If you think that headline sounds like something from the Babylon Bee, you’re not alone. It defies logic, reason, and incredible odds, but as of publishing time, it appears that Bernie Sanders—a democratic socialist who is not even a member of the Democratic Party—is going to blow away the competition in the Nevada caucuses. At present, with just over 23% reporting, Bolshie Bernie has nearly 40% of the vote, topping second-place Biden by 17 points.
Update: With 87.47% of the vote counted, Sanders has maintained his commanding lead. He’s currently at 40.73%, followed by Biden (19.69%), Buttigieg (17.14%), and Warren (11.21%). None of the other andidates managed to climb out of the single digits.
While Sanders caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, he has held elected office since 1981 as an independent and self-identifies as a democratic socialist (a less-scary-sounding way of saying “I know best, so gimme all your money and say goodbye to your freedom”). He’s also identified himself on multiple occasions as a plain old “socialist.”
Sanders bristled at Michael Bloomberg during the most recent debate when the former NYC mayor tried to tie him to communism (Sanders called it a “cheap shot”), but the fact remains that he has praised and supported communist regimes, including the Soviet Union, where he honeymooned.
In 1988, Ronald Reagan was president and the U.S. was still fighting the Cold War. While many Americans were still practicing duck-and-cover drills, Sanders was cozying up to the enemy. (HT: Washington Examiner for uncovering these documents.)
“There are some things that [the Soviet Union does] better than we do and which were, in fact, quite impressive. Subway systems in Moscow costs 5 kopecs — or 7 cents. Faster, cleaner, more attractive and more efficient than any in the U.S. — and cheap,” an official statement from then-Burlington Mayor Sanders’s office said. “The train trip that we took from Leningrad to Moscow — for Soviet citizens — was very cheap,” Sanders exulted.
Oh, joy, the communists make the trains run on time and put a chicken in every pot! (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was not available for comment.)
An article at the Adam Smith Insitute tells a very different story about the USSR—the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, emphasis on the socialist part.):
- In 1976 only two-thirds of Soviet families had a refrigerator—the USA hit two thirds in the early 1930s. Soviet families had to wait years to get one, and when they finally got a postcard giving notice they could buy one, they had a fixed one hour slot during which they could pick it up. They lost their chance if they did not arrive in time.
- In the same period, the USA had nearly 100m passenger cars. The USSR? Five million. People typically had to wait four to six years, and often as long as ten, to get one.
- There was 30x as much typhoid, 20x as much measles, and cancer detection rates were half as good as in the United States.
- Life expectancy actually fell in the Soviet Union during the 1960s and 1970s.
- The USSR had the highest physician-patient ratio in the world, triple the UK rate, but many medical school graduates could not perform basic tasks like reading an electrocardiogram.
- 15% of the population lived in areas with pollution 10x normal levels.
- By the US poverty measure, well over half of the Soviet population were poor.
- Around a quarter could not afford a winter hat or coat, which cost an entire month’s wages on average (the equivalent of £1700 in UK terms).
Sounds fabulous, Bernie. No wonder you wanted to spend your honeymoon there.
In the late ’80s, Sanders traveled to Nicaragua to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s socialist revolution. Just a few months later, the Soviet-backed government there clamped down on civil liberties, denying citizens the right to free speech, free assembly, and labor strikes. When a constituent asked Mayor Sanders why he was supporting a dictatorship, he drew a disturbing moral equivalence, comparing policies of the communist country to the U.S. policy of Japanese internment camps and Lincoln suspending some rights during the Civil War.
In a 1989 official statement from the mayor’s office, Sanders also praised the communist “Cuban revolution.”
“For better or for worse, the Cuban revolution is a very profound and very deep revolution. Much deeper than I had understood,” the statement read. “More interesting than their providing their people with free health care, free education, free housing … is that they are in fact creating a very different value system than the one we are familiar with.”
Sure, if by “value system” you mean abject poverty, locking up dissidents, and partnering with the Soviets.
Until recently, Sanders was supportive of Venezuela. In 2011 he posted an op-ed from Valley News in the “must read” section of his website. In it, the editorial board decried U.S. income- and race-inequality and asserted: “These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger.”
“Who’s the banana republic now?” the editorial board asked.
Sanders has since distanced himself from the op-ed. His 2020 campaign deputy communications director told the Washington Examiner that while Sanders “agrees with many of the important points raised in that article with regard to wealth and income inequality, with regard to the article’s reference to Venezuela, Sen. Sanders has been critical of the Maduro government’s repression of dissent and called for international aid to end the ongoing humanitarian crisis, so would not endorse that specific claim.”
In other words, it’s bad optics if you’re running for president and your exemplar nation-state has devolved to the point where its people are slaughtering zoo animals to stave off starvation.
Sanders’s success in Nevada may be an outlier, but he did win the popular vote in Iowa and at last count was in second place there, just barely. The RCP Average has him at 28.7% nationally. Biden was expected to do well in the next primary state, South Carolina, but at this point, it’s Bernie’s game to lose. If he finishes strong in South Carolina, he’ll come into Super Tuesday as the clear frontrunner and scoop up a bunch of delegates.
While there’s an outside chance Bloomberg, who has been focusing his efforts on Super Tuesday, will make a play in those states, it seems unlikely. A lot will depend on whether there’s a mass exodus from the race after the votes are counted in Nevada—recall that several dropped out after poor showings in Iowa.
If you’re a Democrat, and you’re not a socialist, your best—and perhaps only—chance of beating Trump in November is if the other candidates agree to coalesce behind someone that is perceived by the public as a moderate. Of course, none of them are actually moderates, but Klobuchar, for example, seems slightly more sane than Sanders. Perhaps sane enough to fool the public into thinking she’s not a left-wing statist.
But that’s not likely to happen. The most important quality in any presidential candidate, after all, is his or her ego. It takes a lot of chutzpah, and no small amount of narcissism, to believe you can and should be the leader of the free world. If fulfilling that internal mandate means the party has to commit electoral seppuku, so be it.
It’s breathtaking to contemplate that a socialist—again, I remind you that Sanders is not a member of the Democratic Party—could be a legitimate contender for the presidency. It seems unthinkable that millions of people who lived through the Cold War, and remember the fear and loathing of all things Soviet, will march to the polls in lockstep in November to pull the lever for Sanders, and yet here we are. Thousands upon thousands of Baby Boomers, who should know better, have already voted for the aging bolshie in Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire.
Make no mistake: the Democratic Party is in thrall to socialism, if not communism. Those in the younger demographic, in particular, are increasingly demanding free everything—and the younger you go, the more stuff they’re demanding. Not only that, younger voters believe climate change (i.e. weather) poses an existential threat to the planet. They’re demanding that politicians do whatever Greta Thunberg, the world’s most famous teen-truant, tells them to do. These kids, increasingly without God, have been mal-educated in our public schools and universities and believe they are on the right side of history by supporting socialism.
It’s hard to think about, but these kids aren’t going to stop until they get socialism—good and hard, as my colleague Stephen Green likes to say. Only then, when the quality of life they’ve become accustomed to as privileged Americans has become a distant memory, will they see the light.
They may just get their wish in November.
Follow me on Twitter @pbolyard.