If you listen closely, Bernie Sanders is telling us exactly who he is, and which Obama voters he cares about...and which ones he wants to be rid of in this conversation with NYT Upshot's Nate Cohn.
But Mr. Sanders, who has surged in the polls against Hillary Clinton, called to advance a different theory of the race. “I look at these things more from a class perspective,” he said.
“I’m not a liberal. Never have been. I’m a progressive who mostly focuses on the working and middle class.”
The difference between a liberal and a progressive focused on workers might seem slim, but it nonetheless shapes how he envisions the potential of the political coalition he hopes to assemble. He believes he can mobilize a working-class coalition spanning ideological divides.
“Ordinary people are profoundly disgusted with the state of the economy and the fact that the middle class is being destroyed and income going to the top 1 percent.”
Many of these people “may not be liberal” or may not “agree with me on gay marriage,” but “they want a fighter,” he said in the cordial conversation.
The issues that could potentially rally disaffected lower- and- middle-class voters “cross traditional liberal-conservative lines,” Mr. Sanders argued. He is in a good position to raise these issues, he said, citing his positions on trade, issues affecting older Americans and the minimum wage.
If Bernie's own words are raising alarm bells in your head right now, there's a reason for that, if you look at Cohn's analysis.
If Mr. Sanders did build a coalition of working-class voters, it would look a lot different from the coalitions assembled by recent liberal Democratic primary candidates. It would be positioned to do far better among Hispanic, black and less educated white voters than recent anti-establishment Democratic challengers, like Barack Obama, Howard Dean, Bill Bradley and Jerry Brown.
Far better among black and Latino voters than Obama? Obama got 93% of the black vote with record black turnout in 2012 and 71% of the Latino vote, for a combined 23% of the entire 2012 electorate. Exactly how does Sanders do "far better" than that?
In fairness to Mr. Sanders, few, if any, recent Democratic candidates represented the economic, populist left. The anti-establishment candidate of the last four competitive primaries all featured challenges from intellectual, professional-class liberals. Mr. Brown, Mr. Bradley, Mr. Dean and Mr. Obama — each educated at some point at an Ivy League university — all fared well in Marin County, Calif., and Greenwich, Conn.; none appealed much to voters in the Appalachians or along the Rio Grande.
And there we have it (despite the fact that Obama in fact did very well among voters in the Texas border area.) It's always back to the white West Pennsatucky vote, and this is where Bernie thinks he can do better, while keeping black and Latino voters.
The problem is Bernie's idea of appealing to us isn't working real well.
When asked why his campaign was struggling to attract the working-class, less liberal voters he thought he might be reaching, Mr. Sanders acknowledged the challenges facing his campaign. “I’m not well known in the African-American community, despite a lifelong record,” he said, acknowledging one of the most consistent critiques of his chances. “That’s a real issue, and I have to deal with it.”
Maybe your support of gun manufacturers and your slagging of Obama has something to do with it, Bern. Just saying. When you try to broaden your appeal to voters in the Appalachians at the expense of voters in black neighborhoods, you're going to lose and keep losing.
Or, you could just go the Jim Webb route and be statistical noise and a giant joke. Your call.