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Get a Grip, Bernie Bed-Wetters: His Message and Media Machine Could Be Potent Against Trump


The Bernie bed-wetting has reached full-blown rubber sheet mode. With Bernie Sanders hanging on to a slim polling lead in Iowa and an even bigger one in New Hampshire, panicked Democrats are sounding the alarm that Bernie Sanders could surf a wave of unstoppable momentum all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. Nominating Sanders to run against Donald Trump would be an “Act of Insanity,” according to New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait. “Dems Tormented Over How to Stop Bernie,” read a recent Politico headline, which quoted Rahm Emanuel, the high priest of boardroom centrism, proclaiming with authority that Sanders will repel swing voters. (Gotta print a Rahm quote!) The New York Times cited Bonnie Campbell, a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton and now Joe Biden, talking about Sanders as if he was infected with the coronavirus. “I can tell you, I hear from friends and colleagues who say: ‘Oh, my God, what are we going to do if Bernie wins?’” Campbell said, sounding haunted.

The concerns are understandable. Nominating a socialist as a major party nominee for president would mark an extraordinary break from tradition and over 100 years of faith in the idea that the United States is fundamentally not a socialist country. Several of Sanders’s signature policies, like decriminalizing border crossings and replacing private insurance with a government-run Medicare-for-All system, are deeply unpopular. Those ideas have been litigated in a Democratic primary but have never been subject to sustained attacks in a general election. The Trump campaign will gleefully rope the socialist tag around Bernie’s neck in Florida, terrifying every Fox News–viewing retiree and micro-targeting every Cuban and Venezualan with Facebook ads reminding them of broken regimes back home. Khaki-wearing PTA members in northern Virginia and suburban Denver might recoil in horror at the idea of Sanders rattling the markets and their 401(k)s, putting states recently thought to be safely blue back in play. It shouldn’t be forgotten, either, that Sanders is 78 and suffered a heart attack in October, the subject of an anti-Sanders television ad currently running in Iowa.

Everything about Sanders—his ideas, his stubborn dogma, his sometimes-kooky supporters, his contempt for greenroom culture and the party circuit—is completely foreign to the intellectual and cultural fabric of Washington. In that universe, the claim that Sanders is unelectable is more or less gospel. The same Democrats who were assured of Hillary Clinton’s victory are now starting to worry about a Goldwater or McGovern-style Electoral College wipeout with Sanders atop the ticket. If they were so inclined, the bed-wetters could easily Google a year of polls showing Sanders beating Trump in hypothetical head-to-head matchups. A Texas Lyceum poll just this week showed Sanders performing better against Trump in Texas than any Democrat, losing by just three points. That’s on top of a raft of polls showing Sanders beating Trump back those precious Upper Midwest states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. These polls aren’t totally hypothetical, either: Sanders boasts near universal Name ID. Most voters know who Sanders is and what he stands for—and they’re still choosing him, whether they actually like him or just because his name isn’t Donald Trump. The president and his advisers are starting to notice, according to recent stories in the New York Times and Daily Beast. Both outlets reported in recent weeks that some Trump advisers are worried about Sanders’s strengths—his populist appeal, perceived authenticity, and his durable popularity with the same white non-college voters who voted for Trump. “I think he’s tough in places where people are making $12 an hour,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale recently told CBS News, who said the media is underestimating his appeal. Trump himself has started asking his team about Sanders’s polling performance in key battleground states, specifically Pennsylvania, the Daily Beast reported.

Democrats fretting about the prospect of nominating Sanders should consider, for a moment, how the few years in American politics have exposed the frailty of conventional wisdom and incremental thinking. They might also consider Xanax. But they should consider, too, listening to Parscale, who has access to troves of data much richer than any Democratic campaign right now. He and others in the Trump orbit apparently see what Sanders supporters have seen for a long time: that Sanders is a uniquely powerful politician, with strengths no other Democrat brings to the table. Yes, he has vulnerabilities, but so will any nominee. Still, if Sanders winning the Democratic nomination gives you a particularly bad case of night sweats, it might be useful to put aside your priors for a moment and think about him another way. Instead of asking if Sanders is unelectable, ask another question: What if Sanders is actually the MOST electable Democrat? In the age of Trump, hyper-partisanship, institutional distrust, and social media, Sanders could be examined as a candidate almost custom-built to go head-to-head with Trump this year. Here, in fact, are five good reasons why he might just be the one. At the very least, bed-wetters, maybe they’re just five good doses of positive thinking that will help you sleep better until the Iowa caucuses on Monday.

Bernie Is a Celebrity



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