Bernie Sanders could split the Democratic Party in the same way that Donald Trump could split the Republicans. Even though speculation has centered on a potential civil war within the GOP, the Democrats could be just as prone to such a divisive battle.
The recent data-breach debacle shows that some elements within the Democratic establishment, including the party’s leadership body, the Democratic National Committee, or DNP, are just as hostile to Sanders as some Republican leaders are to Trump. That feeling is reciprocated by some of Sanders’ followers, including his campaign manager Jeff Weaver, who is pressing ahead with a lawsuit designed to embarrass the DNC, CNN reported.
Sanders Won the Debate
Despite that, Sanders has been doing very well lately. He’s picked up major endorsements, attracted two million contributions and, according to a Time magazine online poll, won the December 19 Democratic presidential debate. According to Time, 84% of the 61,593 people who voted in its online poll thought Sanders had won the debate. Nor was it just Time; other online polls found similar numbers, according to the Huffington Post:
- 91% of those who responded to a Fox News poll thought Sanders won.
- 84% of those who responded to something called the Political People Blog poll thought Sanders won.
- 86% of the respondents to a Slate poll picked Sanders as the winner.
- 86% of the people who voted in a Washington Times poll thought Bernie won.
The only poll in which Sanders did not get an impressive majority was the Wall Street Journal poll, yet in that survey, 49% thought Sanders won, and only 29% thought Hillary had done well. These poll results contrast dramatically with some of the stories in the elite liberal media, which claim that Hillary won and delivered a brilliant performance. Obviously, she did not; the Wall Street Journal numbers show almost as many people were impressed with the virtually unknown Martin O’Malley (22%) as with the heir apparent.
This points to a serious discontent between the Democratic base and the Party Establishment. It also shows us that the Democrats could actually be more divided than the Republicans.
What if Sanders Becomes the Democratic Nominee?
All of this raises an intriguing question: What will happen if Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee? How will the Party Establishment react if such an ideologically driven insurgent who is actively hostile to much of the Party’s agenda becomes the nominee?
History shows us that there are three possible outcomes, two of which could be very bad for the Democrats. The most obvious is what we might call a revolt of the Party Establishment, which occurred to the Republicans in 1964 and the Democrats in 1972.
In 1964 U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, an ideologically-motivated insurgent with a gruff personality, a sort of conservative Bernie Sanders, captured the Republican nomination. That led liberal members of the Party Establishment, including New York governor Nelson Rockefeller and Michigan governor George Romney (Mitt’s father), to sit the election out, Politico noted. Some historically Republican media outlets, including the now defunct New York Herald-Tribune newspaper, even went so far as to endorse the Democrat, Lyndon Johnson.
Something similar happened to the Democrats in 1972 when the party nominated the isolationist George McGovern. The nation’s largest union, the AFL-CIO, refused to endorse McGovern, and some prominent Democrats, including Texas governor John Connally, backed the Republican, Richard Nixon.
Both of those situations resulted in a catastrophic defeat for the divided party because the other side was united behind a strong candidate. What’s interesting is that this time around, the Democrats could actually be more divided than the Republicans yet still win by a wide margin.
Why the Party Might Accept Bernie After All
More importantly, polls show us that the Republicans are so out of touch with the American people that almost any Democrat, including Bernie, would probably beat their likely candidates. The Democrats also have the advantage of sheer numbers. As I pointed out elsewhere, Democrats could simply win the White House if they turn out a majority of their followers.
This brings us to the second possible scenario: The Party elite will simply swallow their pride and step in line behind Bernie. This is likely because even though Bernie has not gotten many endorsements, almost no major Democrat has attacked him. An intriguing figure here is Barrack Obama, who has not endorsed either Hillary or Bernie. People like Hillary remember what happened to the Republican elite that tried to sabotage Goldwater back in 1964; it vanished.
The few major Republican figures that actively backed Goldwater, including Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, went on to have successful careers. Both of those men won the presidency twice. Rockefeller and Romney are now footnotes in the history books.
This scenario is unlikely because it is hard to imagine most of today’s Establishment Democrats endorsing the likes of Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. It is also difficult to picture people like Bill and Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama putting themselves in opposition to a Democratic presidential candidate.
The Third Party Option
An unlikely scenario is the third party option, where some Establishment figure such as Hillary would try to run on a third-party platform as the “True Democrat” or “The Real Democrat.” The goal of such a run would be to derail Bernie, not to win the election.
Something like this happened in 1948 when two Democrats, the segregationist U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond and the Communist sympathizer Henry Wallace (a former vice president), mounted third-party challenges to party candidate Harry Truman. Thurmond’s “Dixiecrats” were mad at Truman for supporting desegregation and civil rights, while Wallace’s “Progressives” opposed Truman’s aggressive Cold War foreign policy. The efforts failed, and the Dixiecrats and Progressives quickly returned to the Party fold after Truman won.
History shows that the third party option simply does not work, so I think it is unlikely. Still, I sense a lot of hostility to Bernie from the Party Establishment and its mouthpieces in the media that will not go away, so anything is possible. One possibility is that Wall Street would bankroll such a challenge in order to derail Sanders, who promises more regulation of banks.
My prediction is that the Democrats would back Bernie Sanders because he could win, but his success shows that they are deeply divided. Those divisions are not going to go away, and they will have a profound impact on the outcome of the election.