With each passing day, Sen. Bernie Sanders—like much of the country—is less willing to give President-elect Donald Trump a chance.
The former Democratic presidential candidate had nothing but ominous warnings about a Trump presidency when he visited Conan O’Brien’s show Tuesday night, especially given Trump’s refusal to stop tweeting conspiracy theories to the nation after his unexpected victory. Sanders shook his head in disgust as O’Brien read aloud Trump’s recent claim that he would have won the popular vote were it not for the “millions of people who voted illegally.”
“First of all, it’s delusional. It’s totally insane,” Sanders said. But what’s even “scarier” in his view is that Trump is “sending a signal to Republicans all over this country,” urging them to “suppress” the votes of poor people, people of color, immigrants, and others who might vote against them. “My own view is we have got to work overtime to bring more people into the political process, not make it harder for people to participate.”
On Trump’s suggestion that anyone who burns the American flag should lose their citizenship, Sanders again pointed to a “hidden message, and that is be careful if you are prepared to dissent.” Despite the Supreme Court precedent that protects flag-burning as free speech, Trump wants people to know, “We’re watching you.”
“I worry about the future of this country,” Sanders said, especially given the fact that the cornerstone of the president-elect’s campaign was “bigotry” against Mexican Americans, Muslims, and other groups.
Next, O’Brien moved on to Sanders’s declaration, early in his primary campaign against Clinton, that the American people don’t care about her “damn emails.” Given the fact that Donald Trump seemed to prove Sanders wrong on that, O’Brien wanted to know if he regretted taking that issue off the table.
“No,” Sanders replied. “What I said when I said that was that I think it is imperative that we focus on the real issues facing the American people.” Ultimately, he blamed the media more than Trump for riling up voters over Clinton’s private email server.
“What media loved was the fact that Trump would say one absurd thing after another, ugly things about people we have never heard before from a presidential candidate,” Sanders said. “That was great TV. CNN’s ratings went way up. I think the American people have got to demand more out of media. The American people have got to demand that media talk about the issues that impact our lives.”
As an example, O’Brien brought up a story during the campaign that focused more on a speeding ticket his driver received than the issues. “If something stupid and personal happens, that becomes the story,” Sanders said. “Turn on network news tonight and watch it for the next year. See how much coverage there is about climate change, which is threatening the existence of the entire planet.”
It’s not because the people who run the news network are “dummies,” Sanders said, it’s because they are owned by “half a dozen major conglomerates.” He asked, “Do they have vested interests that are in conflict with the public? Yeah, you’re damn right they do.”
After a break, Sanders went on to heap some rare praise on secretary of State candidate Mitt Romney, who he said “hit the nail right on the head” when he described Trump as a “fraud” and a “phony.”
Given the fact that Trump is open to a relative moderate like Romney for his Cabinet and has softened his stance on issues like repealing the Affordable Care Act and jailing Hillary Clinton, O’Brien asked if Sanders has some sense of “optimism” for the next four years.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘optimism,’” Sanders said to nervous laughter from the crowd. “He is clearly not an ideological person. I think he develops his policies every 10 minutes and he tweets them out. But in a sense, the positive of that is what you’re indicating, they’re not firmly held. And they may change.”
On the question of whether he thinks he could have beaten Trump in the general election, Sanders gave his standard, “Who knows?” answer. But this time, he added, “I wish to God that I had had that opportunity.”