Never Trump, Meet Never Sanders.
It’s an article of faith inside the Bernie Sanders campaign that the Democratic establishment is going to do everything it can to stop the Vermonter from winning the Democratic nomination this year. This is what happened four years ago during the primary battle, when the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was helping Hillary Clinton win the nomination, even as it feigned neutrality in the contest.
The Sanders people knew better, of course, and it’s since become well known that the DNC was doing everything it could to help Clinton. In fact, we might compare the Democratic establishment’s anti-Sanders campaign to a parallel effort across the aisle–namely, the Republican establishment’s anti-Donald Trump effort. That GOP scheme against Trump four years ago was mostly invisible, albeit still real enough in the run-up to the Republican convention in Cleveland.
Only later did a noisy few of the dissidents—many of them now Washington Post “Republicans”—organize themselves into the Never Trump movement that is so admired by the mainstream media.
This year, for Democrats, the intra-party antipathy toward Sanders is, if anything, even stronger than it was in 2016; it’s become, in effect, an Anybody But Bernie movement, or even an outright Never Sanders pledge. Yes, anti-Sanders sentiment inside the high pavilions of the Democratic Party is that fierce. On February 3, the Onion nailed it with a quip that the Democrats would go so far as to ask Trump as their nominee, as a way of stopping Sanders.
Okay, that was the Onion’s joke, and yet in the serious world, the Democrats aren’t that desperate—at least not yet. Still, in Democrat-friendly outlets such as MSNBC (oftentimes dubbed “MSDNC,”as a sign of its fealty to the party establishment, as distinct from the insurgent left), the anti-Sanders spirit is strong.
In fact, MSNBC’s anti-Sanders tone is so strong that it’s been noticed by others on the left; hence this February 12 headline in the liberal New Republic magazine, “Bernie Sanders Has an MSNBC Problem.” As the article details, a long list of MSNBC talking heads—including Joe Scarborough, Chuck Todd, Lawrence O’Donnell, and James Carville—have hammered Sanders.
At the top of that list of MSNBC hitmen is Chris Matthews. On February 7, in one of his typically purple perorations, Matthews compared Sanders to Fidel Castro, adding that if Castro had somehow managed to bring communism to America, “There would have been executions in Central Park”—and among the executed would have been Matthews himself.
On the afternoon of February 22, as Sanders was winning a big victory in the Nevada caucuses, Matthews was back at it; he compared Sanders’ win to the German penetration of France’s Maginot Line in World War Two. Back then, of course, the supreme commander of the German Wehrmacht was Adolf Hitler, so in effect, Matthews was equating Sanders to Hitler.
We might pause to ask of Matthews: Which is it? Is Sanders a communist like Castro? Or a Nazi like Hitler? Perhaps the nice thing about being a top-dog host at MSNBC is that one is never called to account for such rhetorical excesses—at least not on MSNBC air. (Off air, the commentary on Matthews has been brutal.)
Matthews’ Mouth and the Establishment’s Mask
Though Matthews’ Bidenesque tendency to talk in non-sequiturs, even nonsense, is well known, there was something else he said on the 22nd that caught many ears. Matthews indicated that many Democrats might prefer to see Trump win a second term than see Sanders win a first term:
I’m wondering if Democratic moderates want Bernie Sanders to be President? Maybe that’s too exciting a question to raise. Do they want Bernie to take over the Democratic Party in perpetuity? Maybe they’d rather wait four years and put in a Democrat that they like.
Yes, without a doubt, Matthews speaks for many well-off Democrats. As much as they hate Trump, they see him as an external enemy: That is, Democrats know they can rally and unify their fellow Democrats by saying, simply, “Orange Man Bad.”
By contrast, Matthews-type Democrats see Sanders as an internal enemy: That is, he and his socialism—or, as Matthews might put it, communism—are a threat to the good order of the existing Democratic Party structures, which rely heavily on funding from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and individual heirs and plutocrats.
These donors are perfectly happy with a Democratic Party that’s green and gay, but not one that’s red and angry. So we can see: Trump unites Democrats (in opposition to Trump), whereas Sanders divides them (pro and con on Sanders).
Indeed, Sanders divides Democrats in a particularly embarrassing way, by highlighting the fact that the party owes so much to the new hierarchy of billionaires. Yes, these capitalists are woke capitalists, but they’re still capitalists. So of course, the fatcat-funded Democratic establishmentarians fear and loathe Sanders and his soak-the-rich agenda.
Thus elite Democrats might quietly reconcile themselves to the idea that they’d rather have four more years of Trump than risk having four years of Sanders—and maybe more years than that: That is, top Democrats can deal with Trump still in the White House. What they can’t deal with is not being the top Democrats anymore, because they’ve been pushed aside by Sanders and his people.
Yet the problem for this quiet strategy of subversion against Sanders is that Mathews went and said it out loud, thus confirming the fears of the Sandersistas. As one pro-Sanders tweeter, Eoin Higgins, declared bluntly, “Mask off:” That is, Mathews, mouthpiece of the old guard, just made the truth plain about establishment Democrats’ intentions toward Sanders. Yes, Matthews dropped the mask of party unity. Instead, the party establishment will do everything it can to stop Sanders, even to the point of tacitly rooting for Trump.
With that establishment hostility in mind, it’s not so surprising that the national “intelligence community” is now spreading rumors about Russia’s supposed help to the Sanders campaign. To Trump supporters, that’s a familiar refrain; since 2016, the Deep State has been working to derail Trump, the man so unloved by the establishment. And now, it’s Sanders’ turn to get this taxpayer-funded opposition research treatment. To be sure, Sanders hasn’t been on the receiving end, as was Trump, of FBI surveillance–at least as far as we know.
In the meantime, Sanders’ national press secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, picked up on Higgins’ tweet about the establishment masks being off, adding, “It seems the floor is littered with masks these days.” In other words, as Sanders surges into undisputed front-runner status in the wake of his Nevada victory, lots of other big-name Democrats are likely to follow Matthews and drop their masks, too.
By this strand of Democratic logic, it’s better to lose in 2020 than get stuck with Sanders as the party’s leader. And who knows, maybe even Sanders could become president. To be sure, most experts think that Sanders, burdened by far-left positions, would have little chance of winning in a general election against Trump. But we should have learned by now that “most experts” don’t know know so much. After all, it was just four years ago that Trump’s chances of winning were dismissed out of hand.
Indeed, as late as Saturday morning, the expert pundits were suggesting that even if Sanders won in Nevada, he would have a hard time reaching 40 percent of the statewide vote. And yet it now seems certain that Sanders’ percentage is going to be in the high 40s. In the words of Politico‘s Ryan Lizza, “You could see the dominoes of punditry cliches falling inside the caucus rooms.”
The experts aren’t always wrong; it’s unlikely that we could ever see a President Sanders. And yet the only thing we know for sure is that the Democratic establishment would be just as horrified of Sanders as 46 as would be most Republicans.