July 16, 2017

The defeat of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump did have one upside for the US Democrats: the defeat of Hillary Clinton.

Ever since JFK himself, Democrats have done best with Kennedyesque leaders like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. With Mrs Clinton finally out of the way, the party can turn to a younger, fresher figure to take back the White House in 2020.

There’s no shortage of possible candidates. Over the next few years you’ll have your chance to see each of them – and their great hair – profiled in the media.

Or maybe don’t bother. According to Matt Yglesias in Vox, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination is even older than the Hills and his days as a hair model are far behind him:

“… [but] make no mistake: [Bernie] Sanders is the real 2020 Democratic frontrunner.

“He’s doing exactly what a candidate who fell short needs to do to run a second time. He’s established a national political organization, he’s improved his ties with colleagues on Capitol Hill, he’s maintained a heavy presence in national media, and he’s traveling the country talking about issues.”

Sanders was the second-biggest surprise of the 2016 campaign: a self-described socialist who came remarkably close to beating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. No one saw it coming and no one thought he could win – which, according to Yglesias, is the main reason why he didn’t win:

“Elected officials were almost uniformly afraid to endorse him, even if their policy views were closer to his than to Clinton’s, and left-of-center think tanks — including ones that are deliberately positioned to the left of mainstream Democrats ideologically — shied away from working with Sanders on policy development, for fear that Clinton’s wrath would destroy them if they did.”

This time round, it is Sanders who you don’t lightly make an enemy of:

“Bernie Sanders is, by some measures the most popular politician in America, by far Democrats’ most in-demand public speaker, and the most prolific grassroots fundraiser in American history.”

Though of a different ideological stripe, Robert W. Merry of the American Conservative agrees with Yglesias:

“Politicians are always the last to get it when the status quo crumbles because they have so much at stake in it. But citizens get it, as they did last year when they used Trump as a blunt instrument to pummel the Republicans’ status quo leaders… These weren’t idle actions on the part of the electorate. They represented a stark statement that the old ways weren’t working…”

Merry challenges the idea that the failure of the Trump presidency would mean a return to moderation:

“The watershed 2016 presidential election destroyed the country’s political status quo, and there will be no status quo ante.”

In other words, if rightwing populism gets nowhere, then the electorate will turn to a different variety. While insiders busy themselves with rebooting the establishment, the real question is: who is the next populist?

Sanders may be much older than his rivals, but to the young he’s the latest thing. As Yglesias notes, this could make all the difference:

“Democrats now rely heavily for votes on the large — and very Democratic-leaning — millennial generation that lacks clear political memories of the Cold War or the booming neoliberal economy of the 1990s, so ‘socialism’ isn’t a scare word for them…”

The parallels between Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are obvious. Equally obvious is why the populist left should be closest to power in countries where capitalism is most blatantly unreformed.

Still, it’s an astonishing thought that the first meeting between the next US President and the next UK Prime Minister could be a summit of septuagenerian socialists.

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