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The problem with Bernie Sanders’ campaign

Democratic presidential hopeful Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders arrives to speak at a Primary Night in New Hampshire. Picture: TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP - Credit: AFP via Getty Images

BONNIE GREER discusses how the Bernie Sanders campaign could spell doom for the Democrats and lead to Donald Trump staying in power.

Democratic presidential hopeful Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally at Houston University, Texas. Photo: MARK FELIX/AFP via Getty Images – Credit: AFP via Getty Images

Question: What do Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have in common? Aside from their politics: almost everything.

Just switch the parties in this recent tweet from Bernie and it could have come from Don the Con himself in 2016: “I’ve got news for the Republican establishment. I’ve got news for the Democratic establishment. They can’t stop us.”

There he is. Like Trump the Rebel. The outsider is in charge.

Nobody laughs at Bernie these days like they laughed at Trump back in the day. Because what Bernie is doing, being ‘the other guy’, is what worked for Trump in 2016.

President Donald Trump could be brought down by coronavirus, Bonnie Greer argues. Photo: Evan Vucci – Credit: AP

Where Trump has been, Bernie and his people are now. And they know it. Just as Trump effectively started campaigning for 2020 as soon as he got into the White House, so the ‘Bernie for President’ – the ‘Feel the Bern’ movement – has never ended. As long as there was breath in Bernie’s body and the will to win, they kept going. They never stopped campaigning for the nomination.

The Bernie movement, the insurgency that kept hope alive, was lying low in the tall grass. Planning. Waiting. Ready. Ready like Trump and his people were after it became clear that Don the Con might be able to cut a path through the ‘business as usual’ Republicans. The pundits cried “impossible!” Others said that the people wanted a change. And the Bernie people insist that change must happen to the Democrats.

So senator Sanders is indeed surging. But I have not yet seen any hard evidence that most people in that crucial corridor of the upper Midwest which gave Trump his slender number of votes over Hillary Clinton in 2016 will turn out for him. But Bernie people believe that their man can do this. They really do.

Like the Republicans in 2016, the Democrats this year are faced with a frontrunner who is not really a member of their party. Who actually does not even like the party as it stands now. Who is campaigning as much against the party as he is against Trump. How does this make sense? It makes sense because Trump has torn up the rulebook. And America let him do it by normalising him. By ceasing to be appalled; alarmed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump during the annual Nato heads of government summit – Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Many warned about Trump in 2016: that he would normalise that which was not normal. Destroy the ‘norms’, to put it the way that most people would. Trump has indeed all but destroyed the norms around the presidency, for example, and exposed its rather fragile legal underpinnings.

Not many of us Americans knew or understood that perhaps the presidency is built on an honours system more than anything else, constructed on a set of assumptions and beliefs that the guy (and it is always taken for granted to be a man) will somehow become nobler once behind that big desk in the Oval Office. Become in office a better human being.

Michelle Obama once said: “I’ve seen first hand that being president doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are.” And Trump has made it legit to not only drop the mask, the filter, the façade, but to make a virtue of it. He is part of the people who support him, all the way down to promoting the terms they use for various conspiracy theories, like ‘Deep State’.

A catchy turn of phrase, Deep State is not only easy to say, it is vague. Trump is champion of the vague, especially as he tries to make the world believe that he is the opposite. Vagueness, obliqueness… these are the marks of the tyrant.

I was as shocked as anyone when Trump decided to become a Republican presidential candidate. I thought that 
he was a Democrat. A Manhattan Democrat, a particular kind of rich person who makes sure that he gives to the ‘right’ causes as he flaunts his wealth and his will. A Manhattan Republican conjures up the picture of somebody out of a Henry James novel – American nobility by birth. Like the descendants of the voyagers on the ship Mayflower who came over from England in the 17th century.

New York Republicans are the folks, many believe, who ride horses upstate on huge spreads frequented by Rockefeller descendants. No one in New York City wants to be that.

So where does Bernie come into this? Sanders – Brooklyn-born but a Vermont senator since 2007 (and before that a congressman from the state) – is a millionaire. But a cool, New England kind of one. The kind with the waterfront summer home who can make that social democrat thing work. Because from the vantage point of looking at Bernie’s patch, from say, Illinois, no one in Vermont would want to be anything other than a social democrat. Because Vermont, relatively speaking, is rich. It is also the safest state in the Union according to crime statistics.

Patrick Leahy, its senior senator is a Democrat. He became senator a few months after Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and is still there. The other senator, the junior one, is Sanders himself – an independent when he is not running for president. Then he becomes a Democrat.

Those of us who point out that Bernie is not really a member of the party he wants to head up, be the presidential candidate for, be the guy that a Dem has to explain on a doorstep in, say, Louisiana, are branded as the “establishment”. We – who want the Democrats to defeat Trump this autumn and see the label ‘socialist’ as a serious liability – now face within the Dems what the Republicans faced in 2016. An insurgency.

To get the Democratic nomination, Bernie – or any of his rivals – must win a set number of delegates at the party’s convention in Milwaukee in July. It’s not enough to just get more than his rivals, he has to get 1,991 out of 3,979 pledged delegates in on the first ballot. Anything less, and it becomes a ‘brokered’ convention, where the process is decided through political horse-trading. This is something the Dems are desperate to avoid. They want a unified party to go after Trump this fall, not one that can’t make up its mind because of deals and argument.

But a brokered convention could be where we are heading. It we get there, then the election is lost for the Democrats.

Even if he gets the nod without a brokered convention, there is a high chance he could scare away those swing voters and keep Trump in office. This is the danger of a Bernie candidacy. But love is blind, as they say.

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