The conventional wisdom shared not just by conservatives but many Democrats is that self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is so unrepresentative of mainstream American political thought that he cannot pose a serious threat to Hillary Clinton. It’s true that the former secretary of state remains the prohibitive favorite to win her party’s nomination in 2016, and there isn’t much evidence beyond the anecdotal that suggests Democrats are uncomfortable anointing her Barack Obama’s chosen successor. That dynamic might change, however, if Sanders runs against Clinton in a manner that former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has so far refused; seriously and aggressively. He seems inclined to do just that.
“Why don’t you tell me what Hillary Clinton is campaigning on, do you know?” the always agitated Vermont senator told MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts earlier this month. “You don’t know and I don’t know and the American people don’t know.”
Sanders went on in that appearance to mock the media’s fascination with the spontaneity of Clinton’s Midwestern car trip in a vehicle dubbed “the Scooby Van.” That criticism was proven well-founded when reporters learned that Clinton’s innovative van trip was merely a reprise of a stunt from her 2000 U.S. Senate campaign that also featured a trip around New York in a van named “Scooby.”
But Sanders isn’t content to make snide remarks and to shame the Clinton-loving press. The Green Mountain State senator is running for president, and the punches he is throwing at Clinton aren’t feints. He intends to land some blows.
When asked by ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl about the continually evolving tales of financial improprieties out of the Clinton Foundation, Sanders called it “a very serious problem.”
“[A]nybody now who is running for office, with few exceptions,” he added after linking the Clinton Foundation to the Koch Brothers’ charities – a slur of the first order for the left. “I am one of the exceptions.”
“I am not going to start a super PAC,” the socialist senator added. “I’m not going to go around the country talking to millionaires. Now I’m saving my time because they wouldn’t give me any money anyhow and that’s fine.”
It’s that kind of commitment to ideology that will prove frustrating for Clinton who, even her supporters would admit, holds few convictions other than the tenacious embrace of that which is popular in the moment. It was Sanders’ authenticity that led National Review’s Charles C. W. Cooke to dub Vermont’s senator the “anti-Hillary.”
“To those among us who like to bat ideas around, such bluntness represents a welcome change — especially given the current alternatives,” Cooke glowed after reveling in Sander’s dogmatic adherence to the tenets of welfarism. “At present, alas, the Democratic primary is being dominated by a corrupt, controlling, soulless, cynical, entitled, and mostly synthetic avatar named Hillary Clinton, and, in consequence, it is almost entirely devoid of ideas.”
All told, Sanders is to public policy and professional politicking what Joe Biden is to personality. He is open, blunt, unapologetic, compelling, ready to debate, suspicious of frivolity, and — in a culture that loathes frayed edges and rewards aridity and insipidity — downright necessary. Democrats who are spoiling for a debate over the future of their party should be thrilled that he has come along.
Even before Sanders formally entered the race, the polls began to suggest that his presence would be welcomed by Democrats. The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling revealed this week that, while 62 percent of Iowa’s Democratic caucus-goers still back Clinton, Sanders has secured the support of 14 percent of Hawkeye State liberals.
“Given the peculiar character of the Democratic race, just being in double digits qualifies a candidate as a legitimate opponent of Clinton,” Washington Examiner columnist Byron York submitted. “And PPP numbers also put Sanders in double digits in New Hampshire.”
Clinton’s campaign has long been preparing for a serious challenger to emerge and to take the fight against her to Iowa. It was there that enthusiastic liberals unconcerned with such trite matters as electability scuttled her presidential ambitions six years ago, and the memories of that rebuke are still fresh for Team Hillary. At this stage, it seems unlikely that Sanders can not only unite the uncommitted Democratic vote but also chip away at Clinton’s support to a degree that threatens her candidacy, but he wants to try. And given the kid gloves with which her party’s prospective presidential aspirants have handled Clinton, that’s saying a lot.