Money talks? In this case, money walks. Facing a socialist juggernaut in Bernie Sanders, traditional Democratic Party megadonors have begun to despair over what that portends for the November election. That despair has turned into paralysis, Politico’s Maggie Severns reports, as the donors aren’t sure whether a concerted effort to stop Bernie might just make matters worse:
Many think Sanders would make a poor general election candidate — but there is no big, burgeoning “stop Sanders” movement building in the wings, more than a dozen major Democratic donors and operatives said in interviews with POLITICO. Most donors don’t want to risk damaging a candidate suddenly looking more and more likely to be the Democratic nominee against President Donald Trump.
What’s more, big Democratic donors realize that launching a well-funded super PAC attacking Sanders could just motivate his devoted base even further, boosting Sanders and alienating those voters from the rest of the Democratic Party. It’s even possible that Sanders would raise more money off attacks against him than anti-Sanders donors were willing to spend in the first place.
In other words, big donors’ money is suddenly no good here.
There’s a certain air of contradiction in these positions. The megadonors don’t want to damage Sanders in case he’s their nominee, but … they’re also pretty sure he’s the wrong man to go up against Trump, too. Does that make any sense? Severns does seem to capture that thought process accurately, however:
“It just doesn’t seem realistic to have Sanders as our nominee. He can just be dragged down so easily by Trump and all his followers,” said Susie Tompkins Buell, a Bay Area megadonor.
But Tompkins Buell, who is currently helping Buttigieg in the 2020 race, quickly dismissed the notion of donating money to try to knock Sanders off his perch atop the Democratic primary polls. “That’s not something I would do,” Tompkins Buell said.
The big-money donors are apparently so worried about this that they’ve reportedly instructed Joe Biden’s super-PAC not to go negative on Bernie, or for that matter any other Democrat. They only want attack ads on Trump. That’s a rather large ask for a group supposedly founded to help Biden win a primary, isn’t it? The point of a super-PAC is to allow a no-fingerprints strategy of negative (or at least “comparative”) messaging against other primary contenders, and Sanders is not just the biggest one now but even by these donors standards the most dangerous. And now they want the super-PAC to unilaterally disarm against Bernie?
That has one political faction delighted. No, not the Bernie Bros, who will see wheels within wheels to find some victimization angle on this (“They don’t take us seriously!” or something). Also at Politico, Alex Isenstadt reports that Team Trump and the GOP are having a “field day” with Bernie’s rise, especially in their campaign to win back the suburbs from Democrats:
Republicans up and down the ballot are already casting their Democratic rivals as socialist puppets who would remake the economy in Sanders’ collectivist vision. The play is straightforward: President Donald Trump has repelled college-educated suburban voters since he took office; Republicans want to win them back by arguing the alternative is worse.
Arizona Sen. Martha McSally launched a TV ad titled “Bernie Bro” likening her Democratic opponent, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, to the Vermont senator. North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis held a press conference last week linking his Democratic rivals to the Sanders-backed Green New Deal. In Michigan, a conservative group has aired a series of commercials that go after Democratic Sen. Gary Peters by invoking Sanders and his support for Medicare for All.
And in the wake of Sanders’ New Hampshire primary win, the Republican State Leadership Committee, which focuses on state legislative races, has been running digital ads asking whether down-ballot Democrats in more than a half-dozen states are “feeling burned yet” — a take on the Sanders mantra, “Feel the Bern.”
The early activity bolsters claims by Sanders’ Democratic rivals that he would be a nightmare for Democrats on the ballot next year.
It’s not just “claims.” Both Gallup and Marist (with NPR) have fresh polls on the popularity of socialism among US voters, and the results are not pretty. Gallup’s poll provided mainly a topline look at how voters would react to a presidential candidate identified as a socialist, showing that 53% wouldn’t consider casting a vote for one. That number increases to 56% among independents, and in both cases are the least-popular candidate characteristic.
The NPR/Marist poll this week is much more on point regarding geographical demos and the popularity of socialism. As I noted before Wednesday’s debate, those numbers are disastrous for Democrats if they put Bernie at the top of the ticket:
Most importantly, though, [socialism]’s box-office poison among the voters that drove Democrats to a House majority in the midterms. Socialism gets rated 29/56 among small-city voters, 27/61 in the suburbs, 25/60 in small towns, and rural voters dislike it the most at 18/71. Combining small city and suburban voters, it’s 26/65 among the men and 29/51 among women. For that matter, it’s 25/66 among all men and 31/51 among all women. That has the potential of not just erasing small city/suburban gains for Democrats up and down the ballot, but also potentially reducing or entirely negating their gender-gap advantage, too. …
The clear impression left by this is that Donald Trump should benefit greatly from a Bernie Sanders nomination. The more he can cast the 2020 election as a fight for capitalism against socialism, the better edge he gains from the start. Democrats having to defend the outspoken socialist at the top of the ticket risk losing their House seats in the areas where they finally made inroads 16 months ago in the midterms. That’s especially true while Trump gets a 54/41 approval rating on the economy (56/38 among independents), and 66% of Americans say the economy is working well for them personally. Two-thirds of Americans are not going to vote to upend their personal economies to support a socialist that pledges radical change once elected.
Do Democratic megadonors want to see their Death Star implode in such a fashion? One has to wonder whether they think that a second Trump term isn’t too high a price to pay to discredit the Bernie Bros in a national election. At this rate, though, they’re also throwing in the towel on the House, Senate, and likely a number of state legislative seats too. If they think an intervention will create more damage than that to the Democratic Party, then the Bernie Bros must really have them running scared.