At The Daily Beast, Jay Michaelson writes that, “despite having absorbed several dozen pro-Bernie articles and videos,” he has “yet to hear a plausible path to victory for Bernie Sanders.” He doesn’t argue that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be a more formidable general-election candidate; he simply cannot see a scenario in which Bernie Sanders becomes the 45th president.
He’s not alone. It’s hard to overstate how confident some political analysts are that Bernie Sanders, should he become the Democratic nominee, would go on to be crushed in a general election. They know it like they know that the sun rises in the east; some are outraged that theirs is not a consensus view.
And they have two compelling arguments. First, while Sanders holds up well in head-to-head polling against the likely Republican candidates—better than Hillary Clinton at this point—he’s never been subjected to a billion dollars’ worth of vicious, red-baiting attacks from the right. Sanders has spent a lifetime in lefty politics, and there’s a treasure-trove of opposition research waiting to be unleashed should he win the Democratic nomination. Tim Mak wrote for The Daily Beast that “Sanders’s association with the radical left is varied—over many years of political development he came to be associated with the youth section of the Socialist Party; the Trotskyist Socialist Workers’ Party; the anti-war Vermont Liberty Union Party, and the left-wing People’s Party.” Some of these groups endorsed the Iranian Revolution and were fiercely pro-Cuba. Mak also found an op-ed Sanders wrote in 1972 in which he argued that Congress should “institute public ownership, with worker control, of the major means of production.” Throw in a bit of dog-whistle anti-Semitism and some attacks based on Sanders’s advanced age, and it’s not hard to see how these kinds of attacks might take a toll on a lot of moderate voters.
A second strong point is related to the first: Much as Sanders’s supporters would say his platform is in keeping with traditional Democratic politics in the FDR mold, he’s widely viewed as a candidate who’s outside the mainstream. When Vox asked six political scientists about Sanders’s electability, they agreed that being perceived as too close to one ideological pole puts a candidate at a significant disadvantage—University of Denver scholar Seth Masket estimated that it would cost Sanders 2-3 percentage points relative to a generic Democratic candidate. Voters might say they want dramatic change, but when they’re faced with the prospect of the unknown, they become risk-averse.