Why Republicans Should Learn to Love Bernie Sanders

Why Republicans Should Learn to Love Bernie Sanders

REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Republicans should do everything possible to keep Bernie Sanders in the race. He is doing what no one else can do--by pushing Hillary Clinton further to the left, Sanders could render her unelectable. 

In running against Sanders, Clinton has dubbed herself a progressive, and embraced ever-more liberal positions to fend off the popular socialist. Once nominated, Clinton will undoubtedly want to tack back to the center. That’s the Clinton playbook, and it worked for her husband Bill, who successfully ran as a Centrist Democrat in 1992. Only 26 percent of Americans consider themselves “liberal” – far fewer than the 38 percent who self-describe as “moderate” and below the 33 percent who say they are conservative. Playing to the progressive minority could be a losing game.

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The longer Bernie nips at her heels, the longer Hillary will have to maintain hard-left positions on gun control, trade and other issues where she is out of step with most Americans. That is why Sanders is coming under increasing pressure to withdraw from the campaign. Even President Obama has jumped in, recently pleading with Democrat donors to unite behind Clinton and warning that Sanders’ continuing presence could benefit Republicans.

He is correct. Hillary Clinton has not just been nudged to the left by Sanders; she has been bulldozed. She is making increasingly reckless statements just to keep up with the Vermont senator, which could haunt her in the general election.  

One especially troublesome topic for Hillary is energy policy. Most notably, she recently announced that when president, she will no longer allow production of oil and gas on federal lands. That’s an extraordinary cave to the environmental left, one that has been pressed by Sanders. Last July, when confronted in New Hampshire by climate activists from 350 Action about her position on allowing fossil fuel development on public lands, Clinton suggested she wouldn’t agree to a ban until certain “alternatives [were] in place.” More recently, when 350 Action asked about a ban, Clinton said, “Yeah, that’s a done deal.” Moreover, she told an interviewer who asked about mineral leases on federal land, “I want to impose a moratorium ...”   

This takes President Obama’s hostility to fossil fuels to a whole new level. Americans will be stunned to hear that Clinton wants to eliminate 21 percent of our crude oil production, 14 percent of our natural gas output and 41 percent of our coal supplies. Moreover, it would mean placing off limits more than one quarter of our nation’s proved reserves of oil and a higher percentage of future reserves.

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On this issue, as on numerous others, Hillary Clinton is surfing in Sanders’ wake. Last fall, Sanders, along with fellow Senators Merkley of Oregon and Leahy of Vermont introduced The Keep it in the Ground Act, which would end all new federal leases for oil, gas or coal extraction on public lands and waters.

It is, of course, an irresponsible policy. While the United States has successfully reversed a decades-long decline in oil and gas production in recent years, thanks largely to high oil prices which have stimulated new technologies and especially fracking, cutting off access to future supplies would be reckless in the extreme. The oil industry experiences extended and unpredictable cycles; it also operates with extremely long lead times. Oil and gas companies must often plan large exploration and development investments a full decade in advance. 

Oil prices are low today, because of a combination of geopolitical and economic events; that may not continue. Saudi Arabia could by itself decide to shift prices higher, and is in fact being encouraged to do so by OPEC. All they need to do is to withhold production, and the current surplus of output would vanish overnight.

The United States has benefited from low prices brought on in part by rising U.S. production. Some speculate that the Saudis, the principle authors of the swoon in prices, are trying to drive U.S. shale producers out of business. Their reasoning may be somewhat more complex than that, but there is no question that they are delighted to see incremental production from competitors around the globe recede.

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Meanwhile, because U.S. natural gas production has also boomed thanks to fracking, U.S. manufacturers are benefiting from some of the lowest energy costs in the world. Our cost of electricity is one fourth of what companies are paying in Germany, for instance, an advantage that is driving some international companies to move production to the U.S.

Consumers, too, have benefited from lower electricity costs and cheaper gasoline. The bottom line is that one of the most advantageous economic developments of the past twenty years is our surprising increase in oil and natural gas production – something most energy analysts never saw coming. Do we want to give that up? To put our fossil fuel riches off limits? It would be madness.

Hillary knows better. But, she is courting big money environmentalists like Tom Steyer and Susie Tompkins Buell, co-founder of the Esprit clothing line. And, she is attempting to keep Bernie Sanders at bay. Sanders may not have a clear path to the nomination, but he is exciting a lot of voters and raising a great deal of money. He attracted over $40 million in donations in February, besting Clinton’s $30 million haul. Though he has less money on hand than the former first lady, he can soldier on for quite a while.

That’s very good news for the GOP.