The favorite in New Hampshire after battling to an effective draw in Iowa, Bernie Sanders has a real shot at the Democratic nomination. And nobody seems happier about this than Trumpists, who aren’t just cheering him on and trying to amplify the idea the Democrats are cheating to stop him but are actively interfering with the other party’s process to help get him over the top. It’s not hard to see the Trumpists outsmarting themselves with this one.
It’s not just talk, though there’s plenty of that. GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy alleged that the timing of the Senate impeachment trial was a DNC conspiracy to sideline Sanders. Donald Trump Jr. argued that since Bernie was tied up with impeachment in the days leading up to the caucuses, that meant he had a “bigger” win in Iowa than Pete Buttigieg. And Donald Trump Sr. accused Mike Bloomberg of helping the DNC “rig the election” against Sanders.
But there’s also action. With Sanders closing the gap in South Carolina, which has an open primary, Republicans are preparing to vote for the socialist in what The Post and Courier reports will be a “wide-scale effort this week to encourage GOP voters across South Carolina to vote for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Feb. 29 Democratic primary.”
According to one report, Republicans already helped sow chaos in Iowa (not that Democrats needed much help there) by flooding the caucus hotline. Now, they’re turning their attention to what should be Joe Biden’s firewall. “People have been waiting and waiting for 2020 to come along to vote for Trump, and now they can’t” because of the cancelled GOP primary, Nate Leupp, Spartanburg GOP chairman, told the paper. “But they can still help Trump. And it helps the Upstate’s cause of registration by party and closed primaries, so it’s a win-win for any conservative Republican.”
But is it really a win-win? The theory seems to be that (a) if Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, the democratic socialist will be easy for Trump to defeat (and likely hurt Democrats down-ballot, possibly helping the GOP retake the House), and (b) if Bernie loses the nomination, it would be best for his supporters to feel so slighted that they will refuse to coalesce around the Democratic nominee (there is reason to believe this could work: A recent poll showed that just 53 percent of Bernie supporters would commit to supporting the eventual nominee).
Messing in the other party’s primaries is nothing new. As recently as 2008, Rush Limbaugh pushed something called “Operation Chaos,” where he encouraged his Republican listeners to prolong the Democratic primary by voting for Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama. And Hugh Hewitt recently announced he would be voting for the Vermont socialist in the Virginia primary, presumably to own the libs.
The idea of elevating your most vulnerable opponent is also nothing new. Harry Reid famously did it when he elevated Republican Sharron Angle over Sue Lowden in 2010. Then-Sen. Claire McCaskill was even more brazen about helping Republican Todd Akin win his GOP primary.
The problem is that there are often unintended consequences to selfishly promoting the candidate you think will be easy to defeat, later. If something goes wrong at the Senate level, this might not be catastrophic. But what happens when you help someone dangerous win his party’s nominee for president?
We don’t have to look too hard to find an example.
Amy Chozick’s book, Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling, describes how Clinton’s campaign actively rooted for Trump. “An agenda for an upcoming campaign meeting sent by [Campaign Manager] Robby Mook’s office asked, ‘How do we maximize Trump?’” she writes. While watching an August 2015 GOP primary debate, “Robby [Mook] said, practically pressing his nose up to the TV. ‘I’ve gahtz to get me some Trump.’ Robby thought Rubio would be the nominee. Podesta was bullish on Kasich. Bill and Hillary, still stuck in the 1990s, feared the Bush surname most of all.”
And let’s not forget that Bill Clinton encouraged Trump to run—and that it’s entirely possible that Trump would not have run had Barack Obama not roasted him so viciously at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner. Democrats also engaged in dirty tricks, reportedly planting people to “instigate fights” at Trump rallies. It’s unclear to me whether the goal was to help or hurt Trump, but my sense always was that these clashes (especially the postponed March, 2016 rally in Chicago) helped inspire a law-and-order backlash among Republican voters.
The point of this is to say that, by interfering in the Democratic primary, Trumpists are engaging in a very dangerous, high-stakes game that could easily backfire.
If you are a conservative who truly believes that socialism is a dangerous ideology, the notion of propelling Bernie Sanders to the Democratic nomination is insane.
Yes, you think you can beat him… just like everyone assumed Trump would be easy fodder for Hillary. Once you are the nominee of a major political party, all bets are off. You have a chance. It’s a binary choice.
Instead of helping Bernie, Republicans should fear him. Not only could he win, he could go on to dramatically change American politics, moving it leftward. As New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat argues, Bernie Sanders could be the Democrats’ Ronald Reagan. Just as Reagan ran in 1976 before winning in 1980, Bernie ran in 2016. Both Reagan and Bernie were considered to be too old, he writes, and, “Like Reagan, Sanders is widely considered too extreme to be nominated, and certainly too extreme to win.” You get the picture….
My advice to Republicans is simple. Know your history. And be careful what you wish for.