Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has attracted unexpected support from millions of Americans, but one endorsement may be more surprising than any other. The Republican Party (yes, that one) seems to be “feeling the Bern,” if its press releases and publicly available “research” are any indication of the party leadership’s preferences.
While not openly admitting their purpose, party strategists apparently hope a Sanders ticket will galvanize their own voters to prevent his election and ensure Republican victory. With Hillary Clinton out of the race, a democratic socialist could also alienate conservative Democrats, who might either turn to the Republicans or simply stay home on Election Day.
The Republican National Committee has repeatedly, and quite surprisingly, propped up Bernie Sanders against both Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. In fact, recent noises from the RNC sound almost like dyed-in-the-wool-ultraliberal Democrats. “With only six sanctioned debates, the DNC is providing new opportunities for voters to get to know the candidates and see where they stand on the issues,” said a post by Team GOP in the run up to the second Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa.
Michael Short, the Rapid Response Director for the RNC, published an aggregated list claiming that Sanders performed better among focus groups and online polls than Hillary Clinton, who still remains the leading Democratic aspirant. “Hillary Clinton may be the stronger debater on stage — she was in 2008 too — but like Barack Obama in 2007 and 2008 it was Bernie Sanders that won the hearts and interest of Democrat voters,” wrote Short. Quite a glowing review for the candidate most likely to debate “the merits of socialism over capitalism.”
To the naive voters, Republican support for Sanders might seem contradictory. After all, most Republicans dislike any notion of wealth redistribution, public healthcare, and other socially progressive policies designed to help poorer voters, preferring “trickle-down economics” and tax cuts for the super-rich. So if Republican spokespersons are backing a democratic socialist against the “practical progressive” candidate, it’s because they hope moderate and conservative Democrats will so disagree with his platform that they will deprive their own party of a crucial voting bloc. Together self-identified moderates and conservatives still constitute just over half of all Democrats, although Democrats who identify with the liberal wing have grown to become the single largest voting bloc in the party.
The GOP clearly hopes to portray Democrats as led by a bunch of socialists and even communists (as Donald Trump puts it) who chose Sanders. Electing a socialist will mean “unending layovers of senseless government bureaucracy.” Or maybe it will mean “rich and decadent government spending.” (Some media intern probably got a pat on the back for that timely “The 5 flavors of Bernie Sanders” listicle.) Either way, Sanders’ election will result in bigger government, a cause the Republicans have vowed to fight in perpetuity.
Currently, however, there are reputable polls that show Sanders beating every leading Republican candidate in a general election. Trump loses. Cruz loses. Carson isn’t even competitive among Republican candidates, a decline that began soon after disclosing he believed the Pyramids were used for agriculture in the Egyptian desert. Sanders, on the other hand, has increased his support since launching his campaign in April.
Perhaps those clever Republican strategists should be careful what they wish for.