Bernie Sanders will not defeat Hillary Clinton. Right now she looks as though she will do well in upcoming primaries in Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Florida. But Sanders’s fiery performance in last night’s debate and his win in Michigan are underscore that there is a path, however difficult it will to be traverse, for Donald Trump to defeat Clinton in the fall.
Right now, Clinton looks like a shoo-in against Trump. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Clinton has a sizable lead over the New York mogul. Voters give her the edge not only in handling crises and the economy, but also when it comes to personality and temperament. It will be a heavy lift for Trump to surpass her, particularly if he us unable to portray a more statesmanlike persona in coming months. So far, he does not appear even to have assembled a foreign policy team, though he keeps promising one.
Nevertheless, if a month is an age in politics, then eight months is an eon. Trump has time to catch up. And he has a roadmap to victory. After his big election win Tuesday, Trump said, “We will take many, many people away who normally go Democrats. We will have people come over here and who have never, never voted Republican.” Trump might even want to study the Sanders campaign. Sanders nailed Clinton during the debate when he observed about her Goldman Sachs speeches, “When you get paid $225,000, that means that speech must have been an extraordinarily wonderful speech.”
Sanders is also tormenting Clinton on the issue of free trade. In her heart of hearts, she supports a global economy. But once again, she’s trying to pretend otherwise, turning her back on free trade with Asia, the very Trans-Pacific Partnership that she negotiated and that was supposed to be the crown jewel of the Obama administration’s Asia reset. But Sanders continues to pummel her, denouncing in Michigan “disastrous trade agreements written by corporate America.” There’s little here to distinguish Sanders from Trump.
Unlike in 2008, when Clinton gave Barack Obama fits, Clinton is unable to capitalize on the white working-class vote in this go around. Maybe it’s the perception of her untrustworthiness—last night she imperiously dismissed the possibility that she could be indicted for her server machinations: “It’s not going to happen. I’m not even going to answer that question.” (Yet Glenn Kessler reminds us in the Washington Post today that a cable was sent under Clinton’s signature admonishing employees to “avoid conducting official Department business from your personal e-mail accounts.”) Maybe it’s her forced laugh, which comes across as a cackle. Or maybe it’s simply that Sanders believes in his message. But Clinton will have to retool and respond to Sanders or face real difficulties against Trump. In Cleveland, the New York Times reports, she announced, “I don’t want to be the president for those who are already successful—they don’t need me. I want to be the president for the struggling and the striving.”
The one issue where Sanders and Clinton seemed to see eye-to-eye was on immigration. They attacked President Obama for deportations of children. Clinton said, “I will not deport children. I would not deport children. I do not want to deport family members either." Sanders added that he would not deport non-criminal illegal immigrants. Here is an issue where Trump will undoubtedly try to drive a wedge between Clinton and the emerging Trump Democrats.
This quote from the Financial Times should give Clinton shivers:
“Barry Shulsky, a life-long registered Democrat, thought he would never cast a vote in another US presidential election. Then came Donald Trump.
“Fed up with the economy, Congress and the Obama administration, which he says has placed more of a priority on providing amnesty to illegal immigrants than fixing the economic problems of white, working-class Americans, Mr Shulsky says he is now planning to back the Republican real estate tycoon in November, after voting for Barack Obama four years ago.
“‘All [politicians] are puppets—except for Donald Trump,’ Mr Shulsky, 68, declared, as he basked in an unseasonably warm March day in Front Royal, near the border with West Virginia. ‘Give the man four years and see what happens. He can’t make it any worse.’
“‘Democrats used to be better for [ordinary Americans],’ he continued. ‘Now they’re better for immigrants.’”
Perhaps Clinton should be grateful for the race that Sanders is running against her. He could turn out to be equivalent of a sparring partner who toughens her up for the real prizefight. By now she should have realized that Trump, just as with Sanders, is a more formidable opponent than she might wish.
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of the National Interest.
Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore.