Some Democratic observers fear their party is following the British left’s road to defeat.
British politics rarely intrudes into a US presidential election. In 1988, Joe Biden was forced to abandon his first bid for the White House after it emerged that he had quoted without attribution a chunk of oratory from the then Labour party leader, Neil Kinnock. In 2016, Donald Trump deployed Nigel Farage as an occasional mascot on the stump, the Brexit victory in that year’s referendum deemed a happy omen that populists could defy the odds and win. In 2020, a third name has surfaced, offered as a cautionary tale to a Democratic party that this week confirmed a septuagenarian radical socialist and longtime backbench rebel as its frontrunner. That name is Jeremy Corbyn.
“I don’t want the Democratic party of the United States to be the Labour party of the United Kingdom,” James Carville, the victorious manager of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, told audiences on cable TV and in New Hampshire this week, warning that if Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders, they will almost certainly be following Corbyn’s Labour party to defeat.
On the US campaign trail, journalists, strategists for rival Democratic candidates, and even the occasional voter cite Corbyn in the case against Sanders, offering the result of December’s UK general election as evidence. A week spent in New Hampshire watching the Vermont senator and his opponents do battle provides some answers to the question many US Democrats are asking themselves: is Sanders fated to be America’s Corbyn – or are the two men, and their two situations, radically different?
Team Sanders is understandably reluctant to encourage the parallel. “I didn’t hear that on the streets, I heard it in the bubble,” Nina Turner, a national co-chair of the Sanders campaign, told the Guardian. “The talking heads and the elites said it to try to dismantle Senator Bernie Sanders, to say, ‘Aha, this can’t happen!’” All the same, Turner was keen to add that “both men have a healthy respect for each other”.