OPINION: To Defeat Sanders, Look to Boris Johnson’s UK Election Victory, Winning Issues
As Bernie Sanders appears increasingly set to win the Democratic nomination and face President Donald Trump in the 2020 Presidential election, it’s time for the President and his leading campaign strategists to develop an initial game plan for an election against Sanders.
There’s considerable reason to believe that a conventional conservative campaign strategy isn’t going to prove effective against Sanders. If he goes on to win the nomination, he’ll have defeated a field full of conventional liberals. Accusing Sanders of supporting big government or being a socialist seems irrelevant, as he speaks openly and proudly about supporting ideas that conservatives have accused liberals of supporting for decades.
The Vermont Senator would be a relatively unprecedented major party nominee, an incidental similarity to President Trump in 2016. But his brand of left-wing politics does have precedent in international politics- most notably in Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who also identifies as a Democratic Socialist.
Corbyn was defeated in a whopping landslide by the Tories’ Boris Johnson in the 2019 UK general election. Johnson, a British career politician, is no Donald Trump. But President Trump’s campaign strategists would be foolish not to take some inspiration from how Johnson beat Sanders’ closest political cousin in such a fashion, even if it appears on the surface that the most Trump and Johnson have in common is their hairstyle.
Granted, there is a pressing fundamental difference between the potential Trump-Sanders election and the UK’s most recent parliamentary election. The latter was set in the overbearing shadow of one indisputably pressing issue: Brexit. Corbyn’s Labour- internally divided on the issue- had dragged its feet slowly enough to prevent former Prime Minister Theresa May from executing on the UK’s 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union. Johnson’s job was easy- simply offer to fulfill the will of the British voter.
A Trump-Sanders presidential election would be different in the sense that there isn’t a single issue that will easily dominate the conversation of the candidates and the general public. Staple issues such as healthcare, immigration, the economy and national security will prove to be impactful. President Trump won’t have the luxury of honing in on one overlying issue that Sanders has no answer for.
Part of developing a comprehensive election strategy to face Sanders includes simply acknowledging that a majority of the public agrees with him on some of his signature policy proposals. Including some of those- most notably healthcare- that conventional political wisdom would have you believe are “far left” and beyond the pale.
Perhaps recognizing that some of Corbyn’s views were similarly popular, Johnson did prove successful in blunting Corbyn’s appeal by stealing his thunder on his core issues of healthcare. Johnson rejected much of the Tory Party’s former Thatcherite dogma by proposing plans to further fund Britain’s National Health Service.
One need not endorse the questionable merits of Medicare-for-All to propose reform to the notably broken and out-of-control American healthcare system. The underlying appeal of Sanders’ healthcare proposal lies in the failure of the system to provide affordable and quality care, a problem Trump would be prescient to recognize. The American people will be underwhelmed with healthcare policy proposals that maintain the system is working adequately right now.
President Trump could prove effective in stealing Sanders’ thunder on healthcare reform by shoring up some of the policies he’s already considered as reforms to the system. Out-of-control drug prices, fueled through greed within the pharmaceutical industry, have consistently proven to be one of the greatest factors in skyrocketing healthcare costs in America.
Executive orders that exert pressure on drug companies- many of which are beneficiaries of governmental subsidies, extremely generous tax breaks, and the United States’ world-class research and development infrastructure- pose no serious threat to free enterprise as conservatives value it, possibly in a moderated form.
President Trump has already proven willing to use arm-twisting and presidential influence in efforts to drive down drug prices. Taking initiative to move the ball forward in a more formal fashion could prove enough render Sanders’ proposals mere ideas, compared to concrete actions that drive down healthcare prices and make insurance more widely available.
The Democrats’ intense focus on impeachment has had a MASSIVE opportunity cost.
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) February 6, 2020
Perhaps a thorough consideration of medicaid expansion- a policy debated by Republican governors and state legislators in President Obama’s second term- could prove to be in order. It’s hard to argue that medicare needs to be a universal program when existing programs are expanded to cover a greater segment of the American public.
Republicans need not fret that they face a candidate whose policies are wholly more popular than their own. Some of Sanders’ left-wing ideas are genuinely unpopular, and rightly so on account of the awful impact they would have on American society. Sanders’ immigration, criminal justice, environmental, and gun rights policies are not only unpopular with the general public, but considerably so.
Americans do not support Sanders’ de facto open borders propositions. Sanders has maintained that he does not support open borders- perhaps even selling out on the issue to the cultural left, after some light lip service calling such ideas “Koch brothers policy-” but calling for a “deportation moratorium” that ends ICE operations and gives a free pass to the majority of illegal immigrants in the United States is just exactly that. It’s going to be extremely difficult for Sanders to sell an immigration policy that seems far more left-wing than what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton shied away from talking about on the campaign trail, properly acknowledging that the average voter wouldn’t like to hear what they believed on the issue.
Immigration was the driving issue of the Brexit decision itself, a voter referendum Johnson was tasked with fulfilling as Prime Minister. The desire for stricter immigration policy that proved essential to the populist wave behind the election of Trump and Brexit remains relevant and popular, and President Trump would be leaving his strongest card in his hand if he weren’t to apply it in force against Sanders.
Sanders is also vulnerable on the economy. The Green New Deal he supports would simply shut down the energy industry, ending 6.7 million well-paying and frequently unionized jobs overnight. It’s hard to imagine that the Green New Deal could be arranged in a fashion that effectively replaces such jobs, even in the most wide-reaching of proposals. It’s likely millions of oil rig workers and coal miners would simply be sent into unemployment as a result of an environmental policy that seems impossible to actually implement.
The United States has decreased its annual emissions levels more than any nation in the world under Trump’s presidency, an accomplishment the President could use to undercut Sanders’ militant climate advocacy. Boris Johnson also blunted Corbyn’s environmental appeal by pointing out progress already being made without dramatic proposals to re-imagine industrial society.
Similarly to immigration, Sanders sold out on gun rights over the course of his political career in the face of pressure from the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party. Sanders now supports legislation that would leave gun manufacturers liable for casualties their products inflict. Such a proposal could very well ensure the bankruptcy and end of the firearms industry in the United States, a backdoor path to gun control.
Bernie Sanders supports allowing prisoners- who are currently serving their sentences- to vote. That would allow felons jailed for violent crimes to vote for state attorney generals and sheriffs tasked with enforcing the laws they’ve broken. He supports lowering sentences for violent and repeat criminals and ending America’s bail system, even in light of failed experiments by state and local governments that seem to be giving serious criminals facing trials get-out-of-jail free cards
Such proposals are drastic measures in an era where America’s prison population is already declining. Sanders says he’s going to “cut the national prison population in half,” a dramatic proposal that ensures the release of violent offenders as well as less dangerous drug offenders.
Sanders is a populist in a manner not entirely different than Trump, even if his populism is entirely on the different side of the political spectrum. Ultimately the populist who will win in a election between two of them is one whose policies prove more popular.