Published online 14 November 2015.
I thought I would say something here about insinuations that “the Republicans would rather face Bernie” that I’ve seen on this site. At any rate, such insinuations, being mere speculation, can only be countered by other speculation, so any debate about who the Republicans would rather face is at this point quite speculative. We’ll all have to wait and see.
At any rate, I thought a commentary upon the run-up to the 2012 election would provide some illumination as to who the Republicans would rather face next year. Matt Stoller’s piece of September of that year merits close scrutiny:
In fact, elections, over the past few years, have become mechanisms for sustaining the legitimacy of this political class, not contests designed to be won by either side. Neither side would ever admit to not trying to win, at least publicly. Privately, political consultants will count their winnings happily after each election, regardless of the outcome. So the way to see the lack of competitiveness now is to examine the moves that both parties are not making.
So the mass media coverage, the election pomp and circumstance, and the portrayals of elections as great “contests” serve not just to provide election outcomes, but rather to narrow the range of actual policy choice available to the American public. One sees this in the endless repetition of justifications repeated here at DailyKos.com in every election run-up. You must vote for the Democrat, we are told, because the Republican is worse, and because one of those is going to win. That is the choice which you in fact have, the voices speak in unanimity. Sometimes it isn’t a stark choice — in 2004 you could have voted for George W. Bush, for instance, or maybe for John Kerry.
From this modest beginning, solidly based in fact, Stoller’s reasoning became more speculative and thus trickier.
The Republicans have a clear strategy to win, which they are not using
Omigod the Republicans don’t prioritize winning! Well OK then. What do they prioritize? Stoller suggested that this Republican “clear strategy to win” could be put into practice the way it was in 2000, when W. won the first time. They could promote populist policies, about which Stoller suggested:
Would it be dishonest for Republicans to promise populist policies they have no intention of following through on? Sure! Has that ever stopped them before? Of course not! Remember George W. Bush and compassionate conservatism? Now that was some artful lying. The Republicans were really trying to win that time. This time, not so much.
From there, Stoller outlines an imaginary Republican platform, which could have attacked Obama in a number of creatively populist ways. I’m going to skip the scrutiny of this imaginary platform, as I’m sure my reading audience could think up a number of similar fictions on their own. The point is made that the Republicans could have attacked Obama in 2012 by pretending to offer a platform that was to the left of Obama’s. But they didn’t. Let’s go to Stoller’s analysis of what he thought were ulterior Republican motives:
It isn’t honesty and integrity preventing the GOP from going there. Or if it is, then one would have to concede that the Republicans are running a principled campaign, on plutocracy. More likely, the answer is that winning the race isn’t as important as ensuring that the political class is protected from democracy.
In other words, the Republicans didn’t prioritize winning in 2012 because they were more interested in “ensuring that the political class is protected from democracy.” Stoller concludes:
And that is how elections operate in authoritarian America. The secondary goal is to win the election, the primary goal is to keep the public out of the deal-making.
And when polls suggested that 57% of Romney’s supporters didn’t care who he was as long as he wasn’t Obama, it was clear this strategy was working. All the political parties need to do is to “not be the other party,” and the political contests can remain charades.
Now, given this context, of a Republican Party dedicated first and foremost to protecting the political class from democracy and only secondarily to winning elections, who do you think they’d rather face? I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t Bernie Sanders. The Republicans do not want to spend the bulk of 2016 explaining why College for All is a bad idea, or why we don’t need single payer, or why we don’t need a political revolution because everything is superkewl as it is with rich folk buying our politicians. They’d rather play softball with a candidate who takes a lot of money from banksters and nice folks who are also funding Jeb Bush.