Election 2020

What Will 'Bernie or Bust' Voters Do in November?

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks to his supporters during a campaign rally on May 10, 2016, in Salem, Ore. (Danielle Peterson/Statesman-Journal via AP)

The 2016 election season has been historic and shocking to those who follow and cover the election closely. Most pundits, if asked even a year ago, would have predicted Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio as the Republican nominee and Hillary Clinton slow dancing into the Democratic slot. These were conventional-wisdom candidates and most observers had no reason to believe that this would be anything but a conventional election. It has, of course, been anything but.

With every outrageous remark, every policy flip-flop and every ridiculous speech, Donald Trump has somehow come out on top to win the Republican nomination. While many Trump supporters have been accused of nominating their guy because they want to watch the world burn, a significant majority of Democrats are in the same position voting for an elderly socialist senator from Vermont. On the Democratic side, there’s just as much upheaval, even though the media hasn’t covered the race nearly as closely.

This year has made for some strange bedfellows. The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative site, is often linked by far-left Bernie Sanders supporters. In one popular Facebook group of over 57,000 supporters, a Free Beacon link is posted every few days. And it’s not the supermodel coverage (Kate Upton is a favorite of editors there) which keeps them coming back.

Why is it that so many Democrats are turning to the Free Beacon for their news? They are, perhaps for the first time, experiencing the media bias that conservatives have been used to for years. With the mainstream media refusing to cover the incredible comeback kid story of Bernie Sanders, whose candidacy has miraculously stayed afloat against almost all odds, his far-left progressive fans have turned to alternative news sources for dish on their opposition: Hillary Clinton.

These leftists are also coming to realize what life is like under the Clintons. Hillary Clinton is a woman who was recorded laughing about representing a child rapist, whose business deals are so crooked that any other citizen would be imprisoned had they committed the same crimes, and who has covered up criminal wrongdoing carried out during her time as a high-ranking government official. Hillary Clinton, even to Democrats, isn’t a palatable figure.

Many principled conservatives, when they refuse to lend their support to Donald Trump, explain that by doing so, they would irrevocably damage their own credibility and that of their party. Nominating a figure as polarizing and despicable as Trump eliminates the ability of those with sincerely held conservative beliefs to advance their agenda in this election year and in years to come. Much the same could be said of Bernie Sanders fans who, like those on the “Never Trump” bandwagon, have declared “Bernie or Bust.”

For many Republicans, a vote for businessman Donald Trump was as much, if not more, a vote against the status quo of American politics. Bernie Sanders voters are interested in much of the same, voting for a “loner” in the U.S. Senate who has largely remained an outsider in Washington, D.C., despite spending decades working in it. It’s no surprise that 44% of Bernie Sanders voters in West Virginia plan on voting for Trump in a general election matchup if Hillary is the Democrat on the ticket. They want to shake up Washington, and are beginning to care little who does the shaking.

It’s unclear how many Democrats fall in the “Bernie or Bust” camp, though it’s likely they represent a core group of fierce ideologues. The real danger for Democrats is two-fold: one, that a Hillary nomination will breed apathy; while many Democrats might not be “Bernie or Bust,” voters may decide that getting out to the polls isn’t worth the effort. Second, much of the grassroots volunteer work done for President Obama in his last two campaigns (but especially his first which put him into office) was carried out by the very same kinds of people who have declared Hillary unpalatable. Can Hillary staff phone banks, put out lawn signs and stuff mailers with the majority of her voters barely enthused enough to even show up at the polls, let alone volunteer for the campaign?

Many of these passionate progressives have felt cheated by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Clintons, superdelegates and the media. The DNC has stacked the deck against their preferred candidate in every way possible, from fundraising to debate schedules. An incredibly improbable series of coin tosses were instrumental in Clinton’s Iowa victory, with superdelegates stacking the deck and a media allergic to covering the Clintons critically in any way (something conservatives have come to expect). Perhaps most frustrating for those in the Bernie or Bust camp, unlike in the case of Republicans with Donald Trump’s astronomically high disapproval ratings, are poll numbers that indicate that Sanders might actually be a more successful candidate in a general election.

At first glance, the core group of progressives declaring “Bernie or Bust” seem a bit loony when the alternative to their current crush is Donald Trump, a fascist-in-training. Truth be told, many of their core positions and their hero worship of Sanders seem kind loony anyway. But like those Republicans who have declared Never Trump, hardcore Bernie Sanders fans see voting for every other possibility as anathema to everything they fight for and believe. In their eyes, there is no lesser of two evils because even if Trump is inherently evil, so too has Hillary perverted what they believe to be the platform of the Democratic Party and it is no better.

Americans are faced with a difficult choice in November: a crook or a fascist. The “Never Trump” camp has captured the imagination of many, yet those Democrats forcefully declaring “Bernie or Bust” have merited nary a whisper. The polarized sides of the Democratic and Republican parties show just how far each side has fallen from the missions of those parties with their presidential nominees, and just how unpredictable a vote in November might be.