The Democratic Center Is Dead, and Bernie Will Benefit All the Way to November
To see the DC pundit Twitter, it appears doomsday is upon the Democratic Party — and American democracy itself. Bernie Sanders (that socialist!) has now taken the front runner position, and now his inevitability is creeping up in the data analytics of professional pollsters.
I won’t crow too much yet, but I will say, I called something like this when I wrote in April 2019:
“I remain convinced that a candidate labeled “Worker” has the best chance to beat Trump — and a candidate labeled “Dogmatic” is almost certain to lose.”
I also wrote Biden was weaker than he appeared because he was a Spiritualist in an election cycle that favors Workers. So it has come to pass. Biden is now in third place by delegate count, and even his vaunted South Carolina firewall may come undone.
Meanwhile, the Dogmatic candidates (those most likely to lose the general election) — Tulsi Gabbard and Julian Castro — are gone now, tossed aside by primary voters wise enough to see that in a culture war, conservatives always win.
So I’ll triumph that, for the moment at least, the broad principles of my emerging Cultural-Political Theory — which overlays culture over politics to predict results — is working, even as it’s far less data-intensive than what 538 and others are proffering.
And using that theory, here are the emerging, big new takeaways: first, Bernie Sanders will take the Democratic nomination. Second, Sanders will stand a favorable chance of beating Trump, should nothing huge change between the general election and now (like a recession or a war with Iran).
Alright, let’s unpack that.
Why Bernie is burning through his competition — the Workers are in ascendence
The short story is that the middle ground voters as we knew them in the Democratic Party don’t exist anymore. This is what I refer to as ‘Spiritual’ middle - people who bridge the cultural gap between the other two factions of the Democratic Party (the Workers and Dogmatists).
What happened to them? Well, in part, their demographic energy has been exhausted: older voters, especially from World War II, liked the compromising attitude of such Democrats, but they are almost entirely dead.
The other part, more essential than even changing demographics, is that their political energy has been exhausted after the 8 Spiritualist years of President Obama. This is in large part because Obama failed on two major fronts.
The first front was policy: Obama did not go far enough in changing America’s social contract from a current center-right one to a center-left one. The second is politics: what Obama did change wasn’t lasting enough to survive much of the Trump counterattack. That’s left the Spiritualist approach discredited; people are not in the mood for the compromising, uplifting language of the Obama years. They want the hard-nosed, direct-attack approach of the Trump ones.
Thus the middle has weakened deeply, leaving Biden, a Spiritualist candidate, fluttering to find traction, while Buttigieg, who has danced between being a soft Worker to a soft Spiritualist, finding an awkward second place that isn’t sustainable.
Now that doesn’t mean the default sets straight to the Workers’ candidates: there was always the Dogmatic wing that could have been empowered. But activist overreach, the disaster that was 2016, and effective, if subtle, counters by Spiritualist allies who realized the Dogmatists were cannibalizing the party have deeply undercut this wing. Their political toxicity is clear to see, causing the Dogmatist candidates to sputter out. Activists who in 2016 dominated the news cycle now get hardly any air time, with Medicaid For All and other worker-friendly propositions controlling policy discussions.
That clears the path for Bernie, who competes only with Warren for the vote of the critical Workers. And Warren can only beat Bernie should Bernie self-sabotage — something he has so far refused to do.
Why Bernie has strength going into the 2020 election
But while in April 2019 I was hesitant to say CPT could apply to the General Election, increasingly I think that it can help us understand the major trends going into November.
Trump is a Cultural Conservative, so in the Cultural-Political Theory framework, he does best against his foils within the theory: the Dogmatists.
But if it’s Bernie, he has no Dogmatist to squabble over gender pronouns and open borders with. Instead, he will be cornered into fighting over economic issues — and here, he is weaker than he seems. That may sound counterintuitive, as Trump has overseen a record stock market and loves to trumpet his job numbers, but let me explain.
What Trump has not done is improve the social contract for America’s workers (small ‘w’ here to indicate that we’re talking about the class, not the Democratic CPT designation). He has failed to bring in improved family leave; failed to bring down prescription drug prices enough; failed to improve unemployment safety nets; failed to cut taxes in a way that meaningfully improves the conditions for ordinary Americans; and failed to increase the size of the middle class.
Despite the sky-high stock prices, corporate profits and the talk of record-low unemployment, for millions of Americans with almost nothing in savings, student debt piled high on their heads, deepening insecurity about what will happen to them should they get laid off, anxiety about the cost of raising a family, and other economic-related issues, Trump has done very little.
That’s why he’s weaker against a Worker candidate: Trump has made life much better for the rich, but not for anyone else. And as a self-declared billionaire, he’s vulnerable to the accusation that all his policies have been self-serving.
Finally, the game is not to win the center, but to turn out new voters on the margins
There is no American center as we understand it anymore — only new voters on the edges of the left-right spectrum. That means new policy proposals are needed to turn them out — and both Republicans and Democrats are making their pitches to nudge the country in their direction. If Democrats are to be successful in courting the margins, they need a platform that the left-wing margin wants to see — and the left-wing margin, as we’re seeing playing out in the primaries, is not dominated by the Dogmatist activists of Black Lives Matter or #MeToo, but by the economically-liberal, even outright socialist, Workers. They are the hidden voters not yet found, the ones who have either never participated or are just coming onto the field as young voters. And it is they who make Bernie Sanders the best candidate to take on Donald Trump in November.