Reimagining the 2016 Campaign, As Punctuated by a Bernie Victory

Politics Features Bernie Sanders
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Reimagining the 2016 Campaign, As Punctuated by a Bernie Victory

I have a theory that all of us horrified by the Trump Presidency are undergoing some form of PTSD, so in that spirit, let’s dabble in Trumpism and take a detour from reality.

I held my nose and supported Hillary in the primary because Bernie is just a bit too liberal for my politics, and the giant government apparatus he aims to construct unnerves me. That said, I’d trade my entire savings to get him into office over the orange ghoul currently pricing out the various appendages of the American project. Bernie Sanders would have been a fine president, and in retrospect, he was clearly the best candidate for the moment. Many of the counties that decided the election were won by him going away in the Democratic primary. The problem is that he couldn’t cobble together a majority.

The reasons why are varied. A small portion of it was due to collusion by the DNC. Political committees don’t have THAT much power over our minds. Another was the inexperience of Sanders’ supporters to understand how to ingratiate themselves into greater politics. When I went to vote in the Republican primary (so I could vote against Trump twice in one year – John Kasich won my protest vote if you’re curious), a Sanders supporter walked in wearing a Christmas sweater that said “Bernie” at the top with a picture of him underneath. They told him he couldn’t wear it in the polling station (for what should be incredibly obvious reasons), and he went on an incredibly loud rant about how his constitutional rights were being violated and how this was part of a conspiracy and just basically made a big scene. Bernie Sanders inspired a lot of first timers into politics, and this is a very good thing – but their inexperience showed when it mattered and that was a reason that he lost.

Many people were satisfied overall with Obama’s presidency, and the idea of basically another term was alluring, in addition to change being a difficult issue for people to wrap their heads around without a tangible experience. There are many reasons why Seinfeld is one of the greatest TV shows ever, and this scene is one of them.

People don’t learn through logic, but by pain. Neither Hillary nor Bernie’s policies represented my politics, but Hillary’s were closer to them, so she won my vote even though I 100% agreed with Bernie’s diagnosis of our central problems. I have reconsidered some of my more neoliberal positions in the wake of one of the most excruciating nights of my life, and am now more willing to consider government overreach so long as it blunts corporate overreach. We’ve done so much retrospection of our pain to this point, and so we deserve to indulge a bit. Let’s retreat to a world in which Bernie more quickly banished Hillary to the dustbin of American political history’s most famed losers.

The Debates

“That’s nonsense Lester. Complete nonsense. Not only is Donald Trump one of those millionaires and alleged billionaires who have preyed on the vulnerable middle class in this country, but his economic policies continue the Republican economic agenda from the Bush administration’s severe tax cuts for the wealthy, while also slashing benefits for every day Americans. There is a real, justified anger that Donald has tapped into, but his solutions would do harm to the people he claims to help. Wall Street caused the crash that wiped out 70% of middle class wealth, and Donald’s plan proposes to give the fat cats even more bailouts on the backs of the American people.”

That’s what every Bernie answer would have basically sounded like. Trump would make an outlandish claim about how the liberals are going to hurt what will wind up becoming the Obama-Trump voter, and Bernie would empathize with their pain while dismissing Trump’s policies. Bernie could even follow Trump to the exact places he spoke at every day, and give a speech right after him. Trump would have likely turned the “socialism” angle up 10,000 degrees, and ratcheted up the nativist “us vs. them” narrative that defined his campaign. “Make America Great Again” would come to mean “Stop him from taking your money and giving it to THOSE people.”

Sanders would likely counter with something like this epic tweetstorm by Eric Garland, punctuating every pushback with a point such as this one.

He probably wouldn't call Trump an asshole, but almost anything can be said once you get two New Yorkers arguing over something. The debates would have been legendary, and a bazillion petitions to get Jon Stewart back on TV would have crashed the internet.

The Campaign

Down the final stretch, Trump's pivot to the Midwest would have been less obvious, as Bernie would have spent much of the campaign there, trying to run up the score in states he had previously won. Simply put, given what we know now about the roughly 100,000 people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin who overruled 2.5 million others across the nation, Trump's path to victory was impossible against Sanders given that they spoke to the same anguish and betrayal affecting America's former manufacturing centers. Trump's rhetoric stirred up enough motivated opposition that Clinton actually received more votes than Obama did in 2012 from 12 of the 20 most populous counties in America. Do not let anyone tell you that turnout was the issue this year (well, in a larger sense it's THE issue every year – 45% no show at best is pathetic and an affront to democracy).

Turnout in certain key areas was an issue, and there is a key correlation as to why.

Hold on, give me a few hours to scream until my lungs explode…
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OK, I think I’m better now. Where am I again? Oh right.

Overall, Hillary won more votes than any white man in American history, she just won them from all the wrong places because she tried to run up the score amongst Hispanics, rather than shore up her Midwest firewall, which was what justified all her confidence in the first place.

This election was lost by the very thinnest of margins, and the margins where it was decided were Bernie strongholds. If the DNC knew the Midwest was going to decide this election, they would have thought twice about throwing their lot in with HRC. The inane Democratic celebrity apparatus (henceforth known as Dunhambot), which creates a self-defeating and somewhat self-perpetuating caricature would have still been in full force across America’s coasts, proving countless #NeverTrumpers right on the right about the party they refuse to back. Trump would have had less late Republican votes break for him, as hatred against Hillary proved to be the unifying force across the party, and #NeverTrump would come to spiritually represent conservatism even if it still lost to Trumpism in pure numbers.

