Bernie Sanders 2016 Presidential candidate

Image courtesy of Bernie Sanders 2016

Bernie Sanders to NBC News: I Can Beat Trump

| published January 25, 2016 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

If Hillary Clinton believes she can best Donald Trump in a general election, Bernie Sanders thinks he can do even better. On NBC’s Meet the Press, Sanders said he would best the billionaire in a cakewalk, and said that he relishes the chance to let voters in the U.S. face a, Election Day featuring Sanders versus Trump.

“…There would be nothing more in this world that I would like,” Sanders told NBC’s Chuck Todd, “than to take on Donald Trump.”

Sanders and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton are locked in a tight battle for the hearts and minds of caucus and primary voters in two key early states—Iowa, where most polls show them in a dead heat, and New Hampshire, where Sanders’ lead over Clinton has widened slightly. Clinton, however maintains a solid lead in South Carolina and Nevada, and maintains a modest lead in many national polls.

Iowa voters will go to their respective caucus halls in one week, and the stakes are extremely high for former Secretary of State Clinton, now facing a grim replay of her 2008 primary and caucus battles with then-Senator Barack Obama. Obama pulled off a surprise win over Clinton in Iowa in 2008, wrecking the Clinton campaign’s narrative that she was inevitable. That year Clinton finished in third place behind Obama and Senator John Edwards, and her campaign never fully recovered.

Clinton and her strategists do not want to relive that defeat. With Sanders already way ahead in New Hampshire, their firewall remains South Carolina, where Clinton maintains a solid lead. But Team Clinton fear that if she sustains two back-to-back losses, one in Iowa and one in New Hampshire, Sanders might be able to effectively hijack the narrative, and declare to progressive Democrats that he is the logical standard bearer for the party’s future.

In fact, Sanders plans to do precisely that. Depsite those oft-quoted polls showing Clinton comfortably ahead in places like Alabama, South Carolina and Nevada, the Vermont Senator regularly outperforms all other candidates except Trump in crowd size and audience enthusiasm, another fact which bears a striking resemblance to 2008. Sanders has been able not only to draw bigger crowds than Clinton even in the Deep South, he has been able to better mobilize thousands of young volunteers to boost his campaign efforts.

So uncanny is the “youth-oriented” look of the Sanders campaign, that the 74-year-old Senator has very nearly co-opted the same kind of movement which propelled Obama into office in 2008. The phenomenon has also been effective at minimizing concerns about Sanders’ age. This has had the ironic effect of inverting the generational aspects of the campaign, morphing Clinton into the “old school” pol backed by middle-aged and older Democrats of a more traditional stripe, and the “new generation” of progressive Democrats with little loyalty to a seemingly antiquated value system embraced by the Clintons.

To complicate things for Clinton, a surprisingly large number of younger voters in Iowa now describe themselves as extremely liberal (or progressive) or socialist—a label once so toxic that politicians sought to flee its very mention, but now very much in vogue in direct response to Sanders’ success at reaching younger voters. This de-alignment of traditional label boundaries has turned Iowa against Clinton, and has enable Sanders to continue his upward movement in the polls, effectively putting him in a dead heat with Clinton.

Clinton and her campaign have been hitting back hard against Sanders’ recent surges. She has suggested flatly that the Vermont Senator—who often describes himself as a “Democratic Socialist”—would be unelectable. Clinton and her spokespersons have also said that Republicans, no matter who becomes their nominee, would crush Sanders in November, and pave the way for a Democratic Party defeat in the House and the Senate.

Some Clinton proxies have gone as far as to suggest that the GOP is not-so-quietly rooting for Sanders to overtake Clinton in the hopes that Republicans can expect to run against the Vermont Senator—their preferred adversary in the fall. For the record, the RNC says it is not supporting—openly or covertly—any effort to boost Sanders, and GOP officials say that they look forward to running against Clinton or Sanders (or, in theory, Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland Governor whose claim to the true legacy of Democratic liberalism may be more accurate than those of either Clinton or Sanders).

As for Sanders and his belief that he can easily best Trump, he argues that it is his fierce independence from Wall Street and the big banks that will allow him to gain the high ground in the election narrative. Sanders has long implied that Clinton has been too close to Wall Street firms like Goldman-Sachs, and that the millions of dollars in speaking fees and consulting project she and husband Bill have collected over the years make her essentially as beholden to Wall Street and the big mortgage banks as Trump, a career real estate mogul.

Sanders also says that Trump will be an easy target in a general election.

“I would very much look forward to a race against Donald Trump,” Sanders told Meet the Press, “a guy who does not want to raise the minimum wage, but wants to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the top two-tenths of one percent, [and] who thinks wages in America are too high, and who thinks that climate change is a hoax, invented by the Chinese.”

Sanders is proud that his own strategy pits his record as a relentless, fearless outsider against Hillary’s record as the consummate insider, especially when it comes to the money game. He is also a realist about just how unpopular his candidacy is with Wall Street, the mega banks, and those who make their fortunes off of investments and financial tools. Sanders knows there is no love lost.

“Frankly, if I were a hedge fund manager,” Sanders told Bloomberg magazine last week, “I would not vote for Bernie Sanders.”

Sanders dismisses the Clinton-driven narrative that he is a party-splitter and a potential spoiler for a nomination process which some have said has—up to this point—looked more like a choreographed coronation process for Clinton, long presumed to be the de facto nominee for 2016. But like the always persistent O’Malley, Sanders insists that no political party should get complacent about how it selects its leaders and its representatives, nor should Democrats resign themselves to assuming it is Hillary or the highway.

Meanwhile, after weeks of a tightening race between Trump and his closest challenger, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Trump appears to be back on top, now showing a substantial lead again in Iowa in some recent polls. Trump has gone on the offensive against Cruz, routinely attacking the Texas Senator for what Trump calls flip-flops on immigration and border security, and calling Cruz “a nasty guy” in the Senate. Trump and his campaign spokespersons have also challenged Cruz’s eligibility to run for President.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Sanders’ Lead Widens in New Hampshire; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 20, 2016.

Democratic Candidates Spar in Charleston, S.C.; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 18, 2016.