WASHINGTON – In politics, as in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Hence, the emergence of Senator Bernie Sanders as the Donald Trump of the left.
Fundraising and polls show that many Democrats think the best answer to an angry old white man with crazy hair, a New York accent and a knack for demagoguery is, well, another angry old white man with crazy hair, a New York accent and a talent for demagogy. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Bernie captures the Democratic presidential nomination with the same formula that worked for Trump with the Republicans in 2016.
On paper, the Vermont independent doesn’t make sense: the Democrats are a youth party, and he’s 77; they are mostly women, and he is a man; they represent emerging multicultural America, and he is white. Statistically, it’s the worst option against Trump: An NBC News poll this week found that there are more voters concerned about Sanders (58 percent) than there are former Vice President Joe Biden (48 percent), the Senator. Elizabeth Warren (53 percent), Senator Kamala D. Harris or former Representative Beto O’Rourke (41 percent each).
Yet Sanders has both money and movement. His campaign on Tuesday announced $ 18.2 million first-quarter haul from 525,000 individual contributors. The other great populist, the first favorite Warren (Mass.), Was wrecked in both money and popularity. And undeclared favorite Biden now looks vulnerable to allegations of inappropriately touching women, launched by a prominent 2016 Sanders supporter who served on the board of directors of the Sanders political group.
Meanwhile, Sanders himself remains untouchable, in a Trumpian way. Claims of maltreatment by male staff members by women who worked on your 2016 campaign? Yawn. His resistance to issuing tax returns? What ever.
Sanders is not Trump in the sense of luring the race, cheating creditors, avoiding facts, paying Putin-loving porn actress. But their styles are similar: screaming and unsmiling, anti-establishment and anti-media, absolutely convinced of their own fairness, attacking black men (the “1 percent” and CEOs in Sanders’ case, instead of immigrants and minorities), offering impractical promises with vague details, devoid of nuance and nostalgic for the past.
Sanders’ supporters are hoping he will fight Trump’s fire with fire, refusing to be conciliatory (as Biden and O’Rourke are), or be prodded by Trump like Warren did to take a DNA test. Perhaps responding to belligerence with belligerence will work; Trump-era predictions are useless. In any case, support for Sanders shows that Trumpism’s angry and inflexible policy is bigger than Trump.
I spent Monday at a cattle rally for eight Democratic presidential candidates hosted by unions, Sierra Clubs, Planned Parenthood, and other progressive groups. Sanders was easily the least charismatic, pulling his pants up to the waist, pulling on his socks, bending over the lectern, sitting stiffly and waving awkwardly at interrogations. But the reception among liberal activists, which ranged from lukewarm (Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand) to enthusiastic (Warren), was, for Sanders, enthusiastic. “Berni! Bernie! Bernie! ” they sang, standing when he appeared and when he was finished. Meanwhile, they cheered on a routine full of Trumpian flourishes.
He simplified and blamed: “The crisis we are facing today is not complicated. … We have a government that ignores the needs of the workers… yet it works overtime for the wealthy contributors to the campaign and 1 percent ”. He mocked those who questioned ideas like Medicare-for-all (“the establishment has gone mad, the media has gone mad, it still is”), and celebrated his foresight.
Like Trump, he lashed out at companies that moved jobs to China or Mexico, and went back to simpler times: “Forty, 50 years ago, it was possible for a worker to work 40 hours a week and earn enough money to care of the whole family. “
Perhaps it is less hateful to blame billionaires than immigrants or certain “globalists” for America’s problems, but the scapegoat is similar. So is Sanders’ “socialist” label (worn defiantly as Trump wears isolationist “America First”), and his Democratic credentials are as suspicious as Trump’s good Republican pillowcases were. Most Republicans opposed Trump, but the large field of candidates prevented a clean confrontation.
Such a crowd could also prevent Democrats from presenting a clear alternative to Sanders’ tantalizing message, albeit Trumpiano, that a nefarious elite is responsible for America’s problems. Universal health care, higher education and childcare are within reach, Sanders said, if we just “stand up and tell this 1% that we will no longer tolerate their greed.” In real life, it’s not that simple. But in our new policy maybe it is.
(Editor’s note: This columnist’s wife, Anna Greenberg, works for John Hickenlooper, a Democratic presidential candidate.)