Election night would have still been a bit of a sweat, as Florida and North Carolina are true tossups, and were going to be up in the air long into the night regardless of who the candidates are. Michigan and Wisconsin would have been called for Sanders much earlier, and once Nevada and Colorado became official, it would just be a matter of time until one of Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, or Florida completed the first stage of Bernie’s revolution. Had the angry rural voters who showed up in droves for Trump had a similar passion for Bernie’s desire to replace the entire system, he would have surpassed 350 electoral votes, picking a red state off like Georgia or Arizona in the process.

The narrative exiting the election would be that despite occupying a record number of state houses as well as at least one branch of Congress, the Republican Party has won 1 popular vote since 1988, and is no longer a national party. The media would interpret a 2.5+ million popular vote victory and a 300+ electoral vote win over a party who just ran Donald freaking Trump as a true mandate, and pressure would intensify on Republicans in Congress to make sweeping changes one way or the other. They would not be able to unilaterally oppose Sanders the way they did with Obama simply because an old white man spoke to a large amount of their old white voters. Barack Hussein Obama did as well, but given his complexion and his name, he was much easier to otherize. America is the nihilistic playground of rich old white men and sadly, a lot of useful idiots think they are going to join their cabal one day.

Bernie’s Cabinet

Given that the Dems stuck Hillary with a similarly uninspiring and financially compromised man, the strategy of using a comparable VP to compensate for the Presidential candidate’s weakness would probably endure under Bernie. Elizabeth Warren is the obvious choice, as she represented Bernie’s coalition in the Democratic party until he switched in order to win an election. However, Sanders has been in government forever, and understands how valuable a staunch ally in the Senate will be. Warren surely would help on the campaign trail, but to enact his goals, she would remain inside the Senate. Instead, I think a strong VP candidate for Bernie would have been Mark Cuban.

We know he wanted to be on the ticket, and he wound up campaigning for Hillary Clinton, so he likely would have aided the Sanders campaign in some capacity. But what he brings to the table is a massive narrative change for Sanders. Bernie has made a career out of picking fights with the 1% – and by putting a billionaire on his ticket, he would be signaling to everyone uncomfortable with the “class warfare” angle that it’s not about attacking success, but undue influence. Simply put, Cuban’s presence would ensure that the Dem’s badly needed financial backers wouldn’t flee across the aisle.

One of Cuban’s most passionate issues is patent law, and the proliferation of firms who file millions of patents with the sole intent of never producing the unit and just suing emerging technologies like it. Sanders could package that along with a litany of other issues into his message of fighting back against institutionalized corruption, all while having a trump card anytime someone hit him on the “socialist” angle. Mark Cuban is a libertarian-ish actual billionaire who is similarly passionate about curbing crony capitalism, and he would have been an A+ troll on the campaign trail for Trump. I think we all would pay many multiples of PPV prices to watch Cuban-Trump debates.

As far as the rest of his cabinet, Sanders named three potential picks to the Huffington Post: economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, along with the former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton – Robert Reich. Here’s a guess at some of his more prominent cabinet positions:

Secretary of the Treasury: Paul Krugman

Secretary of Commerce: Joseph Stiglitz

Secretary of Housing & Urban Development: Cory Booker

Secretary of Energy: Bill Nye the Science Guy (or Neil Degrasse Tyson)

A central plank of the Bernie platform is a commitment to a future built on renewable energy. A complete revolution doesn’t happen without an army of STEM students. Sanders would no doubt use some of his cabinet positions to inspire grassroots movements. Having a famous egghead on his staff would provide a huge visibility boost to America’s most important and one of its most publicly neglected subjects: science.

Secretary of Defense: General James Mattis

Sanders is not the pacifist isolationist many of his supporters portray him to be, as he has supported the military industrial complex so long as it was located in Vermont. James Mattis is a military legend, and is the only nomination that Trump has made who inspires any confidence.

Secretary of State: Keith Ellison

You wouldn’t think of this as a position that has a financial lean, but a Sanders presidency would certainly view tackling the global banking structure as part of their agenda. Ellison is Sanders’ highest profile supporter in Congress, and he sits on the Committee on Financial Services, the Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises, and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. He has also sat on the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Judiciary Committee, so he has more international bona fides than at first glance. Anointing a Muslim as our chief diplomat following our first African American president would signal to the world that we were prepared to build upon the gains made in the last eight years. Plus, Sanders has shown a propensity to act like a traditional politician in his 25+ years in Washington, and hand out favors to his friends. This would be yet another signal to his Democratic opposition that their “expertise” is not vital to his operation.

And lastly, it’s not an official cabinet position, but of similar importance nonetheless: Robert Reich would probably fit in best as his chief of staff. This is the same job Reince Preibus does for Trump, except there would be no liberal version of Steve Bannon sapping his influence down the hall (picturing the DailyKos or Salon operating out of Karl Rove’s former office makes me laugh so hard my insides hurt).

OK one more since this is fun and I’m not ready to travel back into a world where Trump is President.

White House Press Secretary: Sarah Silverman

This is one of the 5 best ideas I’ve ever had. Press conferences would do NFL-like ratings with Ms. Silverman on her toes and off-script. In all honesty, her doing this gig under a Trump Presidency would be one of the funniest things ever (“I don’t know why he does this *****! Maybe it’s because his hands are so tiny. Why don’t you ask him? Oh right…because he’s a dick…tator.”).

And finally, we have the dominant theme of the election (in as of this week, this new Paste Editor’s mind): Russian meddling. It’s hard to ascertain how it would have played out, given that the Washington Post report on CIA intel implies that what began as an operation designed to delegitimize American democracy wound up supporting the Trump campaign. Sanders also provides a positive for Putin, as he would then have two candidates who represented a rebuke to the American system. Either way, it’s safe to say that our PEOTUS wouldn’t be defending a Russian dictator at the expense of the CI mother effing A. My God. What world do we live in now?