Now that the Democratic presidential nomination contest is winnowed down to two candidates, both of whom have strong appeal to different constituencies, it is useful to consider strategies for each of them. At Vox David Roberts has a post, “Give a little thought to what a GOP campaign against Bernie Sanders might look like,” that merits a sober reading and discussion.
If Sanders wins the nomination, Democrats will be challenged by a range of strategic considerations. As Roberts explains:
… The left insurgent candidate, Bernie Sanders, has also had a mostly free ride…If you say something like this on social media, you’ll be beset by furious Sanders supporters. (If there’s one thing it’s easy to do on social media, it’s get yourself beset by furious Sanders supporters.) But it remains true that Sanders has faced very few serious attacks.
Sanders supporters will respond by noting the criticism by Clinton and other moderates has been pretty tough. Yet he has had a pretty easy ride compared to what is coming, should he win the nomination. “But c’mon,” says Roberts. “This stuff is patty-cakes compared with the brutalization he would face at the hands of the right in a general election…His supporters would need to recalibrate their umbrage-o-meters in a serious way.”
Roberts reminds Dems that the Republicans are highly-skilled at criticizing Democrats. That’s why they continue to hold their House majority and dominate a healthy majority of governorships and state legislatures. They have been relatively easy on Sanders so far because they hope he wins, believing, wrongly or rightly, that he will be easier for them to defeat. Further, says Roberts,
But if he wins, they will rain down fire.
And the organs of the right will feel absolutely no obligation to be fair. They’re not going to be saying, like Sanders’s Democratic critics, “Aw, Bernie, you dreamer.”
They’re going to be digging through his trash, investigating known associates, rifling through legal records…They’re going to ask struggling middle-class workers how they feel about a trillion dollars in new taxes to fund a grand socialist scheme to take away everyone’s health care insurance and hand them over to government doctors.
They’re going to ask when he stopped being a communist, and when he objects that he was never a communist they’re going to ask why he’s so defensive about his communist past, why he’s so eager to avoid the questions that have been raised, the questions that people are talking about.
And when Sanders and his supporters splutter that it’s inaccurate and unjust and outrageous, the right will not give a single fuck.
Roberts reviews Sanders’ vulnerabilities, including his age. The Republicans will relentlessly characterize him as a tax-loving Socialist Boogeyman, because they believe, not without some evidence, that meme repetition eventually sinks in, regardless of the validity, especially when it is not well-challenged. Dems need to be ready for this.
“…Based on my experience,” adds Roberts, “the Bernie legions are not prepared. They seem convinced that the white working class would rally to the flag of democratic socialism. And they are in a state of perpetual umbrage that Sanders isn’t receiving the respect he’s due, that he’s facing even mild attacks from Clinton’s camp…More vicious attacks are inevitable, and that no one knows how Sanders might perform with a giant political machine working to define him as an unhinged leftist…His followers should not yet feel sanguine about his ability to endure conservative attacks. Also they should get a thicker skin, quick.”
If Roberts is overstating the naiveté of the Sanders campaign, he is surely right about the viciousness of attacks yet to come. The viciousness will also be amplified if Clinton wins the nomination. But Clinton is battle-tested and she has amassed a very tough and experienced team of political operatives, who could help Sanders, should he win the Democratic nomination.
Sanders is a smart, tough guy and he didn’t get this far by being a pussycat. But he’s going to need all of his personal strengths to overcome the Republicans’ disciplined messaging and bottomless economic resources, if he is nominated. Equally important, argues Roberts, he will have to make sure his staff is not too thin-skinned nor unprepared for the tsunami of vitriol, onslaught of distractions and dirty tricks that would be headed their way.
Properly prepared, Sanders can beat any of the Republicans, all of whom all have glaring weaknesses begging to be exploited. No matter which Democratic candidate wins the nomination, the talents, manpower and economic resources of the Democratic adversary in the coming primaries will be essential for victory in November.