Don’t fear a Bernie Sanders nomination, Democrats. He’s well suited for a street fight with Trump.

We're in a wild, loud, and unreasonable era. And Bernie Sanders fits right in with the times.

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We’re in a wild, loud, and unreasonable era. And Bernie Sanders fits right in with the times.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Establishment Democrats are in absolute meltdown mode about the prospect of Bernie Sanders winning the 2020 nomination.
  • But they should take heart: Sanders is polling ahead of Trump in one-to-one matchups.
  • He’s also uncompromising to a fault with unrealistic plans. That makes him a good match in a brawl with Trump.
  • And even his rock-star surrogate, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, says Sanders’ most radical plans are unlikely to make it through Congress: “A president can’t wave a magic wand and pass any legislation they want.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The prospect of Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont progressive and self-identifying democratic socialist, winning the Democratic nomination has sparked a meltdown among the political-media punditry.

Establishment Democrats worried about beating President Donald Trump have raised a litany of fears about Sanders: He’s George McGovern! He hasn’t been vetted! America will never elect a socialist! He isn’t even a Democrat!

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who has spent nearly 50 years working in either Democratic politics or media, beclowned himself by comparing Sanders’ resounding victory in this weekend’s Nevada caucuses to the Nazi military rout of the French in 1940. Matthews apologized for the remark on Monday.

Calm down, Democrats.

If you count yourself among the voters whose top priority is defeating Trump, there’s a case to be made that Sanders – the disheveled socialist and recent heart-attack victim – is the candidate best suited to take on Trump in the general election.

The ‘electability’ candidates are failing their electability tests

Concerns over “electability” have substantially grown in importance among Democratic voters.

According to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey this month, 53% of Democratic primary voters place a priority on a “candidate with the best chance to beat Donald Trump,” compared to 42% who prefer a candidate that is most closely aligned with their issues. This is almost the reverse of a year ago, when just 40% prioritized defeating Trump, while 56% preferred a candidate aligned on their issues.

The conventional wisdom has long held that Sanders’ radical policy proposals – including the end of private health insurance, full cancellation of student-loan debt, and free tuition to public colleges – would never play in a general-election contest, where turnout will be higher and much more conservative than in the Democratic primary.

Sanders’ policy agenda reasonably scares the Democratic establishment, which isn’t in this fight for a revolutionary remaking of the economy. All that matters to the more moderate gatekeepers is to send Trump packing with the legacy of rejection afforded to all one-term presidents.

That’s why the most vocal parts of the Democratic Party’s typical power structure find it unfathomable that former Vice President Joe Biden, whose entire 2020 run has been built on his “electability” credentials and a pledge to return to pre-Trump “normalcy,” has once again flatlined as a presidential candidate.

The youthful hope of the party’s mainstream, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, has chiseled away at Biden’s moderate support largely by using a warmed-over version of Barack Obama’s 2008 stump speech, loaded with platitudes about “change.” But he’s still trailing nationally by a wide margin and has yet to demonstrate viability in states with diverse populations.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren was considered the more nationally palatable economic populist in the race. But in recent months she has downplayed her capitalism-critical mantra – the very thing that made her famous – and flailed, grasping for another message to boost her poll numbers instead of driving home what appealed to voters in the first place.

Sanders has distinguished himself from Warren and the vanquished 2020 Democrats by staying on message, emphasizing a class struggle as the battle worth fighting.

Sanders might not be able to convince the Democratic Party to abandon capitalism, but he very well might have convinced its voters he can win the White House.

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Sanders might not be able to convince the Democratic Party to abandon capitalism, but he very well might have convinced its voters he can win the White House.
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Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

Sanders is uncompromising to a fault and his plans are unrealistic. It makes him a good match in a brawl with Trump.

You don’t have to love Bernie’s simplistic views of supply and demand. It’s OK to be put off by his praise and apologia for philosophically aligned tyrants. No one would blame you for being offended by some of his most obnoxious online supporters or problematic surrogates.

But here’s the thing: Sanders, for better and for worse, stays on message.

This is a populist era. Rage is all the rage.

Sanders’ transgressive oratory style combined with pie-in-the-sky policy promises and a “burn it all down” ethos are matched by only one other candidate: Trump. For all their bombast, voters see both as authentic, which is why they can sell policies that would sink other candidates.

Trump, a Democratic donor for much of his adult life, obliterated the Republican Party establishment in 2016.

The mainstream GOP so feared a Trump nomination would lead to a Hillary Clinton cakewalk to the White House that many were forced to hold their nose and vote for the then iconoclastic Sen. Ted Cruz.

And yet Trump ran the table as frontrunner to nominee in the course of a year. As president he’s made everyone from Rush Limbaugh to the Heritage Foundation abandon long-held conservative free-market principles in favor of a zero-sum view of global wealth.

Sanders might not be able to convince the Democratic Party to abandon capitalism, but he very well might have convinced its voters he can win the White House. The current Real Clear Politics average of seven major polls has Sanders beating Trump head-to-head by over 4 percentage points.

Democrats can then be heartened by his electoral chances and – if you take some of Sanders’ own supporters at their word – not be so worried about his policies.

The Vermont socialist’s most ambitious reforms stand next to no chance of making it through Congress, even if the Democrats are in charge.

That’s the summation of Sanders’ rock-star campaign surrogate, fellow democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“A president can’t wave a magic wand and pass any legislation they want,” Ocasio-Cortez told HuffPost last week. Finding the silver lining in the fact that Sanders won’t have Fidel Castro’s powers to abolish private insurance, AOC added: “The worst-case scenario? We compromise deeply, and we end up getting a public option.”

We are in a wild, loud, and unreasonable era. And Bernie Sanders fits right in with the times.

Democrats should embrace it, because it appears that centrism’s comeback at the top of the ticket in either party is at least another electoral cycle away.