It’s easier when you leave out: If Sanders were the nominee, Republicans would have pilloried him.
If you think the Right would let Sanders slide because “Hey, it’s Bernie and no one can criticize him,” you need to be slapped into reality. Sanders would not have been the only Democratic nominee ever to avoid getting pulverized.
Yes, the Republicans don’t criticize him now, because Sanders himself is a useful critic of the Democratic Party, and he’s not the adversary. Yes, he’s popular. But Hillary Clinton was the most popular politician in America after being Secretary of State, until she was the Democratic frontrunner.
And they could do serious damage to Sanders in a much shorter amount of time. Remember how swiftly they “swift boated” John Kerry. You want to point to polls? Polls before the candidate has received any negative onslaught? Back when Michael Dukakis was the nominee, he had a 17-point lead over the George H.W. Bush after the Convention. Republicans destroyed him with just two ads.
In the general against Sanders, Republicans would take the pitches that appeal to the Left and turn them into attacks for a mainstream audience. And they’d out ugly things about a candidate who has never been vetted. There’s much to use:
1) Ginormous Taxes! Government Takeover!
· “Sure, his programs sound great. And he says he’ll get all the money from the wealthy and corporations. B******t! It won’t nearly be enough and your pockets would be gouged!
· “It will be the most massive expansion of government ever! Debt would skyrocket! The federal government would dictate your lives!”
· “He will give away freebees to the ‘undeserving’ and those on the ‘public dole,’ while you hard-working Americans would be stuck with the bill.”
This would be very effective as Americans have an almost Pavlovian negative response to all the above.
2) Far-Left Anti-American Socialist.
· “When is last time we said Socialist about Sanders? A minute ago? Socialist!”
Sanders could explain Democratic Socialism over and over in all its non-sound-bite-friendly convolutedness. But it’s simply a word many Americans hate.
The GOP would also not forget his affinity for anti-American extremists:
· “Bernie, tell us more about how you’ve praised America-hating Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega.”
· “Tell us more about how you rallied with the Sandinistas while they chanted, ‘The Yankee will die!’”
That’s not enough? How about …
· “Atheist Commie Jew!” (dog whistle, dog whistle)
It’s not just the Far-Right that would respond. A Gallup poll from 2015 listed who Americans would be least likely to vote for. At the bottom: Socialist. Second to last: Atheist. Both were below Muslim.
(Yes, that asshole at the DNC in one email suggested going after his religion or lack thereof. The Clinton camp never ran with that. But you know who would …)
3) Weak. Wimp. Weak.
Many were drawn to strongman Trump. He won because of sweeping the people who said terrorism and immigration were their biggest issues. Bernie is the strongman opposite:
· “He will give asylum to terrorists and criminal illegals!”
· “Bernie as commander-in-chief? Lord help us.”
· “Bernie said climate change is our biggest threat. He doesn’t care if ISIS is about to blow up your families. He thinks your biggest problem is warm days!’
Climate change is real. And the Left loves his saying that climate change is our biggest threat. But it’s not about validity. The average terrorist-fearing American would think he sounds crazy.
(Something else: Bernie scored with hitting at NAFTA and trade which resonates with workers, and he is way more popular right now with the white working class than Clinton. But Trump gave them anti-trade and bombing terrorists and a deportation force and the Wall! Throw in Trump’s lies about bringing back coal jobs, while Sanders wants more EPA regulations which those miners and other working class in the Rust Belt hate. Who do you think they’d end up going with?)
4) Too Old.
Trump is 70; Bernie 75. Five years is a lot in your 70s. It’s worse when you look older.
Along this line, The National Enquirer, which Trump basically controls, and is displayed at every checkout counter in America, would not hesitate to run frail-looking, shirt-half-untucked photos of Bernie with brutal headlines:
· “Get Off My Lawn!”
· “Silver Alert!”
This is cross-the-line ageist and cruel. But do you know who is much crueler than I am? The Enquirer!
