(Note: The writer is answering the question: “Is Bernie Sanders the Democrats’ best bet to beat President Donald Trump?”)
DALLAS — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders: He was the best of Democratic presidential candidates, he was the worst of Democratic presidential candidates.
Let’s start with the worst. Sanders isn’t even a member of the Democratic Party. He is officially an independent.
It would be unusual if the Democratic presidential nominee weren’t actually a Democrat. But these are unusual times.
Another issue is Sanders’ age. He’ll be 79 years old when the 2020 presidential election takes place, making him the oldest president if he wins, five years older than Donald Trump.
On the other hand, even at their age no one can accuse Sanders or Trump of being “low energy.” He certainly would bring much more energy to his campaign than Hillary Clinton displayed in her sluggish race for the White House in 2016.
A third challenge for Sanders: No one knows whether the country is ready for a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” sitting in the Oval Office.
It’s clear Democrats are open to the idea — Gallup says 57 percent of Democrats view socialism favorably — but what about middle America?
Yet Sanders has several factors working in his favor that make him the Democrats’ odds-on favorite, at least for now.
Anyone who can raise $6 million from 223,000 individuals within 24 hours after announcing he’s a presidential candidate is a political force to be reckoned with.
Sanders has name recognition and a large pool of potential volunteers, many of whom are energized, motivated and feel the Clinton political machine robbed Sanders of the 2016 Democratic nomination.
Finally, if you think the political pendulum will swing hard in the opposite direction of Trump — and most Democrats do — Sanders is about as far in the opposite direction as you can go.
For example, Trump had never held political office before running for president; Sanders has spent his entire adult life in public office — or trying to get there. Trump is a capitalist and successful businessman. Sanders is a socialist who has never run a private sector business.
And Sanders is a principled politician — although many people disagree with his socialist principles. Trump’s principles have shifted frequently over the years, though he seems committed to a mostly conservative agenda today.
With money pouring in, experience, widespread name recognition and a political party increasingly eager to embrace socialism, Sanders may be the Democrats’ best chance to beat Trump. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good chance.
It’s very difficult to beat an elected incumbent president. Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush in 1992. Otherwise, you have to go back to 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated President Herbert Hoover.
All three losing incumbents presided over weak economies. The Trump economy is very strong — for now.
Another issue: Democrats typically campaign on the left to win the nomination and then move to the middle, at least in their public speeches, to attract independent voters.
Sanders is unlikely to make that shift. Will that alienate the 63 percent of all voters who view socialism unfavorably?
It’s a long time until the next presidential election and a lot can — and no doubt will — happen between now and then.
Sanders currently is polling strong among Democrats, who think the country will be ready to change directions in 2020. And that is surely what Sanders would do.
But even as Democratic presidential candidates gear up to win the nomination, many average Americans observing what’s increasingly becoming a political spectacle may see some truth in the rest of Charles Dickens’ opening statement in “A Tale of Two Cities”:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation. He holds a PhD in the Humanities from the University of Texas. Readers may write him at IPI, Suite 820, 1320 Greenway Drive, Irving, TX, 75038.