Via the Free Beacon, this isn’t going to work out for him long-term but there’s some strategic sense to it medium-term. Remember what Bernie’s big liability was in the 2016 primaries: He was strong with young adults, strong with the white working class, but weak with black voters. He can’t afford to be that weak again. He’s been trying to show off his wokeness in different ways this time but he remains a class warrior at heart, which is why he still looks warily at redistributing wealth along racial lines in the form of reparations.
Prisoner voting is one way he can try to atone, in two senses. One, as NBC’s reporter previews in the clip below, is by highlighting the racist origins of disenfranchising prisoners after the Civil War. The other is signaling his commitment to voting rights generally. Democratic candidates are eager to show black voters how seriously they take voter suppression, which is why you can’t find one who won’t happily vouch for Stacey Abrams’s dubious claim that she’s the “real” winner of Georgia’s gubernatorial election. Bernie is one-upping them here: It’s easy to go to the mat for ordinary citizens but those who really care about voting rights will do it for convicts.
“Yes, I did get to speak to some voters, but I do want to say Bernie Sanders just wrapped up an event and he is not backing down from the issue at all,” Brewster said. “I spoke a to senior campaign official who told me this is something the campaign plans to lean directly into. They see this as an opportunity to educate people on the Reconstruction era of restrictions on felons’ ability to vote.”
“This is something that this official told me that really is going to expand on with hard substantive policy as they go to South Carolina,” Brewster continued.
Yep, Bernie’s thinking about South Carolina and has been for awhile. That’s always a key early state but could be make-or-break next year. Remember that Sanders essentially tied Hillary in Iowa in 2016 and then blew her out in New Hampshire, which neighbors his home state of Vermont. He followed up by finishing within five points of her in Nevada. All of that showed his surprising strength against someone who was supposed to be a walkover winner in the primaries. Then came South Carolina. Result: Hillary 74, Sanders 26. Fully 61 percent of the Democratic primary electorate in SC was black three years ago and Clinton utterly crushed Bernie among that group, 86/14. She never looked back and he never got free of the perception that he was a candidate for whites, a bad thing to be in a party whose nominee depends heavily on minority votes.
South Carolina will be even more daunting for him next year than it was in 2016. He’s facing two formidable black candidates in Kamala Harris and Cory Booker as well as Barack Obama’s vice president. I don’t think Sanders expects to win but it would be a coup if he was competitive for black voters with the other top-tier candidates, especially if he manages to duplicate his 2016 success in Iowa and New Hampshire by winning there. Piling up early victories and performing respectably with black voters would shatter the narrative that he’s a “white candidate” and give him all sorts of excited “the new Bernie is unstoppable” press from political media. Enfranchising prisoners and emphasizing the Reconstruction-era beginnings of the policy is part of his plan to put South Carolina in play.
But Republicans are waiting for him:
I look forward to hearing his explanation — in South Carolina — why Dylan Roof should be allowed to vote in the upcoming elections.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) April 23, 2019
Citing a white supremacist who murdered black men and women as a notable beneficiary of Sanders’s policy is a smart way by Graham to blunt the racial appeal of the policy. The fact that the very white Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was chosen as a sort of poster boy for felon enfranchisement at last night’s CNN town hall is also bad news for Bernie. The media has already tracked down one Boston bombing survivor who, of course, does not think the man who tried to kill him merits a say in setting national policy. I’m sure Bernie doesn’t care, though. (Not yet, at least. He’ll worry about this in the general election.) If this helps him in South Carolina and other southern primaries, it’s worth it.
There’s one other reason I think Sanders is interested in pursuing this today. It may have surprised him last night when, instead of hedging on this idea like Kamala Harris did, upstart Pete Buttigieg flatly disagreed with Bernie and said that felons shouldn’t vote. He’s taking heat for that from the left, of course, partly because it’s a sin against wokeness but partly because various polls lately show Buttigieg cutting into Sanders’s young liberal base. If this boutique issue can be used to bludgeon Buttigieg and convince lefties that he’s a fake progressive, Bernie will happily put it to use.
Here’s the NBC report followed by “The Five” debating Sanders’s idea. Gutfeld thinks Bernie wants felons to vote because most will happily vote Democratic, especially for the man who gave them their ballots back and who’s preaching free sh*t for everyone.