4) Washington Insider Who Has Accomplished Nothing.
The narrative would flip from the primary and Sanders would be the nearly 30-year “Washington insider” and dare I say, “establishment.”
· “He’s all talk. Let’s go over his legislative accomplishments in three decades which amount to renaming two post offices.”
· He’s such an insider he’s only worked in government.”
· “He can get nothing done because he can’t work with people. Even liberal Barney Frank said: ‘He alienates his natural allies. He is completely ineffective as a lobbyist [for his ideas] because he offends just about everyone.’”
If that’s not enough, why wouldn’t the Republicans go dirtier with ….
· “Sanders didn’t bother to get a steady job until age 40! Despite a degree from University of Chicago.”
· “Bernie stole electricity from a neighbor as he barely worked, and wasn’t even motivated to get a steady job to support his son.”
· “He’s mostly lived off taxpayers — unemployment and government salaries — when he wasn’t living off women.”
· “He was kicked off a commune for not working. Yes, moderate America, he lived on a commune. And who gets kicked out of a commune?! Someone who sits around lecturing and is too lazy and ‘special’ to do basic tasks.”
6) Man of the People? No.
· “Why won’t he show his taxes? Is it because he is one of those millionaires he rails against?”
· “He owns three houses.”
· “His wife received a golden parachute after bankrupting Burlington College after likely getting a fraudulent bank loan.”
· “He voted to deregulate credit default swaps which made bankers richer and enabled the financial crisis.”
· “Family members got paid from his campaigns.”
· “He was abusive to subordinates.”
· “He spent more than half a million dollars of campaign funds illegally for a useless trip to Rome, while on the private jet, he and Jane ate lobster sliders.”
7) Good for Minorities? No.
Yes, this might appeal to Trump voters. But they provide openings to lessen Sanders’s support with these groups.
· “He moved to the whitest state in the country where the few black leaders said they ‘were invisible’ to Sanders.”
· “Tiny Vermont has one of the most disproportional rates of black incarceration in the country.”
· “He lost minority voters bigly to Hillary Clinton.”
· “He promoted a deal to dump nuclear waste from Vermont into a poor minority Texas community.”
· “He was criticize for the little diversity of his congressional staff.”
· “He voted for the 1994 crime bill.”
8) The Essays. Oh, the Essays.
Bernie Sanders’s essays could be described like Friends episodes: The one with the rape fantasy. The one that encourages childhood sexuality. The one where lack of orgasms leads to cancer.
I know these essays were written over 40 years ago (say the people who brag that he marched with MLK once more than 50 years ago). But years ago? Like Fox News would care.
Take these classic Bernie-penned excerpts:
· “A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused.”
· “A woman enjoys intercourse with her man — as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously.”
Imagine this conversation across America:
· “I think the essay was worse because when Trump said ‘grab her by the p***y,’ at least the woman wasn’t tied up.”
Plus, it’s no surprise that Trump is disgusting with women. These words could be more damaging for Bernie since he has such an opposite image. (But then again, these bizarre sexual things are always more acceptable in men. Harder for Hillary Clinton to get away with, even 40 years ago, “A woman fantasizes of two men getting raped.”)
(Weird detail: Sanders normalized these rape fantasies while more recently voted against victims knowing the HIV status of their rapists. A bit odd.)
Yes, these essays were just intellectual exercises. But let’s picture them from a suburban mom’s perspective:
· “He wrote about children touching each other’s genitals AND voted against the Amber Alert? Ew!” (By the way, who votes against the Amber Alert?!)
I can also imagine these moms thinking:
· “Bernie seems nice, or is he a bit wacky?”
· “His essay says lack of orgasms in women causes cancer.”
· “I have my answer.”
If you continue to say with certainty that Sanders would have won, without taking any of the above into account, stop the denial. The Right would have torn Bernie apart. And we could easily be saying, “It should have been Hillary. She would have won.”