Sen. Bernie Sanders is winning. If the election of Donald Trump wasn't enough of a wake-up call that Americans want radical change, the Bernie surge should finally get America's leaders to start thinking more clearly about what's happening in our country.
For a lot of people, it's been easier to stick their heads in the sand and pretend we are still a Romney-versus-Obama country than to wrestle with the tough issues that are driving American politics today. Why are people so hungry for serious change? That's the single most important question – and it's the question nobody ever talks about. How is Sanders winning primaries? How did Trump take over the Republican Party, knocking out every major established Republican politician, with such ease? The answers you hear in Washington are almost too superficial to discuss. It's not because of Russia. It's not because too many establishment Republicans divided the vote against Trump. It's because people are truly sick of our leaders.
Can Sanders keep it up and actually get the nomination? He and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the furthest-left Democrats, have been combining for about 40% of the vote so far. The marginally more moderate candidates have been dividing up about 60% of the vote. This means that the less socialist side of the Democratic electorate could still coalesce around a non-Bernie alternative. Biden's looking less and less likely, so that leaves an opening for Michael Bloomberg or Sen. Amy Klobuchar. But what if Sanders keeps surging? According to Gallup, 76% of Democrats are willing to vote for a socialist, so it's not impossible that he actually gets the nomination. The Democratic Party establishment will do all in its power to stop him. They have already changed the rules to let Bloomberg buy his way onto the debate stage. There's no telling how far the party establishment and their allies in the press would go to keep Sanders from a nomination.
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If Sanders does win the Democratic nomination, the main benefit for a lot of us will be watching every financial and political leader in America scramble to choose between Sanders and Trump. All of a sudden, a lot of hedge fund never-Trumpers are going to reconsider. Trump may be rude and uncouth, but Bernie wants to take all their money away. That's going to cause a lot of backsliding in a never-Trump world. The good news is that even today, most Americans still do not want a socialist president. According to Gallup, 53% of Americans would not vote for a socialist candidate. That's not as high as I'd hope, but it's above 50%.
All this means it's not too early to start asking what a second Trump term would look like. First, a Trump reelection may force those who have tried hard to ignore his presidency to confront the forces driving so much change in our country. It would be hard, even for the never-Trump crowd, to pretend it was Russia again that got Trump reelected. Hopefully, instead, we can start to really debate issues like immigration, income inequality and the influence of corporate America on our political world. These issues are worth debating because there are no easy solutions. We may need change, but finding solutions that don't kill off our economic growth is not easy. On the other hand, if we don't start these debates, we are going to have a country that grows further on edge until people do fall for a socialist-type solution out of desperation. It would be really nice to avoid that.
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A Trump reelection may also cause Democrats to take the radical step of treating Trump like a real president. Presuming the Democrats keep the House of Representatives, which seems likely, even if Trump wins reelection, they could decide to work with Trump on a joint agenda. This is something most conservatives probably won't like. There are plenty of areas that Trump could cut deals with Democrats. On trade, we have already seen the North American Free Trade Agreement replaced by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which was more to the liking of both Trump and the Democrats in Congress. This could be possible for other trade deals as well.
Both Trump and the Democrats in Congress also have huge appetites for more infrastructure spending. A deal has been in the cards from the moment Trump was first elected. Until now, Democrats have decided that obstructionism was more in their interest, but a second Trump term may convince them to cooperate in a huge infrastructure plan. Fiscal conservatives may not love the outcome.
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Finally, on the biggest and most divisive issue of all, it's possible a new Trump term would result in a massive immigration deal. How do you think Trump would react if Democrats agreed to completely fund his wall in return for something like amnesty for those already in our country? A lot of conservatives would not want that deal, but would Trump take it? The Democrats love immigration as a wedge issue that divides Americans, so they are unlikely to offer something like this – but if they did, there's a strong likelihood they could find common ground with the president.
The final option – if our corporate, political and academic elites choose to ignore a Trump-Sanders election cycle, brush off voters' concerns and instead occupy themselves with more Russia-type conspiracies – is for voters to continue to grow more and more disillusioned with our political system. They tried Trump on the right. Who's to say we aren't an election cycle away from a left-wing populist tide? That's the risk when you ignore people's real concerns.