Are you starting to wonder if Bernie Sanders actually wants to be president?
Sure, he wants it in an abstract way, and he knows how to give a fiery speech. Sanders is a socialist, after all, and if socialism has a motto it must be: “Power corrupts. Absolute power is where things get really interesting.” But it would be fair if today you’re wondering if Sanders really has the fire in the belly to plan and execute a winning campaign.
And what might a winning campaign look like? Most anything but the one he’s running, if recent events are anything to go by.
ASIDE: Don’t read too much into my analysis of the Sanders campaign. I’m a hard-right libertarian-conservative, and I’d rather chew off my own forehead than suffer a President Sanders — or any of these Democrats.
Before we get to those, we need to back up a bit and talk about Joe Biden’s campaign. Back in October, I wrote that “I keep expecting Biden to flame out any week now, but he keeps hanging on in poll after poll. And if his South Carolina firewall holds, there’s probably a better-than-even chance that he becomes the nominee.”
He has kept holding on in poll after poll, in large part because none of the other candidates have gone after his weak spots. You’ve seen it in the debates, where Biden spews nonsensical word-salad answers, and nobody calls him on it. His 49-year-old son Hunter is as corrupt as they come, using Dad’s connections to get rich while knocking up at least one stripper.
The press is belatedly (and groggily) waking up to Biden’s deep corruption problem, with reports like this one: “How five members of Joe Biden’s family got rich through his connections.” So this would be the opportune time for someone like Sanders to go for the jugular and try to knock Biden off his frontrunner perch.
Indeed, Sanders supporter Zephyr Teachout tried to do just that on Monday, with a column headlined, “‘Middle Class’ Joe Biden has a corruption problem – it makes him a weak candidate.” Teachout writes:
Here’s the thing: nominating a candidate like Biden will make it far more difficult to defeat Trump. It will allow Trump to muddy the water, to once again pretend he is the one “draining the swamp”, running against Washington culture. Trump and the Cambridge Analytica of 2020 will campaign, as they did in 2016, on a message of radical nihilism: everybody lies, everybody is corrupt, nothing matters, there is no truth.
Corrupt politicians always use whataboutism. With Biden, we are basically handing Trump a whataboutism playbook. The comparison won’t be fair, but if you think he won’t use Biden’s closeness to donors as a cudgel to try to keep people home, you haven’t been paying attention. Unlike Democrats, who must give voters a reason to come out, Trump doesn’t need voters to love him. He just needs to convince people the whole game is ugly.
You don’t have to agree with Teachout’s assessment of Trump (I certainly don’t) to note that she’s right on the money when it comes to Biden’s history of pay-to-play with credit card companies, health insurers, and Wall Street. And then there’s his corrupt, piggybacking family members, too.
Teachout isn’t exactly a household name, and the UK-based Guardian newspaper isn’t exactly the most trusted name in American news. So you might think one of two things:
• The Sanders camp might trumpet Teachout’s column as an excellent summary of why Biden shouldn’t be the nominee
• Or, if Sanders didn’t approve of what Teachout had to say, let the thing remain in obscurity
Instead, Sanders chose a third option: Raise awareness of Teachout’s column while apologizing to Biden for it. Sanders told CBS News: “It is absolutely not my view that Joe is corrupt in any way. And I’m sorry that that op-ed appeared.” He went on, saying, “If anyone knows me, what I believe is we need a serious debate in this country on issues. We don’t need to demonize people who may disagree with us.”
But Teachout didn’t demonize anyone for disagreeing with Sanders. She highlighted Biden’s very real and very serious corruption problem — the very definition of a serious issue. But Sanders would apparently rather debate the minutia of the candidates’ various Medicare and Social Security schemes — a tactic that has failed for months to dislodge Biden — than to hit Biden where it would actually hurt.
Something similar happened in last week’s debate, just three weeks before the Iowa caucuses. News had broken days before that Sanders supposedly had privately told Elizabeth Warren that “a woman can’t win the election.” When asked about the incident by a moderator, Sanders went into denial mode. He said, “Anybody that knows me, knows it’s incomprehensible… In 2015 I deferred in fact to Senator Warren… I stayed back, Sen. Warren decided not to run, and I did run afterwards. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes. How could anyone … believe a woman couldn’t become president?”
But Warren said it was true, setting up a classic she-said/he-said situation. What a firey Sanders might have said last week instead would have been something like, “Of course a woman can be president. What I told Elizabeth was that she couldn’t win the election. She’s a weak candidate. Poll after poll. Everyone knows this.”
That might have made for the kind of debate people would actually watch, and it would have for sure proven that Sanders has the fire in his belly to do more than just give loud and angry speeches. But he keeps pulling his punches.
So I’m forced to conclude that, unless something changes once the voting gets underway, Sanders doesn’t really want to win.