I’ve earned a dope slap. It took me way longer than it should have but it finally dawned on me that Bernie Sanders may have wanted Donald Trump to win in 2016. If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, she could’ve served two terms and been seventy-seventy when she left office, whereas Sanders would’ve been eighty-three, too old to succeed her. If she’d won in 2016, his campaign for the nomination would’ve been his last rodeo.
But obviously Sanders couldn’t have openly thrown his support to Trump. He’d have been toast among Democrats if he’d done that. So he had to sort of faux support Clinton to keep from totally alienating Democratic voters that he hoped he’d need in the future. But he couldn’t go all in for her because he needed Trump to win in order for him to have one last shot at the prize before he entered the assisted living demographic.
As it happened, everything turned out just fine for him, thanks to his supporters in some key states. As New York Times columnist David Brooks recently noted, “In 2016, in Pennsylvania, 117,000 Sanders primary voters went for Trump in the general, and Trump won the state by 44,292 ballots. In Michigan, 48,000 Sanders voters went for Trump, and Trump won the state by 10,704. In Wisconsin, 51,300 Sanders voters went for Trump, and Trump won the state by 22,748. In short, Sanders voters helped elect Trump.”
I have no idea whether what’s just dawned on me dawned on those voters more than three years ago. I remember at the time a lot of chin-stroking pundits and analysts who made heavy weather of Sanders-Trump parallels to explain these voting patterns. A favorite theory was that both Sanders and Trump were “anti-establishment” candidates who could appeal to voters looking to break a lot of crockery. Maybe the chin-strokers were right. But maybe the Sanders-to-Trump voters were mainly looking to stick it to Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment they thought had cheated Sanders out of the nomination. Some enterprising poli sci grad student could score by figuring out whether there’s anything to this “vengeance voter” theory. Either way, Sanders got just the outcome he needed to keep his “revolution” alive.
Meanwhile, this is the history that’s behind the lingering suspicion in the minds of some that Bernie and his supporters are all in for his election, but returning Trump to private life, not so much. If Bernie isn’t president, electing anybody else but Trump may not be even their next highest priority.
Leon Galis is an Athens native who returned to town in 1999 after retiring from the faculty of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. He
He is a professor of philosophy emeritus, with broad interests in current events and cultural commentary. You may read additional works by Galis at https://medium.com/@leongalis