Since Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders’s stunning victory in Nevada, the liberal Democratic establishment is in panic mode. Their response makes sense. Yes, it does appear to many rational observers that the Democratic Party is about to immolate itself.
But people on the Right should not break out the champagne just yet.
According to a popular theory, Sanders is tapping into the same “populist” outrage that propelled Donald Trump to power. Voters, especially young and poor voters, want to destroy an increasingly unequal social order. It’s true that there is an overlap between Trump and Sanders—both have a working-class message and are critical of globalization in different ways. But what separates them is enough to make you wonder what can really be meant by “populism” today.
The term “populist” derives from “people,” after all. But who exactly are our people?
While Trump won handily with white working-class voters in 2016, Sanders is boasting about building a “diverse” coalition.
The conversation about “electability” surrounding Sanders is misleading. According to some, Sanders is too radical to win a working majority of Americans. He’s a Communist. He’s a socialist. He’s a Russian agent. And so on. But these pat talking points elide something significant: to an increasing degree, “electable” has less to do with policy than with where the electorate is coming from.
Is Bernie Sanders George McGovern? Who knows. Who cares? It won’t matter for very long. Sanders seems to understand this.
A Big Flip on Immigration
The scariest and most radical thing about Sanders isn’t his socialism but his immigration position. Of course, this position isn’t really much different from those of his primary rivals except that now it has his full-throated support. Like his competitors, Sanders is promising open borders: a mass amnesty for 22 million illegal immigrants, and an effective end to immigration enforcement. Bernie is only a “populist” in the sense that he is courting, potentially, the population of the entire world.
Bernie’s “populism” is a world away from “America First.” Sanders wasn’t always so radical on immigration—once upon a time (four years ago) he called open borders a “Koch brothers proposal”—but he has since been beaten into shape by the cultural Left and has seen the light.
If you look at how Sanders did in Nevada, it’s enough to dispel the mystery about why he flipped. If he were to win the presidency and grant a mass amnesty, he would be running effectively un-opposed in 2024.
If the Nevada caucuses are any indication, then demographics is destiny—not just for Bernie Sanders, but for the Democratic Party and for all aspiring presidents.
What made the Nevada caucuses special is no secret: unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, Nevada is a majority-minority state. Its diverse, Hispanicized population more accurately reflects the Democratic electorate nationwide, but it’s also a glimpse into how the country is trending demographically. The Latino population in Nevada is about 30 percent. It’s one of the most heavily Latino states in the country. America is projected to become minority white around 2050.
What Does a “Diverse Coalition” Mean?
Sanders absolutely crushed it in Nevada—it was his most impressive victory yet—but his most remarkable leads were with young people and Latino voters. He won about 50 percent of Latinos, roughly the same percentage as he did in 2016, but against numerous competitors this time.
The white vote, in keeping with the divided nature of the race, was more split up: Sanders won about a third of the state’s diminishing white population of Democrats, 20 percent less than in 2016 and more than his competitors, but by a small margin. He lost the black vote to Biden. It’s fair to say that Sanders was anchored by Latinos and young people.
Sanders has claimed that he is building a diverse coalition, and after Nevada, he can say that with some truth. He carried a truly impressive array of groups: not just Latinos but whites, college-educated voters, non-college educated voters, men, women.
But the term “diverse” ignores some important demographic information. For one, Sanders does not have a lock on the black vote. Biden beat him with blacks in Nevada by about 10 points. And as we’ve seen, Biden won South Carolina’s primaries with robust black support. Neither does Sanders appear to have a distinct advantage with white voters, who delivered a fairly split verdict in Nevada.
Then there’s the fact that the black population in America hasn’t changed much in recent years, while the white population has dropped dramatically. In parts of the country (and soon will it be in the whole country), the largest source of population growth comes from immigrants, specifically Mexican and Latin American immigrants. In other words, the best bet for any Democrat is to tap into the fastest-growing part of the population: Latino migrants and their descendants. Just based on the Nevada results, Sanders seems to be doing that.
Anticipating today’s Super Tuesday results, Sanders could well sweep California and Texas, both heavily Latino states that are also majority-minority.
Sanders has the support of young people and Hispanic immigrants who, because of their high fertility, trend young. This isn’t terribly surprising. It turns out that billionaire bashing rhetoric is appealing to people who don’t own anything. This is a vulnerability for Donald Trump, to be sure, at least if he chooses to run—in keeping with the advice of clueless advisers—simply as a non-socialist.
If Sanders is the nominee and loses to Trump in 2020, it won’t be because of something he said about Fidel Castro 30 years ago. It will be because, like McGovern, his time had not yet come.