I’ve been getting really annoyed with all of the, “Come on, Bernie would have obviously won!” articles. You’re right when you start out by saying that we never will know. Because we won’t.
The fact is when you look at the primary Bernie only activated a narrow portion of the left. His coalition was extremely white and he never really resonated with non-white folk. So in the general he might have peeled away some of Trump’s support from the white population. He might have kept people from going Green or Libertarian but he also might have done so at the expense of the minority vote. We just don’t know. It’s also convenient how all of the people saying Bernie would have definitely would have won are doing so by making the same exact arguments they’ve been making all along. It’s not about reflection in most cases but about blowing raspberries and letting everyone know they were right.
I am also under the opinion that Bernie had weaknesses as a candidate that didn’t show up in the primary but that Trump could have readily exploited. Bernie’s campaign was one-note and he proved himself to be thin-skinned time and again. During the waning days of the primary Trump started calling for a debate with Bernie. Most pundits saw that as Trump either not getting what the primary was about or trying to undermine Clinton. In hindsight I think it’s because Trump actually saw Bernie as the weaker candidate.
We tend to forget that Donald Trump’s competency as a reality TV show guy is actually a useful skill to have in this, the age of political discourse as entertainment. We also tend to forget that debates are not really about winning with facts but about creating sound bites and winning with optics. We all knew Hillary would be able to take Trump in the debates with one hand tied behind her back and mouth full of cotton balls. She’s the class valedictorian who got there by handing every homework assignment in a day early and answering the extra credit questions even though she’d already gotten 100% of the regular questions correct. We’d already watched her sit through endless Benghazi hearings with a look of boredom just waiting for someone to ask her a question that was worth her time and attention. She’s been there. She’s done it all. She’s seen it all. She is a stone-cold, unflappable debater who was guaranteed to eat Donald Trump’s lunch.
Trump could have tied or even beat Bernie at the debates. There’s no doubt in my mind. He’d have gone in with coded anti-Semitism and kept calling Bernie a Communist and it would have gotten under Bernie’s skin. I think Trump knew all of that. I think he was itching for it.
All of which is to say that, yeah, this might have just been a coin flip, time to change year. Hillary’s campaign was weak but it was also operating off of what we now clearly realize is faulty polling data. Even at that she has actually won the popular vote. It may well be that we just saw the perfect political storm and it blew President Donald Trump onto the American shores.