered away at Sanders being a wild-eyed communist. Then Sanders would have lost, and we’d be sitting around wishing we’d nominated Clinton. After all, Trump certainly couldn’t have attacked her as a crazed radical. As for that email thing, it was old news. It wouldn’t have hurt her much.

In the end, this is unanswerable. For myself, I doubt that Sanders could have beaten Trump. Once he left the cozy confines of the Democratic primaries, he would have been pilloried.

POSTSCRIPT: To put this in plainer terms, of course Sanders could have won some votes that Clinton didn’t. But a leftier agenda would also have lost him some votes. It’s not at all obvious that this would have ended up a net positive for Sanders.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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