Like Jeremy Corbyn, no one saw it coming: a 74 year old Larry David-lookalike and soundalike socialist Senator for Vermont, Bernie Sanders, is a serious contender against one of the most powerful political dynasties in modern history for the Presidency of the United States. The script was supposed to be simple: heal the wounds of the 2008 primaries through achieving both outcomes: the first Black President, then the first female President. The Democratic Party establishment and the party machine are behind her and she dominated the polls until now.
Hillary’s campaign is struggling in spite of her newfound populist, left-leaning narrative because it is unconvincing. Her career as part of the Clinton duo has been defined by slickly-calibrated, centrist positions and messaging to appeal to as many voters as possible. However, this has come at the expense of grassroots passion and real progress on poverty, racial and gender discrimination, economic fairness, politica, financial, and corporate corruption, and international peace. Combined with accusations of personal and political scandal, the Clinton brand has become associated for many with corruption and secrecy. No amount of repositioning will convince voters of the authenticity of her rebirth. In contrast, the rumpled, messily white-haired, gruff, Brooklyn-accented Sanders is believable in an endearing way, not unlike Corbyn. We celebrate this as opposed to the plastered smiles and rehearsed talking points we associate with politicians like Hillary. Sanders’ campaign also appears to have successfully captured the liberal and leftist grassroots passions and energy of the Democratic Party akin to Obama’s 2008 campaign through appealing to discontent against Obama and the establishment – including Hillary – with concrete policy alternatives. The lack of ground breaking political and economic change, continuation and expansion of Bush-era restrictions on civil liberties, and international military interventions have perhaps taught voters both the sheer challenge of a corrupt political system and a more realistic idea of what hope and change actually mean. From ‘Yes We Can’ to ‘Yes We Must.’
Either that or Sanders’ campaign is a flash in the pan, Eugene McCarthy-like movement that could at the least greatly weaken her successful nomination and at most have her withdraw but then collapse in the face of more acceptable, establishment-backed opponents. Sanders’ campaign is supported largely by the young, college educated, and White but is significantly behind in Hispanic and Black support that’s traditionally been a Clinton bedrock. If Sanders’ campaign continues to hurt Hillary, a Joe Biden, Al Gore or another with a similar level of fame but without her drawbacks could become aHubert Humphrey-esque saviour and inherit Clinton’s constituencies. However, like with Humphrey, leading bruised party against the right Republican candidate could end in defeat.
Though the odds are that she’ll still win the nomination, Hillary is fast becoming the Mitt Romney of the Democratic Party: someone the public is coming to dislike and finds uninspiring but is well-placed across a fan of Democrat red meat and electorate box-ticking positions and is the more ‘electable’, least-bad option compared with the other candidates. That’s not great for a general election, unless your opponent is a billionaire narcissist with the morality of a Mean Girl. In order to win, changing positions in accordance with political realities isn’t enough if Hillary won’t emphasise her main strengths as a skilful, ruthless politician who will get things done.This would work with framing the other candidates: a socialist curmudgeon who would lose badly against a good Republican candidate and a long-serving White, male Senator and Vice-President when it’s time for a qualified woman. Otherwise, Hillary will end with karmic comeuppance to the theme tune from Curb Your Enthusiasm.