Jonathan Chait, the far-left columnist for New York Magazine, isn’t exactly known for his takedowns of politicians he generally agrees with. But when even Chait can see a Bernie Sanders nomination as a disaster-in-the-making, Democrats better rethink their priorities.
Perhaps more than any other left-wing pundit, Chait sees the writing on the wall if Sanders gets the top spot. The downside for Sanders is massive and what little upside he has is washed away by his questionable — traitorous? — associations.
Bernie Sanders, the angry old white man, is simply not the candidate who can go toe to toe with Trump. He may be as loud and obnoxious as Trump. He might equal the president in the name-calling department. He might be as mean as Trump.
But his record, the issues he promotes, and his past make him a ripe, juicy target for any Republican.
Sanders has gleefully discarded the party’s conventional wisdom that it has to pick and choose where to push public opinion leftward, adopting a comprehensive left-wing agenda, some of which is popular, and some of which is decidedly not. Positions in the latter category include replacing all private health insurance with a government plan, banning fracking, letting prisoners vote, decriminalizing the border, giving free health care to undocumented immigrants, and eliminating ICE. (I am only listing Sanders positions that are intensely unpopular. I am not including positions, like national rent control and phasing out all nuclear energy, that I consider ill-advised but which probably won’t harm him much with voters.)
If Sanders had been in office in the 1950s, he would have been arrested for suspected espionage:
Compounding those vulnerabilities is a long history of radical associations. Sanders campaigned for the Socialist Workers’ Party and praised communist regimes. Obviously, Republicans call every Democratic nominee a “socialist.” But it’s one thing to have the label thrown at you by the opposition, another for it to be embraced willingly, and yet another thing altogether to have a web of creepy associations that make it child’s play for the opposition to paint your program as radical and dangerous. Viewing these attacks in isolation, and asking whether voters will care about Bernie’s views on the Cold War, misses the way they will be used as a stand-in to discredit his entire worldview. Nobody “cared” how Michael Dukakis looked in a tank, and probably not many voters cared about Mitt Romney’s dismissive remarks about the 47 percent, but both reinforced larger attack narratives. Vintage video of Bernie palling around with Soviet communists will make for an almost insultingly easy way for Republicans to communicate the idea that his plans to expand government are radical.
Then, there are his rather bizarre utterings in his youth where he mused about “sexual repression” causing breast cancer. And let’s not forget his wife’s crooked land deals that forced the college she was running into bankruptcy. As a liberal hero, Sanders was immune to the kind of ordinary scrutiny that might have severely damaged a Republican. But once Trump’s oppo research team gets their hands on stuff like this, by the time they’re done with Sanders, he will be seen as a cross between Jack the Ripper and Kim Jong-un.
Naturally, the Sanders team rejects any notion that Bernie is too far left to be elected. They thought they had a perfect example when British Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn ran against Conservative Boris Johnson. Polls showed Corbyn winning — until about 10 days before the vote when it came out that Corbyn’s party didn’t care if members were flaming anti-Semites or not. Johnson cruised to victory.
Sanders’ people touted Corbyn’s illusory victory as “proof” that a socialist could win. When Corbyn was humiliated and thrown from his leadership position, Sanders’ people had nothing except lame excuses about Brexit and Brits voting against their interests.
Trump is still not popular, although he is getting credit for the good economy, which never hurts. But the Democrats’ insane delusion that Sanders would have a chance against Trump may very well drag the entire Democratic Party to a massive, historic defeat at the polls.