After the recent election in the United Kingdom, the expected reaction from American political pundits (who are amateurs at British politics, at best), gave us an he extremely predictive response to the election. That response; Sanders is Corbyn, Trump is Johnson, Johnson won, therefore Sanders can’t beat Trump. Of course, this is an absolutely ridiculous assertion. But why is this ridiculous? Yes, there are some things that can be transferable to the 202 Presidential Election. However, there are some fundamental differences between the two elections that, actually, can be a positive for Sanders in 2020. As our Kartik Krishnaiyer wrote after the election, Corbyn’s defeat was not only a repudiation of the far left in his mind, but also of the mushy middle.
First, let’s look at some of the similarities between the Sanders and Corbyn campaigns (or Labour and Democrats in general), that could prove to be a problem in the upcoming election.
Overly Ambitious Manifestos
In the US, the political catchphrase “how are you going to pay for that” is quite common. While it might not necessary be affective in the grand scheme of things, it is touted from time to time by centrist and conservative candidates to attack those on the left. However, we are starting to see this phrase being used to some affect. Interestingly, it wasn’t in Britain where we first saw this, but in Australia earlier this year. The Australian Labor Party introduced a manifesto that was considered “too ambitious” by the media and the opposition. As a result, the Labor Party, which was expected to win the election, lost in an upset. Corbyn’s Labour Party’s manifesto was also criticized for being “too radical” as well.
This was also one of the factors that led to the defeat of Labour. In the United States, Democrats might not want to include every ambitious issue in their platform. Free college tuition and single-payer health care in the same platform might result in the same problems that we saw in Australia and the United Kingdom.
First of all, let me start by saying that I am a supporter of Bernie Sanders. However, while I do like the candidate, I worry about many who support him. Many of Sanders and Corbyn supporters have a “our way or the highway” mentality that could possibly push voters away in a general election. Of course, this is a common problem for left and center-left politics in general. In 2008, Hillary Clinton supporters would accuse supporters of other candidates as ‘sexist’, and Barack Obama supporters would do the same, making the charge of ‘racism’. In 2016, the Clinton campaign did the same with Sanders supporters, calling them ‘Bernie Bros’ (i.e.. ‘sexists), and in the general election, the ‘racism’ charge was thrown at anyone who supported Donald Trump (though there is some credibility in that argument). And with Sanders’s supporters, if you aren’t with Bernie, you are “part of the establishment” and a “sellout”. Within Democratic politics, we are starting to see a lack of any nuance when it comes to politics, whether they are issue- or personality-driven politics. So, this isn’t just a worry for Sanders, but the entire field in general.
Questionable foreign policy history
This might be the hidden issue that derailed Corbyn, and could possibly derail Sanders. Both of these men have a questionable history when it comes to supporting certain leaders and causes in other countries. For Corbyn, he has made questionable remarks about terrorist organizations in the Middle East, is perceived as a supporter of the IRA and demonstrated sympathy for Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. For Sanders, he met with Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. Of course, the unpopularity of Tony Blair’s action during the Iraq War led to the current rise of the Tories. Still, being on the extreme opposite of that pole can have the same impact with voters, and possibly even worse.
While all of the above show similarities between Sanders (or Democrats) and Corbyn (and Labour), there are other ways in which these men, and their campaigns, are very different. Corbyn has long been associated with the furthest left elements on foreign policy in western democracies. This allowed Corbyn’s foreign policy views to be used to define his radicalism by the Tories rather than Labour’s economic messaging.
One of the biggest problems for Labour during this last election was the lack of message discipline. Do they talk about Brexit, or the NHS, or immigration, or something else? There was no focus on messaging whatsoever. Many say that this was a primary (if not the main) factor which resulted in Labour’s loss. At the same time, Boris Johnson stuck with his “get Brexit done” message throughout the campaign. Bernie Sanders doesn’t suffer from this problem. In fact, Sanders is extremely disciplined when it comes to messaging. He will probably not deviate from his message, something that Labour did constantly.
Situations in Both Countries
The electoral situation in the United States and United Kingdom are different. The issues are different. The U.S. isn’t faced with Brexit. Even the conservative candidates in both countries are vastly different, especially when it comes to intellect. Therefore, to simply transfer the U.K. experience to the U.S. would be a flaw because the electoral climate is not transferable.
Immigration as an issue
Of course, Brexit was the driving issue behind the U.K. election. However, Brexit was driven by the issue of immigration. But when talking about the issue of immigration within the context of British politics, it is more economically driven. Because of the unique situation that Britain finds itself in regarding the immigration of legal labor from other less developed European Union countries, there is a real threat to jobs within the U.K. As for the United States, the issue of immigration has taken on both economic and racial characteristics, with conservative advocating for the former, and liberal touting the latter. The Democrats could learn something by looking at the issue of immigration within the context of the economy, but all indications are that Democrats (regardless of candidate) will continue to make it an issue about race.
While Sanders supporters often complain about negative mainstream media coverage of their candidate, it pales in comparison to the misrepresentations Corbyn was subjected to by an openly partisan Tory media. Publications like The Daily Mail, The Sun and Telegraph, all historically associated with the Conservative Party did all they could to make Corbyn appear to be the second coming of Stalin or Mao. By and large they were successful. In the U.K., newspapers still are widely read and for every reader of The Guardian, the leading progressive paper in the English-speaking world, seven Daily Mail readers are present. The Sun boasts on average five times as many readers as The Guardian on a daily basis. While The Guardian appeals to intellectual opinion, The Sun plays at the lowest common denominator and much like in the 1992 General Election, the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid had a potentially decisive impact in winning an election for the Tories.
No matter how much you may believe the mainstream media is against Sanders, it will never quite rise to the level of vitriol or bias that Labour leaders, save Tony Blair have been hit with over the last 30 years.
Kartik Krishnaiyer contributed to this article