The Hill, February 22, 2019
Democrats running against Sen. Bernie Sanders are already making the argument that he would be a weaker general election candidate against President Trump because he is a democratic socialist — not a Democrat.
There’s little question there’s a path for Sanders to win the Democratic nomination.
Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats but serves in the Senate as an independent, raised $6 million in his first day on the campaign trail, underlining the seriousness of his candidacy.
But opponents of Sanders hope they can get voters to think twice about “feeling the Bern” if they have doubts about his ability to defeat Trump.
And they see the socialist argument as a good one.
“I think socialist is a word that someone who wants to beat Trump should consider carefully before embracing," said one senior adviser to a rival campaign.
It's not a new argument. Hillary Clinton and her supporters offered a similar cautionary tale during their bruising 2016 primary fight against Sanders.
But it could have more resonance in 2020 as Democrats try to find the person who can defeat Trump after their devastating disappointment in 2016.
Sanders allies argue there’s little merit to the argument, and they say it won’t work.
“He’s clearly a Democrat and the party has grown enormously because of his efforts,” said Larry Cohen, the chairman of Our Revolution, the political organization which spun out of Sanders’s 2016 campaign. “And his real brand is that he doesn’t just speak to Democrats. He speaks to literally millions of people that are unaffiliated. And he’s really talking about what we should aim for and where we can build a consensus.”
Bill Press, the talk show host who served as a surrogate for Sanders’s 2016 campaign, added that the “democratic socialist” label will not hurt the candidate.
“That’s who Bernie is, everyone knows it, and he does a good job defining what he means by a democratic socialist,” Press said. “After he’s done talking about a $15 minimum wage, 'Medicare for all,' and free college tuition, everybody wants to be a democratic socialist.”
But this week, 2020 candidates — and those considering entering the race — have been actively drawing a distinction with Sanders and his brand.
At a campaign stop in New Hampshire earlier this week, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was the first to draw a line in the sand.
“The people of New Hampshire will tell me what’s required to compete in New Hampshire, but I will tell you I am not a democratic socialist,” Harris said after she was asked if she needed to be a democratic socialist to win the Granite State.
“I believe that what voters do want is they want to know that whoever is going to lead understands that in America today, not everyone has an equal opportunity and access to a path to success,” she said before adding that the U.S. needs to “course correct” on the issue of income inequality. ...
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