By Alan S. Chartock | February 29, 2020

The Bernie dilemma has arrived.

For many Americans, the number one consideration in choosing a candidate is whether or not they can get Donald Trump out of the White House. He “won” the presidency with many fewer votes than his opponent, Hillary Clinton, a fact that makes him even more crazy than usual.

Now, Democratic voters in the first of the primaries have shown a preference for Bernie, a self-described “Democratic Socialist” who is not a member of the Democratic Party. He has never even accepted the Democratic designation in his several successful elections. As Casey Stengel used to say, “You could look it up.” He is not a Democrat, yet huge numbers of people who are registered Democrats think he is the man. I interviewed Bernie on public radio countless times when he was in the House of Representatives and I voted for him when he ran against Hillary in the presidential primary. It’s possible that I was the first person he told that he was going to run.

I truly understand why so many Democrats favor Bernie. Their hatred of Donald Trump is so great that they are reaching for the strongest antidote they can find. Bernie has a first-rate program for the American people. Everything from free college tuition to universal health care and back again. Hey, I’m for all of that, too. Unfortunately, if the “purples,” those folks in between the Democrats and the Republicans, see Bernie as too far to the left, they may vote for Trump or stay home, in which case Trump wins again.

It is certainly surmised that both Trump and his allies, the Russians, are all in for a Bernie Democratic nomination. They are making no secret of it. In fact, Trump has assigned Bernie the nickname “Crazy Bernie,” a name which he thinks will resonate with American voters.

There are some problems, like Bernie’s heart attack followed by his refusal to make his medical records public. On the other hand, he has tremendous support from segments of the youth population who have always been less turnout prone than their older fellow voters. The primaries have also shown that Bernie has tremendous support from Hispanic voters. That could be a winning combination. It should be noted that in some national polls, Bernie beats Trump, at least for now. So what’s going on?

Donald Trump “won” the presidency because so many Americans were sick to death of the same old, same old. They thought of themselves as being on the short end of the economic stick. Trump supporters saw him as a kind of economic revolutionary. That was nonsense, of course, these voters ended up being screwed even worse. There are stories of Trump voters who say that they would have voted for Bernie had he been the candidate in 2016. It is possible that attitude will still hold.

The question of who Bernie’s vice-presidential pick will be is now really important. We assume that it will be a woman (it’s about time) and we are reasonably sure that Bernie will pick someone in his own image, perhaps Elizabeth Warren from Vermont’s next door neighbor, Massachusetts. That defies accepted political wisdom and geographic necessity but that’s what Bernie voters like about him, the fact that he eschews the usual way. One has to assume that if he picks Warren, she has a shot at being the first woman president.

So maybe the Russians and the Trump supporters are wrong about Bernie. Maybe he can win because he is a fresh and genuine alternative. I know all the reasons why the traditional political folk like me think that a moderate like Michael Bloomberg has a better chance, but there is something going on in this country that the old political hands may not understand. Trump has been a disaster and it is certainly possible that all of those voters who are looking for another way may elect Sanders.

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected].