Don’t Fall for the Electability Trap

Joe BidenIt’s back! Less Than Half in US Would Vote for a Socialist for President. And this is the kind of thinking that will make Joe Biden the Democratic nominee before any other candidate gets to make their case.

This is not a defense of Sanders (or even Warren, who I’m actively supporting). For one thing, he doesn’t need defending. He calls himself a socialist but he doesn’t qualify by my definition. He’s a New Deal Democrat. It’s sad that politics in the US is so far off the rails that someone with such middle-of-the-road opinions as Sanders can get away with calling himself a socialist.

(I suppose it is more accurate to call Sanders a Social Democrat. But Americans don’t usually know what that is. Or what Democratic Socialist is. Or basically anything at all. That’s why simplistic slogans is the way of the day: “Capitalism good! Socialism bad!”)

The Pathetic Logic of “Electable” Candidates

It is a fool’s game to try to figure out which candidate is more electable. I know in 2004, everyone thought John Kerry was the most electable. He lost.

In fact, based upon Lynn Vavreck’s The Message Matters, it is now clear the Democrats’ best chance to win the presidency in 2004 was by nominating Howard Dean and running an anti-war campaign. But that’s not the kind of insight that falls out of people’s common sense.

People aren’t interested in political science. In fact, mostly, they have no idea what it even is. So instead of engaging with what the data show us, they try to read other people’s minds. And it just doesn’t work.

The Racist Neighbor

There’s actually some sociological research on how people think this way. People always assume that their neighbors are more racist than they actually are. And when it comes to Democrats, they always assume the world is more conservative than it actually is.

An important aspect of this is that it means we automatically dismiss women and people of color. “We must defeat Donald Trump” easily breaks down to “We must nominate a white man!” Indeed, I’ve even heard liberals I know speculate that maybe we shouldn’t nominate a woman — as though Hillary Clinton didn’t win 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016!

I remember last year, PM Carpenter wrote, Why This Democratic Socialist Opposes Bernie Sanders. His entire argument was that he didn’t think the nation was ready for a socialist candidate.

But how did he know?! Even at the time, I thought this was nonsense. But after Donald Trump, how does anyone claim to know who others will vote for?

Voters Don’t Care If They Like a Candidate

I always go back to 1988 and the Dukakis campaign. It was really painful to watch it transpire.

There was the tank photo op that Bush turned into a commercial:

Then there was the rape of Kitty debate question:

And, of course, the Willie Horton ad:

All of that seemed to matter a great deal. But it didn’t. These things stuck because the economy was roaring along and Bush’s party was in the White House.

Similarly, the misreporting of Bush and the grocery scanner was a big thing in 1992 because the economy was tanking and Bush’s party was still in the White House.

People used to marvel at how nothing ever stuck to Ronald Reagan. We called him the Teflon President. But it was because the economy was doing well. Nothing really sticks when things are going well for the president and non-issues do stick when things are going badly.

You Don’t Know Who Is Electable

I know I’m a broken record on this stuff, but it’s important. And I don’t think polling tells us a lot. How would people have answered this question in 2015: “Would you vote for a corrupt, crude, childish sexual assaulter who plays a rich man on TV and stiffs hardworking small business owners?” I don’t think so. In fact, most people didn’t think he would become president until moments before he did.

If Sanders can win the Democratic nomination, he can win the general election. The only thing that would stop him is if there really is something behind the repugnant #NeverBernie movement.

And if that’s true of Sanders, it is even more true of Elizabeth Warren.

People should just vote for who they want. As long as it isn’t Joe Biden — because no one wants him. His appeal is entirely that he is “electable.” I might listen to an argument based on political science that he is more electable than Harris or Warren. But this idea that he is the guy who conservatives will vote for is just nonsense based on what liberals and moderates think others want.

Similarly, let Sanders run and see how he does. This freak-out among Democrats is pathetic. And if it succeeds in anything, it will be saddling us with Joe “Waist Rub” Biden.

Vote for who you want because you don’t know anything about what other people want.