On Sunday morning, self-declared socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) attacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC), arguing that national Democrats are making the same mistakes that led to the Republican wave year of 2014.
Chuck Todd, host of NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” asked Sanders what he would say to national Democrats who warn against nominating candidates who “are too progressive.”
“I think that they are wrong, and I think they are misreading where the American people are at,” Sanders said. The senator suggested that Democrats might lose in November because they don’t support big government enough for a radicalizing American electorate.
“You know, Chuck, many of the issues that I campaigned on two years ago — issues like Medicare for all, raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour, and taking on the pharmaceutical industry, making public colleges and universities tuition-free, legalizing marijuana — a few years ago those were seen as radical, fringy ideas,” the senator explained. “You know what? In every instance those ideas are now supported by the American people, by the majority of the American people overwhelming the percentage of Democrats.”
Sanders suggested that Democrats are hesitant to back such radical positions merely because they “worry about what wealthy campaign contributors want you to say.” He insisted that “people in your community, working people, and the middle class, and lower-income people” would only be energized by his self-described socialist policies.
Todd pressed him on electability — the question of whether a candidate can defeat his or her opposition in a general election. Many mainstream Democrats warn that Sanders-style socialist candidates might alienate just enough voters to deliver key races to Republicans. Sanders poo-pooed this idea.
“The question is what constitutes electability,” the senator argued. “Four years ago Republicans — as you recall — Republicans won a landslide victory across this country and we had the lowest voter turnout since World War II. Some 37% of the American people voted because establishment Democrats don’t generate excitement.”
Sanders warned that if the DNC has its way in presenting a big-tent Democratic Party, with a broad spectrum of candidates (even some running on pro-life platforms), that would result in another 2014-style Republican wave. He did argue, however, that more radical candidates have been winning primaries, and that there is reason to think Democrats will avoid this loss if they buck the DNC.
“I think when you have progressive candidates — and we have seen this now for the last year… last year and a half — since Trump has been elected, we have seen progressive candidates and seen voter turnout go up because the people in their communities know that it’s time to stand up and fight,” Sanders said. “So the goal of the Democrats, it seems to me, in 2018 has got to be significantly raising voter turnout and you do that by talking about the issues that working families care about.”
While the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party is growing, it is far from clear that the Democratic path to electoral success is socialism. While polls have shown an increasing desire for socialized medicine, they have also shown that Americans are easily persuaded by arguments against Sanders-style single-payer health care.
Many Americans are fed up with America’s increasing polarization, and the more radical Democrats become, the less inspired many may be to vote for them. The Democratic edge in generic ballots is on the decline, and the GOP is ramping up into high gear. It may very well be that both Bernie Sanders and the DNC are “misreading” where the American people are.