Democrats should be careful with the Lesser of Two Evils argument.
Democrats leverage fear of an even worse outcome to gather support for their policies and candidates all the time. When Obama supports an all-of-the-above energy policy, rather than committing to renewables, he points to Republican climate change denial. When Clinton claims marriage should be between a man and a woman, she points to Republican homophobia as a reason for the stance.
When the Democrats have a candidate that doesn’t draw huge turnouts, fear again becomes a stand-in. Gore vs. Bush in 2000, Kerry vs. Bush in 2004, and now Trump in 2016.
Even the Democratic Party’s Twitter is focused more on Trump and fear of Republicans than actual liberal policies.
Fear is a powerful motivator, and it’s likely the tactic Democrats will continue to use if Hillary gets the nomination to try and unify liberals around her.
“Look, we get that you like Bernie, but even if you don’t like Hillary, you need to vote for her so that Trump doesn’t win.”
It’s the lesser of two evils argument, and it has played out in politics for a long time as a method of avoiding real progress, sidestepping the question of whether a candidate can rally people. It’s the argument that shows up when we have candidates or policies that can’t generate strong turnouts or momentum on their own.
Bernie would assuredly prefer Hillary to any of the Republican candidates, and he seems hardly set on leveraging fear as a motivator. It’s unlikely he would choose to leave open the possibility of running as an independent.
But he could…
Let’s do a thought experiment. If Bernie stated he would continue the candidacy for president as an independent, at the Democratic Convention in June, party representatives would be forced to answer this question:
Nominate Bernie as the Democratic candidate or run against him in the general election?
The Democratic Party would have to decide between the lesser of two evils, a choice they’ve pushed to liberal voters before. “A vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for Bush.” “A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Trump.”
In this case, for party representatives at the convention, a vote for Hillary could be a vote for Trump.
Bernie has enough support today to indicate that he could win a number of electoral college votes in the national election running as an independent. If a third party candidate wins a number of delegates, it could easily result in no candidate receiving the majority of electoral college votes in November. (If a third party candidate had won even a single state in 2000, neither Bush nor Gore would have reached the requisite 270 votes.)
If no candidate hits that mark, all focus shifts to the House of Representatives—currently heavily weighted on the Republican side—to select our next president from the top three candidates.
While this is a fascinating concept that hasn’t happened since the early 1800’s, it’s unlikely that the Democratic Party would be happy to see the election end at hands of the House of Representatives.
This scenario is obviously somewhat far-fetched, but it’s a reminder that Bernie holds far more power than the Democratic Party might like to admit. He should use every possible avenue of that power to keep pushing this country away from the plutocracy that has eroded our democracy.