The Trap of “More Electable”


Now that it’s looking more and more like Donald Trump is going to win the Republican nomination, I think it’s time to take a step back and think about what this means and portends for the general.

For Democrats, the question now is, whom should they pit against Trump? Who’s the best bet to beat him? A lot of my friends and the people whose posts I read on Facebook have been lobbying for Hillary because they think she is more “electable,” and they’re afraid of what will happen if the Democrats lose this election.

I get that. There’s a lot at stake here. We want the most electable candidate. But what does that mean in this particular cycle? On the Republican side, most people considered Jeb Bush the most “electable” candidate at the beginning of primary season. Lately, Marco Rubio has received the “most electable” mantle from the establishment. The voters ain’t buying it. Clearly something weird is going on. Traditional notions of what constitutes an electable candidate seem not to matter to the people pulling the voting levers. To anyone who is looking at this election season it should be clear by now what’s going on is indicative of a tremendous dissatisfaction with the status quo, and instead of resisting that idea, we need to understand it. Why is Trump dominating the primaries? Why is Sanders doing as well as he is?

The answer is actually not all that complicated. The system isn’t working for the masses. The American people are fed up with the establishment. They’re fed up with politics as usual and the idea that big money is running the show. They want somebody from outside the mainstream, somebody they perceive as uncorrupted. Yes, Hillary is leading Bernie right now, but that’s mostly because people who want to vote for Bernie are afraid he won’t win the general. I strongly believe that if Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, she will do so not because most Dems really prefer her, but because they’re afraid that Bernie isn’t electable. If a Jeb Bush or a Marco Rubio were leading the way on the Republican side, that would probably be true. But Trump’s ascendence changes everything. It totally alters the dynamics of how things will play out this fall. I’m now convinced that succumbing to fears about Bernie’s electability will be a huge mistake–and will actually ensure the opposite of the desired outcome, namely a Dem victory. Because I think that versus Trump, Bernie will be a much better candidate than Hillary. I think that Hillary is going to have a really tough time beating Trump and overcoming the anger of voters who are sick of the Bush and Clinton legacies. And I think a lot of people will be shocked to have so misread things.

This election will come down, as elections usually do, to the so-called independent voters, the swing voters. I think it’s pretty clear that Trump is going to get most of those independents in a matchup with Hillary. But in a race against Bernie, the independent vote will be a toss up. Not only will Bernie win more than his share of the swing voters, he will also pull some Republicans into his camp, people who would never in a million years vote for Hillary.

The Republican primary has been a referendum against the establishment, against Bush, against the mainstream. Anyone who thinks that the general election will not follow suit isn’t really paying attention.

Until now, I’d been on the fence about Bernie. I was worried that the people who were saying he was unelectable were right. But now I’m absolutely convinced that we NEED Bernie to be the Democratic candidate if we’re going to win this election. A lot of people see Bernie versus Hillary as a heart-versus-head question. As for me, my heart has always been with Bernie, but my head was telling me that Hillary would be our best chance in the general. Now my head is telling me that the game has changed, and I’m scared–really scared–that my friends and fellow Democrats won’t see this. If we look at this election the way the Republican establishment has been doing until now, we’ll be in for a painful surprise come November.

By Peter Alson

Peter Alson is a writer and editor. Among his published books are the memoirs Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie and Take Me to the River. He's also co-authored (with Nolan Dalla) One of a Kind, a biography of poker champion Stuey Ungar, and Atlas, the autobiography of boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas. His articles have appeared in many national magazines, including Esquire, Playboy and The New York Times. He has worked as a writer for People magazine, and as an editor for Playboy and for Hachette Publications. He has written screenplays for Paramount and various independent producers, and his TV pilot, Nicky’s Game, starring John Ventimiglia and Burt Young, appeared in the New York Television Festival and the Vail Film Festival. As a poker player he has finished in the money numerous times in the World Series of Poker and other events. He lives in New York with his wife, Alice, and their daughter, Eden.

