Let’s say that you’re a moderate Democrat trying to decide who to vote for in the 2020 presidential primary.

Your top concern is picking a candidate who can beat Donald Trump in November. You also want a humane immigration policy, health care that’s affordable to everyone and action on climate change.

It’s not asking a lot, but you’re a moderate and have moderate dreams.

Your candidate should be Sen. Bernie Sanders.

I know. He’s the most radical member of the 12-candidate field. But you may have to learn to love a 77-year-old, Sandinista-supporting, democratic socialist from the electorally irrelevant state of Vermont. 

That’s because Joe Biden, the logical safe choice for risk-averse voters, is not seeming like a very safe bet right now.


The former vice president is still leading in most polls, but not by much. His debate performances have been unsteady, and that’s being generous. If you wonder how he’ll hold up to six months of questions about what his son Hunter was doing in a Ukrainian corporate boardroom while his dad was vice president, check out Biden’s answer to  a retired farmer in Iowa last month. Biden called the guy a liar and challenged him to a pushup contest. 

This could go very badly.

But there are so many other candidates in the race – why Sanders? 

It has to do with your top concern: beating Trump. Sanders’ advantage is that he talks to people who don’t always vote.

If you had been watching the Democratic debates last year, you would see candidates struggling to boil their 12-point plans into digestible sound bites.

Sanders doesn’t get dragged down into the details. He makes his case with a few blunt assertions illustrated with hand gestures, which you don’t need a college diploma and a subscription to The Atlantic to understand.


Health care for all would be funded by taxes, like they do in every other country in the developed world.  The same goes for free tuition in public colleges and universities. Workers deserve a minimum wage that you could live on. Simple.

Sanders isn’t the only candidate who is talking about major changes that would help millions of people stuck in an economy that works best for the wealthy. But he does it without apology, leaving little room to wonder what he’s really up to. 

But you’re a moderate. You are comfortable with nuance. 

You may have to leave your comfort zone if you want to beat Trump.

Biden has strong support from older voters, the kind of people you can count on to show up on Election Day, but that’s the point. Those people will be showing up anyway. It’s the less-reliable voters you need on board, and they may not turn out for Joe.

Biden also has strong support from African-American voters, according to the polls. But so did Hillary Clinton. 


Sanders is especially strong with young voters (of all races), exactly the kind of people who stay home or vote for a third-party candidate when they don’t like the nominee. The danger of going too safe would be alienating them.

Is Sanders’ program too radical for moderates? Not if they are paying attention.

You have to remember that the legislative process is basically broken. A President Sanders would not be able to pass his “Medicare for All” bill as written, even if the Democrats retook the Senate this year. Sanders can say he wants to tear the system down, but the only kind of change that we are likely to see in the near term is the incremental kind that moderates say they want. The political revolution Sanders says would be needed to achieve his ultimate goals would take a series of election victories, not just one.

In the meantime, a president committed to humane immigration policy, universal health care and an adequate response to climate change could achieve a lot. He could also keep us out of a war.

The theory of Sanders’ electability will be put to the test soon. If infrequent voters don’t show up to support him in the early state primaries, he can’t claim he has the ability to motivate them.

But if they do turn out for Sanders, center-left Democrats may have to do what they told progressives to do four years ago: Swallow hard and fall in behind a candidate well outside their comfort zone. 

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