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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Electability Argument Is Really About Party Unity Moderate Democrats need to pledge to vote for the party nominee, even if it is Warren or Sanders.

IIn these last days before the Iowa caucuses, Bernie Sanders has enjoyed a surge in the polls that has thrown moderate Democrats into a panic. A poll released on Wednesday by Crooked Media/Change Research puts Sanders at the top of the field with 27 percent, trailed by Pete Buttigieg (19 percent), Joe Biden (18 per cent), Elizabeth Warren (15 percent), and Amy Klobuchar (10 percent). In national polls, the gap between the Biden and Sanders continues to narrow. In the aggregation of polls by Real Clear Politics, Biden stands at 28.4 percent to Sanders’s 23 percent. It’s easy now to see a path for victory for Sanders: He could win the first three states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada), which would give him enough momentum to overtake Joe Biden (whose supporters are much less committed than Sanders’s loyal base).

The prospect of Sanders being the nominee has unnerved moderate Democrats as well as their allies among Never Trump Republicans. This panic has led a Super PAC (Democratic Majority for Israel) to start pushing anti-Sanders ads. It’s also produced a spate of nervous columns warning of the risks of a Sanders candidacy in New York magazineThe New York Times, The Atlantic, and Slate.

Jonathan Chait’s New York piece is the most valuable example of this genrebecause it contains a revealing contradiction. Chait rehearsed the familiar litany of concerns about Sanders: the unpopularity of the socialist label that Sanders has embraced, Sanders’s history of associations with radical groups like the Socialist Workers Party, the indiscreet sexual writing Sanders did as a young man, and the success that Democrats have had in fielding moderate candidates in the 2018 midterms compared to the failure of more progressive candidates in the same election cycle.

All of these are serious concerns, although many of them can convincingly be shown to be less worrying than Chait thinks. For example, Chait argues that in 2018, “while progressives managed to nominate several candidates in red districts—Kara Eastman in Nebraska, Richard Ojeda in West Virginia, and many others—any one of whose victory they would have cited as proof that left-wing candidates can win Trump districts, not a single one of them prevailed in November.” But as Princeton historian Matt Karp notes, even though Ojeda lost, he did 25 percent better than Hillary Clinton did in 2016.

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