Scribes covering everything from sports to finance to politics are now expected to issue predictions about the future. Who will win the Super Bowl? When will we have a recession? And who will win the 2020 presidential election?
At some point, journalists and their lesser cousins, pundits, came to be expected to moonlight as would-be Nostradamuses.
On the latter question, the punditocracy is issuing its augury with unusual certitude. Should the Democratic Party nominate Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont to take on President Trump, as seems increasingly likely, the incumbent will be assured a second term, many of them argue. Mr. Sanders is “unelectable,” you see.
It’s notable that many of the journalists pronouncing a Sanders candidacy a dead end — Jonathan Chait, David Frum, Bret Stephens, David Brooks — reside around the center of the political spectrum and find much to dislike in Mr. Sanders‘ throwback socialism.
It’s a pure coincidence, you see, that they both disagree with him and that he also happens to be unelectable.
Of course, it’s not only centrist pundits who fervently believe that Mr. Sanders can’t win. Establishment Republicans in Washington in private (and some public) conversations evince glee at the prospect of running against the self-proclaimed socialist.
In South Carolina, some Republicans are planning to vote for Mr. Sanders in the Democratic primary in a replay of a similar strategy employed by the ailing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh in 2008, when he urged conservatives to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Of course, that strategy didn’t exactly work either: Barack Obama was elected handily.
This column is not a daily horoscope; it is not in the business of predicting the future. (Though its author can’t resist noting that he was one of the few journalists to predict Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton — and he did so on Chinese television just a couple of days before the election.)
But it seems ludicrous to suggest that Mr. Sanders “can’t win.” There are two arguments for this, one general and one specific to Mr. Sanders.
Begin with the basic fact that any Democrat has a chance to unseat Mr. Trump in November. The country is extraordinarily divided. The America of 1964, 1972 or 1984, when a presidential candidate could win in a landslide, has long since passed.
On the federal level, the United States has only close elections these days. The Democrats could throw up a doddering, declining old man — say, a former vice president who happens to be running — and still be assured at least 46% of the popular vote and a good 188 electoral votes. The United States is a closely divided country of two parties; in a given election, either one has a shot at winning.
There are also reasons to believe Mr. Sanders would be an unusually potent candidate.
Yes, his embrace of “socialism” is rightfully noxious to many Americans. But his anti-oligarchic populism surely is not; indeed, it’s just the vein that Mr. Trump tapped into in winning states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio in 2016, thus winning the presidency.
Mr. Sanders has also proved himself to be electable in his adoptive state of Vermont. Yes, the Green Mountain State is Democratic but not overwhelmingly so. (When the state became the first to legalize same-sex civil unions, a fiery “Take Back Vermont” movement quickly took hold.)
The state has a Republican governor and a largely rural, gun-toting population — which is to say the self-proclaimed socialist has been winning lots of Republican votes throughout his congressional career.
Not too long ago, Mr. Sanders even had a sensible position on immigration, pointing out that mass illegal migration suppresses wages and hurts the working class. (In a memorable interview with Vox several years ago, he called open borders a “Koch brothers” proposal,” which was not a compliment.)
What was Mr. Trump’s most potent attack on Hillary Clinton in 2016? It wasn’t her leftism; it was her corruption. He called her “Crooked Hillary,” not “Pinko Hillary.” It was a manifestly successful line of attack.
And it’s one he won’t be able to recycle on Mr. Sanders, who is not a corrupt “swamp” creature. Mr. Sanders is a dogmatic ideologue, but he is not crooked.
None of this is to say that Mr. Sanders will win, of course. But especially after 2016, people, gleeful Republics and downcast Democrats alike, should keep in mind that “unelectable” ain’t what it used to be.
• Ethan Epstein is editorial editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.