History is littered with the names of once promising, supposedly viable nominees for the nation’s highest office who had their hopes dashed under the weight of scandal and/or unreasonably high personal and public expectations. This is true of both parties from all relevant American epochs. A few examples include William Henry Seward, Gary Hart, Howard Dean, John McCain and current 2016 favorite Hillary Clinton. All these names and more have known the sting of presumed favorite status, turned bridesmaid humiliation, a sense of inevitability deflated.
Such is not the case with one Bernard Sanders, who announced his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination on April 30, 2015. While providing the progressive electoral jolt predicted by amateur pundits everywhere, even liberal media outlets such as NPR refused to take the Vermont senator seriously. Labeling his bid a “long shot,” conventional wisdom had Sanders as either (depending upon your side of the aisle) a fun variable forcing Clinton to move left, or an old, hippie, single-issue crank.
But a funny thing has happened over the course of the last three and a half months. Despite many fewer resources of all campaign kinds, Bernie Sanders is gaining steam. Earlier this week, the Boston Herald‘s Joe Battenfeld published an interpretation of the Brooklyn, New York native’s recent swell, Poll: Bernie Sanders surges ahead of Hillary Clinton in N.H., 44-37. Within the piece he characterizes Sanders’ popular momentum as “a stunning turn in a race once considered a lock for the former secretary of state.” In March the same poll in question, conducted by the Herald in conjunction with Franklin Pierce University, showed Sanders trailing Clinton in a big way at 44-8.
The Clinton campaign must be worried. It’s only natural. But my question this week: why don’t Republicans seem concerned about anyone but the former New York senator as a potential opponent? This is another in a long series of miscalculations from the GOP machine.
In fact, though our own Jason Easley reported that Bernie Sanders Was The Most Retweeted Candidate During The Republican Debate, that party’s representatives paid him no attention at all. While Donald Trump infought with Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly and anyone else who pressed him for actual policy positions, Sanders captured the social media zeitgeist by taking his trademark blunt ax to the foolishness: “It’s over. Not one word about economic inequality, climate change, Citizens United or student debt. That’s why the Rs are so out of touch.”
Trump, who has disparaged nearly every American in some outrageous fashion since announcing his own run, only got around to lambasting Sanders’ “weakness” a few days ago. On August 8, the Washington Post‘s Philip Bump wrote the somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Losers: A List by Donald Trump and Bernie wasn’t even mentioned. He couldn’t secure the same rhetorical ire as Glenfiddich Scotch, which isn’t even a sentient being.
So what gives? Why the rhetorical quiet from the right in the face of Sanders’ increasingly mighty roar? The answer is probably fairly simple. If Republicans fear another four (or eight years) of Executive Branch banishment at the hands of Hillary Clinton, they’re downright panicked at the idea of President Sanders. And the underpinnings of that fear are offered by Bernie’s now-ubiquitous GOP debate tweet.
With characteristic real-talk he identified four conservative untouchables that he’d have no problem confronting from the White House: economic inequality, climate change, the flood of money in politics and the crushing debt load of our country’s students. Though one man can only do so much without the active participation of Congress (just ask President Obama), Sanders as POTUS means the absolute end of business as usual. Even those who dislike the man know he’s authentic. He can’t be bought. Sanders’ refreshing lack of scripted phoniness, combined with a platform that promotes true democratic opportunity, is what’s warming public perception. That should scare the backward-looking, cynical party of Koch.
As they have in response to many of the country’s challenges, Republicans are choosing the fingers in ears approach to the threat of Bernie Sanders. If like the disparity of class and racial opportunity, environmental decay and gun violence, they ignore it, well then it doesn’t exist. And the party methodology is failing. Again.