9 replies on “The Trap of “More Electable””

interesting points, all of which i agree with as a potential problem. However, im still head strong (read, stubborn) in that i still believe, when push comes to shove, people would vote for Hil over Trump. he is truly a buffoon, and buffoons never win general elections.

(damn, couldnt cut and paste a pic of DUBYA!)


I disagree strongly with your logic that voters are sick of the Clinton legacy. He is considered one of the most well liked Presidents of modern memory. And unlike Bush who left the country in tatters, Clinton left the country in a robust state economically and otherwise. So to link one with the other is a mistake. I think the positive legacy of Clinton only redounds to Hillary’s benefit. Moreover, I don’t think Bernie holds up well in general elections despite what the current polling suggests(matchup up polls over a general election at this point are ridiculous). As a self-proclaimed Socialist and Isolationist Bernie Sanders will struggle in a general election(outside the youth demographic) and hand Trump the Presidency. On the other hand, Hillary who comes off as an intelligent, measured and experienced politician will only strengthen her positives against Trump who will continue to have high negative ratings given his extreme positions on many of the issues. Revolutions of consciousness and fundamental policy only occur in reaction to extreme duress. Obama, our first black President, came to power because he had George Bush as a back drop. He was able to enact revolutionary like legislation(ie, Affordable Health Care) because he swept in a huge majority of democrats in Congress in defiance of Bush. President Obama does not offer a context or political climate in which Bernie’s brand of revolution can thrive in a general election nor change the political orientation of Congress. If anything his left of center of politics will only help with the extreme left of Democratic party. He will lose the overwhelming majority of independents who tend to vote middle of the road in general elections. Sorry pal but were not ready to feel the Bern.


Needless to say, since I’m making the argument to begin with, I disagree with you. I don’t think you’re understanding what the ascendence of Trump and of Bernie really means. In a normal election cycle, Bernie would not be getting any traction. Why is he now? What is the underlying disgruntlement with the status quo that is propelling him and Trump? Hillary is a good candidate but she is establishment all the way. Trump has tapped into the anger people have toward the establishment. So has Bernie. If you think the establishment will prevail, you might be right, but it certainly isn’t prevailing on the Republican side. Will it prevail in the general? Maybe. But the anger goes deep. And I think that Sanders, who will benefit from that anger and hunger for profound change as much as Trump, matches up better with him for that reason than Hillary does. Right now the polling agrees with me. Independent voters will split on Bernie and Trump. They will all go for Trump vs. Hillary. There are a lot of Republicans who will vote for Bernie, especially against Trump. None of them will vote for Hillary. If Rubio manages to come back and win the Republican primary, I’ll change my mind about this and consider Hillary the better choice. But if not, I think Bernie is by far our best shot.


If Bernie is doing so well with voters then why is he losing primaries? Granted they’re close but he’s only won 1 primary so far. And he’s likely to get crushed in South Carolina. If he can’t win over his own party I don’t think he’s poised to seduce the Independents let alone moderate Republicans in a general election.


I agree with your logic of the disgruntled voters. People are mad! Ver angry indeed on both sides. But just think of Bernie , who btw I think is great, as president. He will be up against a Congress that will let him do absolutely nothing of what he has promised and that will turn anger into rage. Yeah, Hillary is establishment and because of that she might be able to navigate these troubled waters. I think Bernie as President would be a disaster. Just look at the recent history of Chile. Michelle Bachelet won by a landslide 2 years ago. She had the senate and the house and promised pretty much the same things Bernie is proposing. Now she has 25% approval and all the country is disgruntled. So you’ve got to think, after Bernie, what? It’s not enough to be elected. You’ve got to deliver a modicum of what you have promised and with such a polarized country how could he do it. I think Hillary would be better at it.


Hey SueSue, you could very well be right about how Bernie would fare as president, but that’s not really a point I was addressing in this piece. My point was who would have the better shot at beating Trump in November, given the mood of the electorate and Hillary’s vulnerability not only as an establishment candidate but because of all the glaring chinks in her armor that Trump would attack relentlessly. The most important question facing Democrats right now is not who would be the better president–and that’s a debate for another column–but who will do better versus Trump.


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