Republicans nationwide are licking their chops at the prospect of Bernie Sanders rolling to the Democratic nomination for president. The radical socialist Vermont senator is already being featured by GOP candidates in campaign ads across the country, and his loony followers — “Bernie Bros” — are being tied to every Democratic candidate at just about every level of politics.
We all knew that this would happen. But the size and scope of the organized effort to make Bernie Sanders synonymous with the Democratic Party is already taking shape.
More than eight months before Election Day, vulnerable Republican Sen. Martha McSally is up with an advertisement on Arizona television tarring Democratic challenger Mark Kelly as a “Bernie Bro.” It’s a message that Republican strategists are busy replicating in tough contests across the country. Party insiders see Sanders as the perfect antidote to lingering queasiness about President Trump, especially in battlegrounds such as Arizona, where suburban swing voters are poised to decide the outcome.
“Over the course of the last three years, what the debate has been around has been President Trump — it hasn’t been around Democratic policies or Democratic personalities,” said Terry Nelson, a veteran Republican operative advising McSally. “But now, we’re in an election where that’s changing, and Democratic personalities and Democratic policies will become more relevant.”
Sanders is fond of pointing out poll support for many of those policies — except when those polls include the price tag of many of those ideas. Tell a suburban mom that Medicare for All will cost $37 trillion over 10 years and she’s likely to pledge eternal fealty to the Republican Party.
According to Gallup, just 45 percent of Americans would knowingly vote for a socialist. Even Democrats know that a candidate needs about 50 percent of the vote to win in a two-person race. And while Republicans failed during the 2018 midterm elections to make socialism a local issue in congressional races, they hope to have more luck in a national race.
Republicans say the difference this time is that Sanders, 78, proudly describes himself as a “democratic socialist” and proposes abolishing private healthcare and replacing it with government insurance, among other ultraliberal policies. Combined with the Vermont senator’s rise to the top of the Democratic field, Republicans are convinced that they can ride Sanders to a second Trump term plus a resurgence in the suburbs that protects endangered GOP senators and returns the party to power in the House.
“If he’s the nominee, I don’t care if you’re running for dog catcher or Senate, every Republican is going to bend over backwards to tie their Democratic opponent to Bernie Sanders socialism and all the crazy stuff he supports,” said Corry Bliss, a Republican consultant. Congressional Leadership Fund, the House GOP super PAC, has been tying vulnerable incumbent House Democrats to “socialist” Sanders for several months.
Donald Trump’s campaign is hard at work painting Sanders as a dangerous radical. Of course, Bernie is making that ridiculously easy. In fact, Trump’s foibles and shortcomings will likely be forgotten as Sanders and the Democrats are forced to defend themselves from potent ideological attacks.
Republicans would rather have the debate be over ideology, satisfied that enough voters in key states would choose Trump and the rest of the GOP ticket. Emerging swing states, such as Arizona and Georgia, and purple states such as North Carolina, meanwhile, would be safe, Republicans insist. That’s why they are doing everything they can to make the election about Sanders and his agenda, even if he is not the Democratic nominee.
Democrats have a deep bench of socialists, including AOC, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Elizabeth Warren, and other radicals who will be spreading out all over the country in the fall to campaign for Sanders. I don’t think Sanders has an answer to the negativity surrounding socialism. He’s going to have to hope that people stay home on Election Day rather than coming out to vote against him.
That’s a fool’s hope. And it’s why the GOP is likely to make a clean sweep of it in November.