Republicans Underestimate Bernie Sanders at Their Peril


One thing that I love about national political media is how often I get to read about what an old white guy—who makes twice as much as the average American, and spends all his time talking to old white guys who make 10 times as much as the average American—thinks about What the People Want.

Thank God, then, for today’s Politico piece reporting that Senate Republicans want Bernie to win the Democratic nomination, because they are “confident there’s no way a self-described democratic socialist could win a general election against President Donald Trump.”

Republican Sens. Cory Gardner, John Thune, John Cornyn, Lindsey Graham, and Joni Ernst all told the site that they’re eager to run against Bernie. According to Thune: “If we can run a race against a person that’s an out-of-the-closet socialist and promoting socialist ideas, it’s a great contrast for us.”

The critical missing piece of information here is that the GOP will do what it has done for at least 10 years, which is call the Democrat a socialist whoever they are. Mike Pence has already said Joe Biden—Joe Biden!— is advocating a socialist agenda. If Bernie doesn’t win the nomination, the GOP will still run ads saying it’s Scary Red Bernie’s Party. They’ll say that whoever the nominee is supports Bernie Sanders’ Socialist Agenda. They said Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were socialists! It doesn’t matter.

As we’ve noted before, no one has done more to make socialism mainstream than the GOP. If you tell people that the things they want, like healthcare, taxing the rich, and the ability to go to college without getting $50,000 in debt for the rest of your life, are socialism, they won’t change their mind about those things; they’ll start to think socialism isn’t so bad. This is obvious.

This isn’t to say that a Bernie nomination would be a slam dunk in the general, or that a majority of Americans love socialism. But of all people, in all of America, the people whose opinions on what the American public really wants I trust least are senators, particularly GOP senators. The Republican party constantly overestimates how popular its policies are with the public; if it doesn’t do that, it simply doesn’t care when its ideas are unpopular. It’s happy to squeeze through massively unpopular ideas like the tax bill, and if they had had just one more vote in the Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they would have done it and owned it, instead of running scared on healthcare.

The most important men in Washington, the Moderate Senate Democrats, who apparently have some kind of legal right to express their concerns about the left in the media whenever they like (as do the ones who left the Senate because they lost their fucking elections), make an appearance too. Joe Manchin and Jon Tester “acknowledged that the GOP’s strategy of painting the entire Democratic Party as in lockstep with Sanders could work in a national election,” though Tester also gave a quote pivoting to criticism of Trump, which is a nice change from Democratic moderates openly shitting on the left.

While we’re talking about Democrats, remember how many prominent Democrats thought Donald Trump was the best candidate to run against? Remember how, according to Amy Chozick’s book, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager asked, “How do we maximize Trump?’”

Neither Democrats nor Republicans in the Senate, or really in Washington in general, know a whole lot about how the electorate will feel about a Bernie candidacy. Most of them didn’t see Trump coming, and most of them didn’t see Bernie coming this far, either. They are detached from the material forces in America that are pushing people away from the dominant neoliberal politics of the last 40 years. If they think beating Bernie would be easier than beating Hillary Clinton was, be my guest.

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