The US political and media establishment is belatedly lashing out at “democratic socialist” presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who has taken the lead in polls by laying into the Democratic Party elite’s bland corporate centrism.
“Democrats had better attack Sanders before it’s too late!” Monday’s Daily Beast headline may be hyperbole, but it accurately expressed the mood of the party’s centrist establishment. Independent Vermont Senator Sanders is running for president as a Democrat, and has promised to back the Democratic nominee should he fail to secure the top prize. But that’s cold comfort to the party elite, who are beginning to worry after a poll published on Monday showed the unabashed leftist in first place in Iowa, with less than a month to go before that state holds its influential caucus. Nor is that the only state Sanders appears poised to win.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren – who has tried to position her campaign as a more moderate, pragmatic version of Sanders’ progressive platform – has charged to the party’s rescue, latching onto a fundraising script allegedly used by the Sanders campaign that described her supporters as “highly educated, more affluent people.” Portraying her constituents thus equates to “trashing her,” she told reporters when confronted with the script on Sunday. Warren then went on to use it as the basis of a fundraising email pleading for “unity.”
Such a dumb controversy. In a new fundraising email, multi-millionaire fmr. Harvard law professor/renowned academic Elizabeth Warren claims her campaign is being smeared by Sanders volunteers noting that her base are generally more affluent and educated than the VT Senator’s. pic.twitter.com/PiKfiQbqPc
— Walker Bragman (@WalkerBragman) January 13, 2020
While Warren condemned Sanders for injecting “factionalism” into the contest, statistics don’t lie – she is more popular among the “educated and rich,” while Sanders enjoys more support among poorer voters and those without a college education.
How dare 538 smear Elizabeth Warren by pointing out the demographic breakdown of her support?! Such divisiveness… pic.twitter.com/UB2q9yEHzn
— Walker Bragman (@WalkerBragman) January 13, 2020
Only in the rarefied climate of the Democratic primary would “educated and rich” even be considered an insult – the fundraising email sent by a campaign staffer for Harvard professor Warren even insisted that the phrase “doesn’t describe me or many of the passionate volunteers and organizers I know.” But 2020 is not a normal election, and after the ‘catastrophe’ of 2016, the Democrats are not a normal party. The centrist faction that triumphed over Sanders to run (and lose) with Hillary Clinton is locked in a battle with the leftist faction he represents – a mostly younger and scrappier group, determined not to let ‘electability’ trump principles this time around.
Sanders responded to Warren’s “disappointment” by claiming he’d never personally said anything negative against her, explaining that with “hundreds of employees… people sometimes say things they shouldn’t.” A Sanders volunteer even hinted at a conspiracy to smear the campaign, suggesting “anyone” could dump a negative script into the chat volunteers used.
It's not even true. I call plant. pic.twitter.com/SUroSHy9WP
— OWS_ellie ॐ 🔥 #ITrustBernie TURN OFF YOUR TV! (@OWS_ellie) January 13, 2020
#ITrustBernie was trending on Monday as Sanders fans pledged their support after Warren’s attack. Sanders’ ‘small-s’ socialism has won him enormous popular support. He broke Democratic fourth-quarter fundraising records earlier this month and has so far raised over $96 million in small donations, eschewing the large corporate donors he has said he wants out of electoral politics altogether. His (in)famous claim that “billionaires should not exist” and plans to redistribute their wealth have ruffled some influential feathers in a party kept afloat by billionaires, however, and the establishment media has redoubled its own attacks as Sanders surges in the polls.
The New York Times published a lengthy interview with the candidate on Monday, framing the piece by reminding the reader of his recent heart attack and his support for leftist political movements “plagued” with “corruption and even violence.” Peppered throughout Sanders’ responses are links contradicting his claims, even “fact-checking” his reference to having been interviewed by the Times before (“All but three members of the current editorial board joined after Mr. Sanders’s endorsement interview in 2015,” it sniffs). The outlet hints that he is on the payroll of Big Vape (“campaign finance reports reveal that the Sanders campaign has accepted donations from Juul Labs employees”), attempts to frame his observation that exploitation of migrant workers drives wages down as anti-immigrant rhetoric, and makes much of his unfamiliarity with social media and smartphone apps (because he’s old, get it?!).
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But current polling puts Sanders ahead of Trump in an electoral face-off – only Biden can say the same, and his numbers have been sliding so fast the political establishment has preemptively started blaming Russia. For once, the Democratic Party may have to choose between the lesser of two evils.
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