Jack Vaughan

Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign went through quite the revamp this fall, and his performances in Iowa and New Hampshire solidified him as the frontrunner for the nomination for the time being. A fractured field of moderate candidates continues to help his campaign as the focus turns to more diverse states in the South and West.

Sanders is in a great position to be the Democratic nomination. However, 99% of the votes have yet to be cast in the remaining 55 states and territories, and the candidates’ support has yet to be measured in states that accurately reflect the nation’s demographics.

Even if one believes in policies like universal healthcare, it is worth considering what a Democratic ticket with Sanders at the top would do for the party and for down ballot candidates across the country. Considering Sanders’ policies are the least likely to be passed by the current Congress, Sanders is also unlikely to be the best candidate to provide enough of a coattail effect come 2021.

On healthcare, Sanders is in favor of a single-payer system where essential healthcare services are provided to all citizens. “Medicare for All” has been a key issue in the campaign, where Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren were early supporters that have since backed off from fully supporting it in its current form. But, as Sanders likes to say, he “wrote the damn bill.” And he is not likely to change his stance to better reflect the party’s general feelings towards healthcare policy.

Healthcare is a cornerstone in the Democratic Party’s platform. In 2018, it was the most important issue for Democrats in their retaking of the House of Representatives. Americans clearly trust Democrats more on the issue of healthcare, and it is a huge risk to embrace a policy so different from the last Democratic administration’s.

The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, was Democrats’ first recent success in providing Americans with a public healthcare option. Running on the good parts of Obamacare has a track record of success for Democrats, but Medicare for All is a completely different ballgame. Eliminating private insurance altogether in the process is quite unpopular. Only 13 percent of Americans are in favor of the policy that Sanders is proposing.

While a single-payer system is something to work towards, diverging so drastically from the recently successful message of improving upon Obamacare would be a risk not worth taking in the vital election this year.

On foreign policy, Sanders has historically held positions that most Democrats are at odds with and are not looking to turn to. As the leading power in our hemisphere, Sanders’ coziness to socialist political parties and dictators in Latin America should be deeply concerning to anyone who values democracy and freedom of expression for developing countries.

In 1985, Sanders bragged about being the highest ranking American in attendance at a celebration of the anniversary of the Marxist regime. His ignorance of the Sandinistas’ numerous human rights violations is beyond reprehensible. Sanders even went as far as discrediting American news coverage of the Sandinistas’ mass killings and imprisonment of dissenters. “When you read the ‘New York Times’,” he said, referring to their reporting on the Nicaraguan Marxist regime, “the real truth is not being told.”

There are numerous videos and quotes attributed to Sanders that have already surfaced that we all know will be drilled into the minds of conservatives and moderates to suppress Democratic votes in the general election should Sanders be the nominee.

“It’s funny sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is because people are lining up for food. That’s a good thing,” Sanders said in 1985 about the Soviet Union. “In other countries, people don’t line up for food, rich people get the food and poor people starve to death.”

It’s worth noting that Sanders has led the way for the American left in certain foreign policy decisions. His Iraq War vote, recognition of Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela and advocacy against global economic inequality are all commendable and acceptable for the Democratic electorate this year. But what people and policies he has embraced in the past will be the focus of unprecedented scrutiny from the right.

Whatever the general election polls say now, Trump and swing district Republicans would be all over his past and his far-from-mainstream policy proposals. Ads against Sanders would easily be able to label him as a “socialist” in the minds of most voters. I believe it would be a nastier general election with Sanders leading the ticket than with other Democratic candidates. Last election shows how easily Trump is able to get away with making the final stages of the race a personal one.

Even if a Sanders administration sounds like a social democratic utopia to the majority of Democratic primary voters (including me!), it will be a very difficult sell to the general electorate come November. In an election as consequential as this one, now is not the time for a factional candidate as vulnerable as Sanders is.

Jack Vaughan is a freshman majoring in journalism and electronic media and political science. He can be reached atcvaugha7@vols.utk.edu.

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