WATCH: Bernie Sanders and His Supporters Are Trying to Warn You About Bernie Sanders
Independent Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been dogged by smear merchants who wonder if his self-identification as a “Democratic socialist” dedicated to “political revolution” will make voters “nervous,” but chief among them is a guy named Bernie Sanders.
An underrated moment from Sanders’ recent 60 Minutes interview — which was overshadowed by his ongoing praise for late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro — was when Anderson Cooper told Sanders that he’s making “a lot of Democratic voters nervous.”
Cooper said “a lot of voters are voting for candidates who aren’t calling for Medicare for All, who aren’t calling for a revolution,” and asked “Is everybody really wanting a revolution like that?”
“Yeah, let’s go easy on the word rev — ‘political revolution’, you know?” Sanders cautioned, and added “I don’t want people, you know, to overstate that.”
“You’re the one who’s using the word,” Cooper pointed out over Sanders’ objection.
It was a telling moment from a candidate who has built his entire candidacy around “political revolution” — and who literally founded an organization called “Our Revolution” that is working to help him get elected — that when pressed, Sanders himself recognizes the political vulnerability inherent in that sort of disruptive language.
But maybe, you say, Sanders is just responding to attacks from others who believe that his candidacy makes people “nervous,” to use the word that corporate shill Anderson Cooper used on Bernie. Where’d Cooper get that from?
That’s difficult to say, but there was one high-profile candidate who said that using another Sanders mantra — “Democratic socialism” — would “get people overly nervous.”
That shill was Bernie Sanders, who scolded John Harwood in October for using the words “Democratic socialist” twice during their interview, telling him “you’re going a little bit too crazy on the word here,” and went on to caution “Let’s not get people overly nervous about it.”
But it’s not just Bernie Sanders who notices how potentially unnerving his talk of revolution and [Democratic] socialism could be to general election voters — you can bet the ads running against Sanders won’t contain that qualifier — and it’s not just Donald Trump either.
Even Bernie Sanders’ own supporters are clearly worried about the self-identification that Bernie has flogged for decades. At Monday night’s CNN town hall, moderator Chris Cuomo introduced Sean McCambridge as someone who has supported Sanders in the past, but is now undecided.
“So it seems like Democrats get kind of out-foxed by the Republicans year after year in terms of marketing and message and campaign,” McCambridge said, then asked “Do you regret wrapping your ideas around the banner of socialism?” and added “would your campaign be more palatable to the average American if you changed nothing except for dropping the word ‘socialism’?”
Sanders delivered his stock 2-3 minute reply, and then Cuomo used the question to segue into Sanders’ praise for Castro, which Sanders doubled down on.
But it’s not just fence-sitting formerly supportive CNN audience members who are alarmed. Sanders takes questions at a lot of his own town hall events, and is frequently asked how he will respond to charges of socialism when they are leveled in the general election.
And even one of his most prominent surrogates, filmmaker Michael Moore, unwittingly illustrated the concern recently when he told a rally crowd that voters he encountered in Iowa were constantly asking him about “Democratic socialism” — concerns that he addressed by quoting scripture and comfortingly saying “everybody gets a piece of the pie.”
To his nominal credit, Sanders has had an answer every time, the same answer: explaining Democratic socialism at some length, and accusing Trump of being a socialist for the wealthy. But if that answer were enough, why is Bernie Sanders still nervous about his own political revolution?
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes has been on something of a tear against the Democratic freak-out over Sanders’ ascent, and has taken to fervently claiming that there isn’t any “data” to support the notion that Bernie Sanders will get wiped out in the general election by Trump.
But that’s not entirely — or even remotely — true. Defenders of the Sanders candidacy point to his rise in the national Democratic primary polls, the modest inroads he is making with black voters (which is not the same thing as energizing and turning out black voters), and his performance against Trump in general election head-to-heads — all of which were taken before Sanders made Fidel Castro a member of his ghost cabinet.
What Hayes and the other Sanders defenders are ignoring is that 29 percent of one political party doesn’t elect the president. The 30 percent of the country who are registered Democrats don’t elect the president. The number of those people who show up can make a big difference, as can the number who show up on the other side, but elections are decided by millions of people who just aren’t paying attention.
To that point, a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Bernie Sanders beating Trump 50 percent to 46 percent, and leading the Democratic field by 12 points. But in that same poll, a whopping 67 percent said they would have “some reservations” or be “very uncomfortable” voting for a socialist. And most of them fell into the “very uncomfortable” bucket.
What does this mean? Well, Steve Benen from MaddowBlog posits that either people like Bernie/hate Trump so much that they’re overlooking this — and Sanders’ heart attack — or there’s another explanation:
For well-informed and politically engaged voters — including, I’m assuming, you — Sanders’ qualities are hardly a secret. Indeed, they seem like common knowledge. But there’s a significant chunk of the electorate with a more passing familiarity with politics and candidates. Asked by a pollster about their 2020 preferences, these voters may balk at the idea of a 79-year-old socialist who recently had a heart attack, and then turn around and express support for the Vermont senator, because they’re simply unaware of these details about Sanders.
I don’t know which of these explanations is the most accurate one, but it’s the third one that poses the greatest challenges.
The data supports door number 3. Right now, an almost equal number of Democrats — about 70 percent — don’t support Sanders, and they’re the ones most likely to be paying attention. The data also suggests that the Republican project to keep socialism a dirty word has been effective, since the polling on this question is pretty steady gong back a few years, and the “very uncomfortable” number ticked up a point since last year.
As others have pointed out, Trump will brand any Democrat with the label, and the strategy was tried twice against President Barack Obama, and failed both times. In fact, the GOP obsession with this attack might be working in Sanders’ favor at this point, as many casual observers might just assume that, as with Obama, the charge is simply a lie.
But there were no video clips of Barack Obama calling himself a socialist, or praising Fidel Castro, or chilling in the Soviet Union, or telling Anderson Cooper to stop freaking people out with things that he said with his own mouth. You can bet that if there are Americans who don’t know these things now, they will by election day. And if Trump wins reelection, we’ll have only ourselves to blame for not listening to Bernie Sanders.
Watch the clip above via CBS.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.