Our political partisanship may make things volatile and unforgiving, but with this comes some reliability and predictability. Thank goodness. For example there are some interesting dynamics to come from the rise, and presumed Democratic nomination, of Bernie Sanders for president, and before I make my point about down-ballot Democrats I'd like to lay down a few (reliable) items for context.
1. There is a strong desire by much of the country to get rid of Trump. Duh.
2. Sanders seems a good 50% unstoppable or better at this point. At least to me.
3. Sanders is a democratic socialist, and traditionally that means trouble for swing districts.
4. There are down-ballot Democrats in those swing districts up for reelection and nervous about standing with a socialist at the top of the ticket, but also low-key anxious about hyperpartisanship everywhere.
5. Republicans will do nothing but obstruct a powerful Democrat, socialist or not. They will not simply put a check on his power. We saw this with Obama so we know this is how it will be.
Through a traditional lens it's easy to see why Sanders can spell trouble for such Democrats, but in actuality the nation's partisanship can work in favor of both camps if we're willing to make a good argument. For starters let's first assume the most likely situation: a down-ballot Democrat is speaking to a moderate audience in a swing district who wants Trump out of office. Great. But a democratic socialist as the only alternative?
Yes. And here is one answer for Dems having to deal with this challenging question.
Sanders is a socialist but the Democratic party is not. It's a "big tent," which means many voices are at the table and most of them will not support a shift to socialism. Indeed that tent is what keeps Sanders, or any other nominee, from a hostile takeover of this party like we saw with the Republicans. It simply won't happen. However much of what Sanders says is what many across the country and across this district want, and as a moderate Democrat I will help move us responsibly in a progressive direction while managing the interests of my constituents. That means I will work with and support President Sanders on a progressive agenda, but I will also place a check on him when I think he is going too far. And since much of the party is moderate and center-left liberal, we will easily shelve any Sanders proposal we deem too aggressive.
Most importantly, it means movement rather than gridlock. If Trump is gone that means Sanders is president; if Sanders is president and control of Congress is up for grabs, "movement" (Democratic Congress) or "gridlock" (Republican Congress) will be the only two possible outcomes.
A President Sanders and a Democratic Congress means progress overall. A President Sanders and a Republican Congress means total obstruction and a stated desire to make him a "one-term president."
Support moderate Democrats and we can not only be rid of Trump, but we can team up with Sanders to find a healthy balance, satisfy most if not all wings of our party, be united, and make actual progress again.
This will require not only strong messaging but ownership over all the various labels. Moderate Democrats will need to own, proudly, the "moderate" label, but so will Sanders in owning his label (not a problem) as well as the Democratic establishment in owning their label of party unifier - meaning they will have to accept Sanders as the future and for the good of the party, and then use that unity to help with the above messaging in those vulnerable places ahead of November.
There is no way to separate Sanders from the "socialist" label he himself has chosen, but there is a way to sell a socialist president to a more moderate audience as an instrument to be kept in check, and which will strongly serve to restore balance to a country that desperately needs it after such a sharp lurch to the right.