Take Note, Be Cautious Not To Underestimate Bernie Sanders

What has been striking about the 2020 presidential election is the extent to which journalists’ opinions have driven press coverage.

It has been especially noticeable on network-television news programs, both broadcast and cable.

And it’s not just how they cover the campaign but what they cover. They’d do well to spend more time talking about issues and less time reporting on who’s ahead and who’s behind, as if this were a horse race.

Is this a new problem? Not particularly. Yet there is a nagging sense that the problem is getting worse.

Just look at much of the coverage of Democrats running for president in 2020. At one time or another, journalists have decreed one candidate was in front. Then it was another candidate. Then another. And another. And on and on it has gone.

In the wake of the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, and the Nevada caucuses, many of them decreed Sen. Bernie Sanders all but unstoppable, and former Vice President Joe Biden all but dead, in the race to lead the Democrats’ 2020 ticket. After the South Carolina primary, many of them flipped their stories.

The real story was-and is-that different candidates play differently in different states. And that the race to be the Democrats’ 2020 standard bearer has a long way to go. And that many establishment Democrats prefer Biden over Sanders and have corralled other candidates to get out of the race and support Biden.

Many journalists’ analyses also miss the mark in other ways.

Regardless of who they’re rooting for, many of them assert Biden is a moderate. Yet Biden himself denied that on Fox News Sunday on March 1. One need not be a member of any particular party, or have particular political beliefs, to understand that on this point, Biden is right.

Many of them also assert-as do many establishment Democrats and others-that in November, Biden would have a better chance than Sanders of beating President Trump. According to reports, some in the Trump campaign also believe this.

For multiple reasons, this may be a much closer call than they think, and it may cut the other way: Sanders may-may-be the Democrats’ better candidate. Or at least, Sanders has advantages for Democrats that Biden lacks. Republicans and Trump supporters underestimate Sanders at their peril.

Among the factors cutting in Sanders’s favor are these five. Again, to understand these factors, one need not be a member of any particular party, or have particular political beliefs.

First, Sanders has an endearing quality that voters appreciate. He, like Trump, tends to say what he thinks without soft pedaling it. Voters appreciate candor, even when they disagree and even when they wish the candor were a bit more polished.

Second, Sanders is closer to Trump than to Biden on issues such as international trade and the use of America’s military might around the globe. This allows Sanders to speak to 2016 Trump voters in ways that Biden may not be as effective.

Third, Sanders is better on his feet than Biden. His message is sharper, he himself is more focused, he retains his focus better, and he engages more effectively with voters. And when some people disagree with Biden, he publicly and angrily berates them with vulgarity. While no candidate is free of mistakes, voters will forgive some mistakes, and Sanders makes fewer of them than Biden does.

Fourth, Sanders, like Trump, isn’t fond of the Washington swamp. Although Sanders and Trump have different reasons, both of them have a throw-the-establishment-bums-out part of their message. It’s appealing to their voters and their prospective voters. Biden, by contrast, is part of the establishment.

Fifth, Sanders and his supporters know how establishment Democrats lined up against his presidential candidacy in 2016 and have done so in 2020. So if Democrats don’t nominate Sanders, the candidate they do nominate may be a hard sell for core Sanders supporters. They may be unhappy that the establishment has stopped their candidate again.

Which may put into a bind those who want a Democrat to win in November and think Sanders would have a harder time winning than Biden would: They think it may be hard to win with him, yet without him, it may be hard for different reasons.

West Ellicott resident Randy Elf has long been an occasional Post-Journal columnist. This is his first venture as a regular columnist.


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