Do you think you could count the number of times you’ve heard or read someone say that Donald Trump destroyed the Republican Party? Depending on how closely you follow political news, you might have heard this sentiment upwards of a thousand times over the last year. The GOP will never recover! This will doom the Republicans to second-tier status! The fractures created this year will last for generations!
Curious how seldom we hear about a similar problem destroying the Democrats.
In a normal year, we might have heard a little more about the startling rise of a socialist senator from Vermont. Bernie Sanders hasn’t exactly been ignored by the media, but he certainly hasn’t attracted the kind of publicity you’d expect for his insurgent candidacy. You can debate about the reasons for that. Maybe the media was protecting Hillary. Maybe they were too busy covering Trump to give Bernie any special attention. Maybe his anti-Wall Street message was a little too hot to handle, even for the liberals in the press. But for whatever reason, his campaign was reduced to a somewhat interesting footnote in the larger narrative of the 2016 race.
Now, with the end of the primaries racing towards us, the media is finally paying attention to Sanders. Not because they’re suddenly interested in him as a viable nominee – his path to victory is all but foreclosed – but because he’s standing in the way of the story they really want to cover: Trump vs. Clinton. And now the entire media, together with the Democratic Party, is looking at Bernie and asking, “Um, why the hell are you still here?”
They’re worried, but they can’t bring themselves to face the real threat. They’re only bold enough to ask the superficial questions, such as: Will Bernie heartily endorse our queen?
“I think it’s the right thing for the party,” said Jim Messina, a former campaign manager for President Obama. “I think his supporters are going to look at Donald Trump and say there’s no way we’re going to allow this guy to be president of the United States.”
Messina is one of many Democrats who don’t understand what happened this year. For all the talk about how “extreme” Donald Trump is in his policies, there’s been remarkably little respect for how truly extreme Sanders is. At the tail end of the most liberal presidency of our history, a candidate who expressly rejects free-market capitalism nearly became the Democratic Party nominee. We went from Obama, whom many accused of being a socialist, to Sanders, who gleefully admits it.
Now, it could be that it was just a fluke. That the Sanders coalition was a cult of personality, having little to do with the issues. That his supporters aren’t any more leftist than Hillary’s; they just prefer the guy with a little bit of charisma.
But even if it started out that way, his supporters have been guzzling the Kool-Aid for many months now. Next time around, a “democratic socialist” won’t have to overcome that initial shock value. Sanders (and Obama) have planted the seeds for a dramatic, frightening left-turn for the party. And, as is already happening to some degree, it’s going to be too damn far for many working Americans to go.
Both parties have some problems going forward; the difference is, Republicans are brave enough to acknowledge them.