We Don’t Know What Happens in the General Election; Let the Primary Go on

Bernie SandersForgive me for ranting, but I’ve just got to get this out. I am really angry at the way many liberals are responding to the election of Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party in the UK. Apparently, the correct approach to four decades to rightward march — on both sides — is to push for a minor correction to the left. I believe it was most likely be that the new Labour Party leader would be proto-Tory Liz Kendall if Corbyn hadn’t radically changed the race. As it was, she ended up with less than 5% of the vote. Corbyn got almost 60% of the vote. How is that so bad?

For a lot of liberals here in the US, this brings to mind Bernie Sanders. And of course, all good liberals know that Sanders just can’t win the general election. And so a lot of people are freaking out that the Democrats just might nominate someone who actually represents its base. And I’m not immune to that thought. I’m aware that Sanders is likely a weaker general election candidate than either Clinton or Biden. I also know, of course, that who wins is going to be determined primarily by the state of the economy and not the mythical swing voters.

Jeremy CorbynThe conservative movement has had an unending string of victories over the last 40 years — both here and in the UK. And that is despite the fact that Democrats and Labour have been in control for a lot of that time. It was not a Republican president who ended welfare. It was not a Republican president who repealed Glass–Steagall. It was not a Republican president who turned the Espionage Act into his own little play thing. This is how politics works. And it is something that liberals seem to be clueless about. It doesn’t matter if your candidates are elected if they lead within the context of the other side.

At this point, I just wish that people would shut up about all of this. We are months away from our first primary. We are a month away from the first debate. I’m a Sanders supporter, but I like Clinton just fine. I’d like to see how the debates go. I’d like to see how the candidates go about distinguishing themselves. In other words: I’d like to have a primary. But I think a lot of liberals don’t want to have a primary. I think they are so convinced that they know what will happen in a general election, that they don’t want to allow the process to work. They must stand up and announce, “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Political scientists have found that 40% of the results of presidential elections are determined by the economic trend of the three quarters leading up to the election. In Lynn Vavreck’s book The Message Matters: The Economy and Presidential Campaigns, she found that the only exceptions to that occur when a challenger changes the conversation from its default: the economy. And even then, the challenger only manages to get the weakest of victors. Think Jimmy Carter in 1976.

With Corbyn, I think a case can be made that he is too liberal. But that is not because of his economic policies; it is about his foreign policies. That’s not true in Bernie Sanders’ case. So the only thing that the Republicans are going to have to complain about Sanders with regards to his being a “socialist” are a bunch of really popular policy positions. But even if they manage to use this against him, will it be enough to throw the election to Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Donald Trump? It’s possible.

But the main thing that we don’t know. But I feel like I’m in a hell of a lot better a position to talk about this than most liberal ranters. That’s because I actually take the political science seriously. And it appears that liberals continue to be afraid of their own shadows. I don’t intend to blow this election. I also don’t intend to surrender over a year before it happens.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

5 thoughts on “We Don’t Know What Happens in the General Election; Let the Primary Go on

  1. Here in my neck of the woods we try very hard to not have primaries and it hurts us. The media only pays attention to a circus and the Republicans reliably deliver a circus while the Democrat is quietly not doing anything of note. If you have a fight, even a boring one like the Sanders/Clinton one where they are respectful of one another, agree on 90% of the issues and spend all their time talking to voters, the media will pay attention.

    So when we had our gubernatorial candidate last year, he did not have a primary since the other person respectfully dropped out. Which meant he had no media attention until the two months before the general and was not prepared at all for the gotcha questions of the Republicans.

    As a candidate, of course I don’t want a primary. As a Democrat who wants things to improve, I want a primary so our candidates at least get attention.

    • Yeah, to me the “preparation” issue is the bigger. And I think that Sanders has already made Clinton a better candidate. If the press would just let the email “scandal” go, we could get on with this campaign. Actually, we already are, and I’m not sure they will ever let it go, just as they never let things like Al Gore’s Love Story anecdote go. (That one’s especially annoying because what he said was true: it had been reported; he didn’t say that he knew it was true. Ugh!) Overall, I think things are going well. But there are some people who think if Clinton wins the nomination by “only” 20 percentage points that it means there is trouble brewing.

  2. As a British reader of yours, I think I should say that I don’t think Liz Kendall ever stood a chance of winning. She’s only been in Parliament since 2010, and held a minor opposition spokesperson position, in which she made no mark at all (I checked on a British political forum I post on, and we hadn’t mentioned her once after her appointment). Until Corbyn’s rise from ‘token leftie’, it would have been a race between Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham. She was a prominent shadow cabinet member, and IMO the best Labour performer in TV interviews; she is married to Ed Balls, who himself stood in the 2010 leader election (but lost his seat in 2015), and they have a well-established group of supporters. Burnham also stood in 2010, and was prominent throughout 2010-15. Cooper had been the bookies’ favourite to take over in 2014.

    Kendall may have represented a ‘back to Blair’ model, but there wasn’t much appetite for that among Labour members (and only among one part of the MPs), and she really was badly known. Cooper and Burnham’s trouble was they were basically the same position as Ed Miliband, who had just lost an election; all they really promised were better media performances (I didn’t think there was much of a problem with Miliband, but others did). Corbyn represents a definite change in policy, and having lost 2 elections, that looked needed.

    In the USA, of course, the Democrats have won the last 2 presidential elections, so the need to make big changes isn’t so obvious. They’ve lost Congress, of course, but it seems to me, from outside, that they presidential primary choice is unlikely to affect that very much.

    • Thanks for correcting me on that. So much was made of Kendall that I had just assumed. I still find UK politics somewhat mystifying. But the fact that Conservatives won a straight majority with only 36% (or so) of the vote made me feel a bit better about our system.

      I do think there is a tendency for parties to learn the wrong lessons from the past and to make big changes when it isn’t needed. We saw that with the Democrats’ move to the right over the last several decades. We see that in the Republican belief that they can’t raise taxes under any circumstances. I don’t know what is best for Labour. But I do know that the moderates in the party should work with Corbyn. They might be able to soften some of his rough edges.

      As for the 2016 Democratic contest, there isn’t a great deal of difference between Sanders and Clinton. As Elizabeth said, they agree on 90% of the issues. But a lot of the reactions to Sanders within the party are similar to what Corbyn is facing. And it makes no sense, because Sanders is no radical.

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