Newsweek's Kurt Eichenwald argues that Bernie Sanders would have been buried by the GOP's opposition research if he had been nominated, and that believing Sanders had any chance was part of the reason why Clinton lost.
So what would have happened when Sanders hit a real opponent, someone who did not care about alienating the young college voters in his base? I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.
Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.
Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.
Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”
The Republicans had at least four other damning Sanders videos (I don’t know what they showed), and the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick. (The section calling him a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida.) In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.
My long-time blogging friend Steve M disagrees with Eichenwald, however.
Some of this might have stuck -- the environmental racism attack might have hurt Sanders with Hispanic voters (although, after all, he would have been running against Donald Trump). The vote for the crime bill might have hurt Sanders with African-American voters. Eichenwald says that the section of the GOP's oppo file "calling [Sanders] a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida" -- but Hillary Clinton lost Florida, too, and she wasn't supposed to need it to win.
Eichenwald says that "the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick" -- but we were also told that the Clinton campaign's anti-Trump oppo was pretty awesome, and that didn't work out.
I agree that some of what Eichenwald describes would have cut into Sanders's popularity. But none of it seems devastating enough to have knocked him out.
I continue to believe that Republicans would have just fallen back on the tried-and-true: Sanders believes in big government and will raise your taxes to stratospheric levels. I think that would have hurt him more than any of this oppo. So I still think it's unclear how Sanders would have done in a general election. I'm just surprised at how little the GOP had on him.
I tend to side with Steve on this. "Socialist Sanders" would have been this year's "Crooked Hillary" in the VFW halls, the high school sports games, the Facebook posts from your relatives. He still hasn't learned to connect with the black community any better than he did 18 months ago, nor did he seem even remotely interested in trying to do so. Eichenwald's oppo research would have been ignored, it would have been Sanders himself that ran into issues.
Besides, hard to run as an outsider when you've spent 25 years in Congress.
But the Socialist tag would have finished him with older voters, and "massive tax increases on the middle class!" with the heavily implied "To help those people at your expense!" would have done it with just about everyone else.
No, Bernie didn't have a chance either, but not for the reasons Eichewald brought up. This was the "fact's don't matter LOL" campaign anyway, and Bernie was running on reality.