2020 Foresight

This is not a piece about Bernie Sanders. At least, it's not a piece only about Bernie Sanders. It's just partially about Bernie Sanders.

It's really a piece about Mike Pence.

But first the part about Bernie Sanders.

Last night on CNN, Anderson Cooper asked Bernie Sanders about the New York Times report regarding sexual harassment and gendered pay disparity in his 2016 presidential campaign. His response was not good:
I'm very proud of the campaign we ran in 2016. You know, we started at four percent in the polls; we ended up winning 22 states; 13 million votes; I think we changed the nature of political discourse in this country, raising issues that are now kind of mainstream which were then considered extreme and fringe.

But when our campaign grew from, I think we started with three or four paid employees, and over a period of a few months, as the campaign exploded, we went up to I think twelve hundred employees. And I am not going to sit here and tell you that we did everything right in terms of human resources, in terms of addressing the needs that I'm hearing from now, that women felt disrespected, that there was sexual harassment which was not dealt with as effectively as possible.

What I will tell you is that when I ran for reelection in 2018 in Vermont, we put forward the strongest set of principles in terms of mandatory training, in terms of women, if they felt harassed, having an independent firm that they can go to. And I think that's kind of, you know, the gold standard for what we should be doing.

So I certainly apologize to any woman who felt that she was not treated appropriately, and, of course, if I run, we will do better next time.

[Cooper asks for confirmation that Sanders did not know that women working for his campaign reported sexual harassment at the time.]

Yes, I was a little bit busy running around the country, trying to make the case.
There are a lot of problems with that response — from Sanders' assertion that he was just too darn successful to protect his female staffers from sexual harassment, to the classic narcissist's apology to women who felt harassed. And there are plenty of people in plenty of spaces deconstructing and debating every piece of what was wrong with Sanders' response, so I'm not going to do that here.

Here I'm going to point out that Sanders' response is so cavalier, so unserious, that I suspect he's probably counting on the fact that Donald Trump will have no high ground from which to level accusations of sexism against him.

First, that has never stopped Trump before. Projection is kind of his jam.

More importantly, if Sanders were to campaign for and win the Democratic nomination in 2020, he might not be facing Donald Trump. He might be facing Mike Pence. And I don't think he's considered the possibility that he could be carrying these problems into a contest with the Choir Boy of False Virtue.

Sanders is fond of saying he'll run if he decides he's the best person to take on Trump, but.

The thing is, there could hardly be a worse choice to put up against Pence than Sanders. As bad a candidate as he would be against Trump, he'd unquestionably be even worse against Pence.

There's no one on the left side of the aisle contemplating a run who would more make Pence look "reasonable" than Bernie Sanders. I am shit scared of that.

And I am fairly certain that Sanders hasn't even considered it. Which is also pretty terrifying.

But like I said, this isn't a piece just about Bernie Sanders.

This is a piece about Mike Pence.

And I don't get the impression that any of the potential Democratic contenders — and certainly most left-leaning voters — have considered there's a chance that the eventual Democratic nominee might end up running against Pence.

Which is pretty weird. Because, on the one hand, lots of lefties imagine that Bob Mueller is going to save us by personally frog-marching Trump out of the White House, but, on the other hand, they're simultaneously anticipating that Trump will be the nominee in 2020.

Personally, I don't expect that Trump will be forced out of office in the next year, but: 1. I hope I'm wrong; 2. I can't realistically envision a scenario in which both Trump and Pence are forced out; 3. I recognize that there is some chance, no matter how small, that this imperiled president might not serve out his term.

So one of my considerations as I scrutinize Democratic candidates will be whether they hold up as solid contenders against Mike Pence, too.

Just in case.

And Mike Pence is fundamentally a different kind of candidate than Donald Trump.

Where Trump is all bombast and braggadocio, Pence is all affected humility and false modesty. Where Trump wears his malice on his sleeve, Pence conceals his malice behind a delicate veil of fraudulent piety. Where Trump blasts vulgarity, Pence softly transmits mendacious purity. Where Trump is a one-man-band of obscene self-congratulation, Pence is a snake quietly slithering through the grass, hoping to arrive unannounced at the seat of power.

They have extremely different relationships with the Republican elite, and with the Republican base, and they would run extremely different campaigns.

Not everyone who's reportedly considering a run for the Democratic nomination would be equally capable against both men. In fact, very few of them would be.

There aren't many politicians gifted enough to be competent at the wildly divergent strategies each potential opponent would demand.

But they do exist.

And I hope we are all smart enough to make sure we nominate one of them.

Just in case.

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