Bernie’s col­lapse: Wrong can­di­date, wrong mes­sage, wrong time

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - OPINION - Marc Thiessen Fol­low Marc A. Thiessen on Twit­ter, @marc­thiessen.

WASH­ING­TON >> Af­ter his thump­ing by for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent

Joe Bi­den on Tues­day, Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders’ hopes of win­ning the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion are slip­ping away. So why is his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign tank­ing? Be­cause his mes­sage is not res­onat­ing with the vot­ers he claims to cham­pion.

Work­ing-class vot­ers were sup­posed to be San­ders’ fire­wall in Michi­gan, but the fire­wall did not hold. San­ders tried to con­vince blue-col­lar vot­ers that Bi­den had be­trayed them by sup­port­ing trade deals that sent their jobs to Mex­ico and China. It didn’t work. Bi­den won union house­holds in Michi­gan by an 18-point mar­gin. Why? One rea­son is that while those trade deals hap­pened long ago (and Pres­i­dent Trump has since rene­go­ti­ated NAFTA), San­ders threat­ened to take away some­thing these union work­ers have now and want to keep: the gen­er­ous union health-care plans they won through col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing.

The No. 1 is­sue for Demo­cratic vot­ers in Michi­gan was health care, and San­ders’ pledge to elim­i­nate all pri­vate in­sur­ance and force work­ers into manda­tory Medi­care-forall did not sit well with many union mem­bers. Bi­den, on the other hand, promised to pro­tect their health care — and de­feated San­ders in a state he won four years ago.

But the deeper prob­lem for San­ders is that his en­tire cam­paign is built on a fun­da­men­tally flawed premise. In an in­ter­view on “Meet the Press,” San­ders said the econ­omy “is work­ing phe­nom­e­nally well for Trump’s bil­lion­aire friends, not for work­ing Amer­i­cans.” Work­ing Amer­i­cans dis­agreed. A re­cent Gallup poll found that

63% of Amer­i­cans ap­prove of the way Trump is han­dling the econ­omy, the high­est eco­nomic ap­proval of any pres­i­dent in two decades. As Trump ex­plained in his State of the Union ad­dress, Amer­ica has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a “blue-col­lar boom.” On his watch, the econ­omy has added al­most half a mil­lion man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs, af­ter los­ing nearly 300,000 dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Last year, the Marist poll asked vot­ers whether “the econ­omy is work­ing well for you per­son­ally.” Nearly two-thirds said yes, in­clud­ing 64% of those with­out a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion and 61% of non­white peo­ple. Who dis­agreed? Pro­gres­sives (59% of whom said the econ­omy was not work­ing well for them per­son­ally) and those who are lib­eral or very lib­eral (55% of whom said the same). In other words, San­ders sup­port­ers. San­ders is cam­paign­ing in a so­cial­ist bub­ble. His mes­sage res­onates with the far left, but not with the work­ing class.

Of course, ev­ery­thing could change if the coro­n­avirus pushes the econ­omy into re­ces­sion. Michi­gan au­towork­ers will feel dif­fer­ently about the econ­omy in a few months’ time if the assembly lines shut down be­cause they can’t get auto parts from China. An eco­nomic down­turn would cer­tainly put Trump at risk in Novem­ber, which is why he is now push­ing for an eco­nomic stim­u­lus pack­age. It’s un­clear whether such a stim­u­lus will pass, whether it would work and how much vot­ers would blame the pres­i­dent for the eco­nomic im­pact of a pan­demic orig­i­nat­ing in China. But it’s also far from cer­tain that they would have em­braced so­cial­ism as the an­swer. This much is cer­tain: Any down­turn will come too late for San­ders.

If San­ders could not rally blue-col­lar vot­ers to beat Bi­den, he cer­tainly was not go­ing to do so against Trump. San­ders is the wrong can­di­date with the wrong mes­sage at the wrong time. That’s why his cam­paign is on life sup­port.

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