Sanders Says Voters See Clinton As “Lesser Of Two Evils” — Here’s Why That Idea Matters So Much

Mary Anne Noland of Richmond, Virginia made headlines last week when her obituary published in the Richmond Times claimed Noland, “faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton,” chose death instead. And, although Bernie Sanders, a senator from Vermont better known as the last obstacle on Clinton’s path to the nomination, didn’t acknowledge Noland by name, in a Saturday interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, he made it clear he heard her. According to Sanders, voters see Clinton as “the lesser of two evils.”

Specifically, Sanders told Stephanopoulos he’s staying in the race because he doesn’t want Americans to feel forced to vote “for the lesser of two evils” in the general. “That’s what the American people are saying,” he said. “If you look at the favorability ratings of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, both of them have very, very high unfavorables.”

Overall, while Sanders wouldn’t describe the perception of Clinton as the “lesser of two evils” as his own, he claims it’s “what the American people are saying.” Being as in touch with pop culture and the latest trends as he and all 74-year-old Democratic socialists are, I trust him to know what’s up.

By reducing Clinton’s popularity to her status as merely the lesser of two evils next to a man literally worse suited for the presidency than a toaster, Sanders arguably made one of his sharpest criticisms of his rival yet. I have little doubt the Democratic leaders who wag their fingers at him for “dividing the party” whenever he so much as points out the differences between their healthcare plans will take issue with his latest observation, but I’d like to see anyone try to deny that it’s ultimately rooted in the truth.

The rhetoric of the #NotTrump movement — from when it was used by the ill-fated Ted Cruz and John Kasich coalition last month, to now, being used by the Democratic party — has nothing to do with passion for reform, and everything to do with settling for whomever is least likely to install a fascist regime (what a time to be alive). Because at the end of the day, however many qualms you might have with a status quo that works for the most part (although certainly it’s not great for a lot of people), when the only other option is a man endorsed or at least passionately supporter by KKK leaders, the choice is clear because there is none.

That’s not to say that even in an alternate version of reality in which Sanders does become President that this wouldn’t involve a good deal of settling, too. Though beloved by his base of supporters, his progressive goals are highly ambitious and to pass, would require a lot of compromise from a Congress that notoriously struggles with compromise. But at the end of the day, when you ask for more, you might not get all of it, but you’ll get more.

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CREDIT: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

However, what concerns me about the Clinton vs. Trump lineup is that everything looks like “more” when the alternative is a crazy bigot who literally wants to get rid of gun-free zones, once thought global warming was a conspiracy theory, and whose success is rooted in racist vitriol (I could go on but frankly one Google search of his name on your part would spare me the trouble). And when everything looks like “more,” who’s going to think to ask?

Even Sanders conceded, in the same interview with Stephanopoulos, that the present delegate math makes for “a very steep uphill climb.” Currently, he’s not as far behind Clinton in terms of pledged delegates aka the democratic vote of the people, with 46 percent of pledged delegates to Clinton’s 51 percent, but he’d need a pronounced majority to convince superdelegates who have backed Clinton from the get-go to defect. And since it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, it would take a literal miracle for him to snag the nomination.

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Sure, moping is useless, but that doesn’t make the situation awaiting us in the general any less sad. (Especially in light of recent polling that has Clinton tied with or even trailing Trump.) It’s sad that progressives and members of the Democratic party who fell in love with the sweeping economic reforms upon which Sanders’ platform is built will, understandably, get so caught up in helping Clinton beat Trump that they’ll probably wind up settling and not asking her for more. It’s sad that we’ll continue to settle for a good healthcare plan that still leaves more than 30 million uninsured, or public college potentially at a lower cost but not as a free public service, or more disruptive foreign policy, all to prevent the nuclear codes from falling within Trump’s short, stubby fingers.

Meanwhile, think about some of the progressive economic goals like $15 minimum wage, tuition-free public education, expanding healthcare, paid family leave, and union rights, all of which have soared in popularity over the past year and would disproportionately benefit low-income people of color (and, it could be argued, the American economy at large.) At least to an extent, I expect to see all of these fade in importance because even the most moderate political and economic goals look like utopia when the alternative is Donald Trump.

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CREDIT: Win McNamee/Getty Images

In contrast, while, at this point, Sanders in the general is pretty much pure fantasy, Gawker in March made the good point that, contrary to what many in the Clinton camp would have you think, a Sanders vs. Trump lineup would be a yuuge victory for progressive goals like union rights:

“By backing the perceived safe choice over the candidate who actually agrees with it more, the labor movement helped to ensure that the candidate who agrees with it more will not get the nomination—during what could well be the only election campaign in our lifetime that a candidate as pro-labor as Bernie Sanders could actually win, thanks to the insane and unelectable opponent that the other side could nominate.”

By staying in the race, not only has Sanders contributed to bringing unprecedented attention to all the aforementioned progressive issues, but he’s also arguably inspired Clinton to move left on things like global trade agreements and Keystone XL. Somehow, I strongly doubt that in the general, Trump will have the same effect on her.